UKRAINIANS, PERPETUALLY and justifiably concerned that their pro-Western, pro-democracy revolution will be abandoned by the West, have recently had some reasons for reassurance. The European Union has backed most of the government’s terms for making peace with Russian-backed rebels and will likely renew sanctions against Russia in the coming weeks while moving toward implementation of a free-trade agreement with Kiev.
For its part, the United States is training Ukrainian military forces and Congress just appropriated another $300 million in military aid. This week, Vice President Biden traveled to Ukraine and assured its parliament that “the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine against Russian aggression.”
There is still more the West could do; President Obama has yet to provide the defensive weapons funded by Congress. For now, however, the biggest challenges to Ukraine’s consolidation as an independent state and liberal democracy lie with the country’s political leaders — as an outbreak of brawling in the parliament Friday vividly illustrated.
The punches flying between loyalists of President Petro Poroshenko and his coalition partner and prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, testified to a creeping dysfunction that must delight Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been counting on a Ukrainian political collapse. The parties in the ruling coalition have been at odds over the terms of a crucial tax reform and budget for next year, and also over their mutual failure to move against the country’s predatory oligarchs and the massive corruption they foster.
Mr. Poroshenko stubbornly refuses to replace the country’s chief prosecutor, who has been blocking corruption investigations, while Mr. Yatsenyuk has been protecting oligarchs in his party who hold parliamentary seats. Their mutual suspicions and recriminations are reminiscent of the power struggles that caused Ukraine’s first pro-Western regime to stumble a decade ago.
Mr. Biden recalled that bitter failure in bluntly urging the parliament to pass a budget that meets the tough criteria of the International Monetary Fund and to begin “a historic battle against corruption.” He spelled out a number of necessary steps, starting with “reform” of the chief prosecutor’s office and an overhaul of the judiciary — where just a handful of 8,000 judges have been replaced though thousands are known to be corrupt. Oligarchs, Mr. Biden said, must be forced to pay taxes, observe laws and settle their disputes in court; politicians must separate their personal business interests from those of the government.
Ukrainians who joined the massive demonstrations that brought down Ukraine’s previous, pro-Russian government last year increasingly are questioning whether the necessary reforms can be pushed through by Mr. Poroshenko — himself a big businessman — and Mr. Yatsenyuk, a veteran of the failed post-2004 government. For now, though, there is little choice: Mr. Poroshenko is about 20 months into a five-year presidential term, while a parliamentary no-confidence vote in Mr. Yatsenyuk would probably lead to snap elections and months of turmoil that Ukraine can ill afford.
That means Ukraine’s best hope probably lies in the two leaders and their followers quickly taking measures that will restore international confidence and offer Ukrainians hope; encouragingly there were reports Friday that they had renewed their alliance. As Mr. Biden put it with remarkable candor, “anything else will . . . drive down support for Ukraine . . . which is always tenuous.”
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