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Introducing VoxUkraine

http://voxukraine.blogspot.com/

With so many in the public and media desperate for additional information on Ukraine, I wanted to alert readers to a new blog, VoxUkraine, dedicated to the topic of reform in Ukraine that is written by economists around the globe as well members of the local policy community. One of the co-founders of the blog, University of Pittsburgh economist Tymofiy Mylovanov, was kind enough to answer a few questions from The Monkey Cage about the new blog.

Joshua Tucker: What is the purpose of the new blog VoxUkraine?

Tymofiy Mylovanov: The reform effort in Ukraine after the collapse of the previous regime has been non-systemic. This is in part because the new government and the expert community face extreme shortage of human capital.  VoxUkraine’s purpose is to respond to these challenges by promoting research-based policy analysis and commentary by leading international and local scholars, policymakers, and businessmen who are interested in the developments in Ukraine.

VoxUkraine is a group of global Ukrainian economists and members of the local policy community who are working on reforms in Ukraine. Our intended audience is policymakers in the West and in Ukraine as well as the new wave of Ukrainian leaders capable of influencing public opinion and mobilizing political support. VoxUkraine posts are regularly translated and published by the leading local media, and our editorials have been successful in generating attention in Ukraine, Russia, and the West. Our top three most popular posts are «Ending the Russian-Ukrainian War», «Comments on Anti-Corruption Effort in Ukraine», and «Putin’s Endgame».

In addition to the blog, we have refereed reform proposals for the government, organized roundtables in the East of Ukraine on the regional reforms, and issued open letters to the government and the parliament. We are in contact with government officials, policymakers, and civil society activists. We encourage our contributors to comment on the issues that are deemed important by our audiences.

JT: Why did you feel there was a need for this type of effort?

TM: The reforms in Ukraine are stalled. Many observers blame the government, the parliament, or the security crisis in the East of Ukraine. We disagree. We believe that there is a substantive political will and capacity for implementing reforms, but the expert and activist communities in Ukraine need help generating a coherent perspective on what needs to be done and conveying this perspective to the government and the new political forces.

We would like to identify and support good local experts, many of whom have been marginalized because they do not fit in the status-quo framework, and to provide urgently needed human capital by inviting international experts to comment on the pressing issues.

One important aspect of our group is political and financial independence. This is sometimes missing among Ukrainian groups. Some experts work in think tanks that depend on the goodwill of oligarchs. Others must stay politically correct in order to be able to procure grants. There is also infighting caused by scarcity of financial support. Some of the experts are contemplating political careers, jeopardizing their credibility. By contrast, VoxUkraine is a group of economists with established careers in the West or in Ukraine; we are outside of the politics and we do not need to cater to the opinions of powerful bureaucrats or politicians to secure our well-being.

Finally, we share a distaste for the Soviet-like ideology which is, unfortunately, still dominant among the members of the Ukrainian government, the parliament, and the expert community.

JT: Who is running the blog, and who is contributing content to it?

TM: The VoxUkraine blog is run by the editorial board which consists of Olena Bilan (Dragon Capital); Volodymyr Bilotkach (Newcastle U.); Yuriy Gorodnichenko (UC Berkeley); Veronika Movchan (IER); Tymofiy Mylovanov (U. of Pittsburgh); Dmytro Sologub (Raiffeisen Bank Aval); and Oleksandr Talavera (U. of Sheffield). The board is split 50/50 between locals and globals, and the globals are all ranked top 10 according to Forbes.UA ranking of Ukrainian academic economists. The international advisory board of VoxUkraine includes Roger Myerson (2007 Nobel Laureate in Economics), Erik Berglof, Gerard Roland, Jan Svejnar, and others.

Anyone can contribute to VoxUkraine by submitting a post to voxukraine@gmail.com. It is not unusual for the editors to request a revision. This is especially relevant for local submissions as their style of argument is often different from the Western standards.

VoxUkraine also actively solicits posts from people who have relevant expertise. Solicitations are also a mechanism to bring together Ukrainian talent. Our contributors are diverse and include established academics in the West, insiders from the private sector and the industry, and even local activists from the East of Ukraine.

JT: What do you think is the biggest challenge to Ukraine today that the mainstream media is missing in its reporting?

TM: The biggest challenge is to force Ukraine to move on with reforms. The mainstream media and the audiences are distracted by the security crisis and pay little attention to the institutional transformation.

The situation is dramatic. Players in Kiev lack a sense of urgency and the importance of undertaking reforms now. There have been no radical reforms since the departure of Yanukovich and after a brief pause the corrupt reactionaries are back and “business as usual” is at full swing. High expectations of local businesses for positive changes are waning quickly. The government, the president, and the new and old political forces are talking a lot about reforms, but instead they focus on the security crisis and the new elections.

These looming elections will provide a fertile ground for conflicts. The tensions will be aggravated by the presence of many armed men in the country. Those fighting in Donbass will come back to Kyiv with legitimate questions: why their friends continued to die and why the new government did little to resolve the issue of its political and executive incompetence. More importantly, Russia will resort to stirring up frustration among the public and the Ukrainian military forces with the lack of change in Ukraine, hoping to deepen the crisis or even orchestrate a coup.

JT: What are the most important steps the Ukrainian government needs to take to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty in the short term?  long term?

TM: The president and the government should publicly undertake joint responsibility for reforms and push them forward before the parliamentary elections. They should downsize the bureaucracy and bring in a critical mass of new people. Other immediate objectives are deregulation, cutting down ridiculous amounts of waste, and establishing adequate communication between the government and the public. The government should also think about using its control over gas transit to Europe as a strategic tool in the game played by Russia, Ukraine, and the West.

In the medium-long run, the government should focus on fighting corruption, restoring the judicial system, resolving the problem of energy security, and developing a realistic national security strategy.

After the Russian invasion, Ukraine will not feel safe unless the country is strong economically, politically, and militarily. Also, Ukraine will need powerful allies to counter Russia’s influence and threats. It’s hard to imagine Ukraine being a neutral country in the long run. We believe that, to achieve these goals, Ukraine will become an integral part of the European community.

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