Borys Lozhkin is head of the presidential administration of Ukraine.
Some have argued that little has changed in Ukraine since the Maidan “Revolution of Dignity” last year except for the faces of those who make up Ukraine’s political establishment. But the opposite is true: In stark contrast to life before Maidan, Ukraine’s leaders are now working hard for the good of our country.
Despite economic hardship and war in the Donbas region, President Petro Poroshenko is committed to leading Ukraine through swift and radical reforms, some of which have already begun. For instance, for 20 years the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has urged Ukraine to reform the general prosecutor’s office, but this long-awaited change came only after the election of a pro-European president. The Revolution of Dignity was, first and foremost, an anti-corruption movement, and Ukrainian authorities have now approved a set of unprecedented anti-corruption laws. Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, soon to get its first chief, will mark a clear break with the corrupt policies of the past.
But our mission is much bigger than producing good laws. We are changing the very philosophy of public service in Ukraine. We are eager to make Ukraine part of the globalized world. Fluency in English has become a critical qualification for senior leadership, as is the case in nearly all developed countries. Moreover, for the first time in Ukrainian history, we have recruited successful businesspeople and reformers with foreign experience to become government ministers. People with a strong business reputation and a willingness to change Ukraine are finally being given an opportunity to contribute to the development of a prosperous society.
Most important, we have clearly defined our priorities, which include a commitment to a democratic state and European integration. Ukrainians championed such ideas during the Maidan protests and reaffirmed them in last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The most ambitious goal set in Poroshenko’s “Ukraine 2020” reform program is that Ukraine should be ready to apply for the European Union membership in five to six years. We wish to counter the myth of Russian propaganda that Europe is not interested in pursuing E.U. membership for Ukraine.
Ukraine has been paying an enormously heavy price since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March. The ongoing war in Donbas has shattered the global postwar security system, posing a fundamental challenge to the values on which the democratic community, including the European Union is founded. In the 1990s, as an act of goodwill to preserve peace in Europe, Ukraine gave up its nuclear stockpile in exchange for guarantees of territorial integrity from the United States, Britain and Russia. The military confrontation in Donbas has already taken not only the lives of thousands of Ukrainians, including 10 civilians killed in an outrageous attack on a bus near Volnovakha and 30 civilians killed and 104 wounded after attacks on Mariupol, but also of the 298 passengers and crew on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. Ukrainian forces are defending not just their own country but European ideals and security as well.
Still, Ukraine has received much less support than states far less committed to democracy. U.S. support for Iraq, for example, has dwarfed that provided to Ukraine over the past 10 years, even as Ukraine has twice experienced popular upheavals putting it solidly on the rails to democracy. Despite embarking on a path of critical and radical reforms, Ukraine is well down the list in combined financial support from the International Monetary Fund, European Union and United States. Ukraine, now facing the most significant security crisis on the European continent since World War II, has received less U.S. military aid over the past decade than Kazakhstan, Georgia, Poland and even Russia, among others.
It is important to look ahead pragmatically. Helping Ukraine is critical to preventing the emergence of a perpetual conflict zone in the heart of Europe. Ukraine needs a large package of macroeconomic support this year to overcome the legacy of former president Viktor Yanukovych’s kleptocratic regime and the daily burden of war, which have pushed Ukraine into a recession. To resume growth next year, Ukraine needs a cushion to support its radical reforms. The aid Ukraine has requested from our partners — countries that uphold the same principles and understanding of international law and respect for human dignity that we uphold — is far less than the price of perpetual war in eastern Ukraine.
Aid to Ukraine is an investment in a safer, stronger and wealthier Europe. While defensive military aid would help make Ukraine a secure frontier of the Western world, financial and political assistance are crucial to the success of reforms that would create a burgeoning market of more than 40 million people. As the financier George Soros has argued recently, the European Union could trigger greater economic growth for itself by helping to forge a stable and Europe-oriented Ukraine. Creation of a unified European natural gas market would also enhance the energy security of the entire continent and become another incentive for closer integration among member states. After all, it was the integration of the French and German energy and steel sectors that paved the way for the creation of the European Union.
It is time to marshal all of the energy and resources necessary to reform Ukraine — not just for Ukrainians but also for a free and strong Europe.