Life would have been so much different and better today in Ukraine if President Petro Poroshenko, fresh off his landslide election following the EuroMaidan Revolution, had taken the side of the people — the public, civil society and Ukraine’s international friends.
Instead, Poroshenko sided with the status quo of entrenched corrupt interests among bureaucrats and oligarchs, who still control parliament and most of the news media. In this regard, Poroshenko is simply another oligarch — albeit the reigning one — with a TV station.
And that’s partly why Ukraine is in the position it is today, more than three years after the uprising that drove President Viktor Yanukovych from power — dependent on foreign aid, starved of private investment and $75 billion in debt.
The president squandered the goodwill of the people. He is unpopular, no matter who is doing the polling. It may be too late for him to recover by the 2019 presidential election. Unfortunately, as people take their revenge at the voting booth, they could elect an even worse leader.
The president is behaving more autocratically as law enforcement agencies harass anti-corruption activists while Poroshenko presents himself to the world as a modern democrat. He’s not. If he were, he would not have been obstructing, foot-dragging and stalling on transformational reforms. Ukraine still has no new Supreme Court (the one that’s coming might not be an improvement), no anti-corruption court and no changes in the working of the General Prosecutor’s Office, Interior Ministry and Security Service of Ukraine. Parliament left many tasks undone, including reforms in health, pension, privatization, elections, agricultural land market and on and on. The failures deepen the public’s sense of injustice. Ukraine’s leaders have been trying to burnish the nation’s image abroad to attract private investment. They’ve traveled far and wide, staged conferences, spent money and created new agencies such as Ukraine Invest.
And then Poroshenko turns around and undermines progress by canceling political critic Mikheil Saakashvili’s Ukrainian citizenship on July 27. With his blow against Saakashvili, Poroshenko has riled up a political critic who was polling at 1.8 percent support. This critic speaks several languages, is living in New York — the news media capital of the world — and gives interviews to CNN and anyone else who will listen about the injustice done to him by Poroshenko.
Let’s stipulate this: Despite Russia’s dismembering war, the nation is in its best shape since independence, Poroshenko is the best of the five presidents, parliament is the best ever and the people are living freer than ever. The nation is much improved mainly because of its people. But it still cannot break free from its Soviet ways because its political leaders, like Poroshenko, are still stuck in this past.
Ukraine deserves better. It is poised for an economic breakthrough on many fronts — export-oriented manufacturing, agriculture, information technology, services and others. But it’s not going to happen without rule of law — without politicians letting go and letting independent democratic institutions and a competitive market economy flourish. Don’t take our word for it. Ask investors why they’re mostly bypassing the country. They’ll tell you.