Opportunities Amid Challenge: Ukraine at the Geopolitical Forefront
Although having endured many hardships throughout their history, the Ukrainian people are resilient and have strived to encourage and enforce socioeconomic equality and accountability in governance. A lot of Ukrainian politicians have built campaigns promising to address chronic issues such as corruption and cronyism and Ukraine’s often problematic relationship with Russia, yet over the years Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policy agendas have been largely unchanged. The nation’s trajectory has been tumultuous at worst and undefined at best, from the dawn of its independence from the former Soviet Union.
For the last 15 years Ukraine has lived through the so-called Orange Revolution and the “Revolution of Dignity.” The Ukrainian people have tired of empty promises of politicians, but there still exists a salient hope for a better future. Yet, state corruption remains a scourge on the country, the government has taken steps to silence critics and anti-corruption activists and Russia continues to threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity. It is clear that Ukraine remains in dire need of fundamental reform, fresh leadership and new ideas.
We recently had the unique opportunity of speaking to one Valerii Babych, a former parliamentarian who worked to help Ukraine build a competitive market economy and graft in society democratic values. He discussed with us his thoughts on the situation in Ukraine and the prospects for lasting prosperity in a region known for perpetual challenge.
What are your impressions regarding Ukraine, 4 years after the “Revolution of Dignity”?
The world has taken notice of the unbridled commitment of Ukrainians towards self-determination and democracy. I am very proud that patriotic Ukrainians have stood up to fight for the right of the people to determine their own destiny. This shows that those who are stealing from the Ukrainian people today have made a wrong bet on public apathy at the glaring problem of corruption. The Ukrainian people see everything that the government does and will no longer put up with theft and bribery. We need leadership to solve these problems.
Even 25 years ago, I advocated that society perceived not only the values of democracy and a market economy, but also embarked on the spiritual path of development. Therefore, for me it was important when in 2014 on Maidan, the Ukrainians defended such values as honor, dignity, and justice. This is immoral, when corrupt government officials, having entered into an alliance with a criminal element and oligarchs, live in luxury, while millions of pensioners are forced to survive on only a few dollars a day.
A simple solution to this problem does not exist, and the Ukrainian people know this. There are many factors that are interrelated. Therefore, many problems will have to be solved simultaneously. It is necessary to overcome corruption, which is supported, in particular, by disrespect of officials to the rule of law and the absence of inevitability of punishment for unlawful actions. We need to stabilize the economy, attract investment, and make job creation a national idea or a basic element of the social and economic system. And corruption and war in the east of Ukraine, caused by Russia, prevents companies from investing in Ukraine. Finally, we need a commitment to democracy and freedom, not in words but in deeds, we need fair elections, and freedom of the press are vital mechanisms that allow citizens to hold their governments accountable.
Addressing inequality is clearly an issue of passion for you. What do you think can be done to achieve social progress for the Ukrainian people?
We must to ensure that Ukraine’s economic potential is unlocked and fully focused on the development of the younger generation. This means that it is necessary to pay special attention not only to carrying out innovative industrialization of the economy and creating new jobs, but also to improve the quality of education, ensure physical health, and create an effective system of social protection. Attractive new conditions can and will be created after the government moves to the program-target management model.
In addition, the authorities must be held accountable for their actions and this means ensuring freedom of the press, an independent editorial policy and compliance with the law in the field of the media. I am a supporter of the government, which would see in its active civil society its ally and partner, not an adversary and a slanderer.
Another important point is new leadership. In order to get the necessary impetus for social progress, Ukraine needs new political elite. The country needs a new leader who will help social movements to form into strong, responsible and reform-oriented political forces.
What are your thoughts on Ukrainian foreign policy and threats to territorial integrity?
Ukraine should move more decisively towards strategic partnership with the US, more aggressively implement reforms that will open the door to NATO and the EU. We want and we will seek a peaceful solution to the conflict in the Donbass. But we are satisfied only with the peace after the victory. After the reliable preconditions have been created to preempt the very possibility of a new aggression on the part of Russia.
Ukraine has an abundance of natural resources and human capital, but it must take more active steps aimed at attracting foreign direct investment. The search for new partners in the United States, Western Europe, around the world should become a key direction of Ukraine’s foreign policy. I am convinced that creating a favorable and open foreign investment climate in Ukraine is an achievable ambition. This is required by the Ukrainian business community, civil society wants it, and they are able to become reliable partners for the new government.
This brings us to our final question. What would be your vision to propel Ukrainian growth and development – A message you would convey to our readers, in Ukraine and around the world?
As I have stated before, corruption is a significant issue that impedes progress in Ukraine. We must change the political norm in the state from within, which today allows laws to be manipulated and power to be leveraged as an instrument for enrichment, furthering what I refer to as ‘oligarchization.’
My dream would be a Ukraine where oligarchs and clans are no longer controlling the State. The key business challenge the country is facing remains the creation of a functioning court system to combat festering corruption. In the short-term, this means establishing an effective anti-corruption court while the broader judiciary can and should be completely reformed.
I also believe we must eliminate the duality of the Executive branch. The president of Ukraine should head the government, as it is customary in the United States.
I believe that in the coming elections of 2019, real change can and will occur. We have reached the crescendo of our political strife. Ukrainians see the finish line, although reaching it is only possible only as a result of free and fair elections and with leadership capable and truly committed to substantial reform.
It remains in our hands to create such lasting change.