Ishchenko: Ukraine is an Illusion that Will Never Exist Again

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By Rostislav Ishchenko, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

People naturally tend to hope for the best – even if they know for sure that there are no chances for the situation to improve. It is difficult for a person to accept the fact that he has no chance of seeing his country going back to normal in his lifetime. It is even harder to accept that his children will not see recovery either. When it comes to grandchildren, no person would ever admit that such a long period of stagnation of a whole state is possible in principle.

Of course, everyone knows the situation in sub-Saharan Africa (where a normal, stable, and prosperous state is a rare exception). We all know the examples of Afghanistan and Somalia, where civil wars have been dragging on for half a century with no end in sight which have completely destroyed the economy and thrown the broad masses of the population back to prehistoric living standards. We also know that the Palestinians have been fighting since 1947 for the creation of their own state (in accordance with a UN Security Council resolution) yet already the fourth generation of their children has been born in exile. The tragedies of Libya and Iraq , where it is now unknown when normal life will be restored, recently unfolded before our very eyes.

People tend to believe that it is sufficient to change a bad ruler (or regime) for a good one and that then prosperity will arrive tomorrow. All the Maidans (“we’ll banish the corrupt villain and we’ll have European happiness”) were built on this propaganda. Even anti-Maidan forces have bought into the same kind of illusion.

Seeing that the Poroshenko regime is staggering, Ukrainian anti-fascists have begun to revel in discussing regime change options. The overall political environment has contributed to their optimism – the US is busy fighting China and plunging into a conflict with Europe; European leaders have gone to Sochi and have now gone to the Saint Petersburg Economic Forum to probe the possibility of building new pragmatic relations with Russia. Ukraine’s support has blown away like a punctured balloon. Kiev is no longer accusing Poles or Hungarians of “betraying Ukraine”, but Merkel and Macron. Things have reached the point that Ukrainian experts are beginning to argue that the notorious Normandy format was devised by Germany (with France’s non-resistance) to sell Ukraine to Russia.

In general, everyone sees two things. First, the Kiev regime is not a permanent resident. Secondly, none of the serious players are eager to fight against Russia for Ukraine. The conclusion is thus drawn that there is only a little left to wait before the “Bastilles are stormed” and power will pass to the appropriate people. Then relations with Russia will be restored and prosperity will arrive.

This is an illusion – a dangerous illusion.

I recently had a long conversation with my friend and colleague who had to leave Kiev just a month ago. Then I managed to talk to some more people who remain in Kiev. All of them are well aware of the fact that there are no pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine and its immediate vicinity. They also know perfectly well that all the differences between the Ukrainian authorities (whoever they are) and the Ukrainian opposition (whoever is in it) at all times are only over who gets to loot the country and whose turn it is to eat from the palm. They know that even according to official data, the country’s GDP has fallen twice and foreign trade has fallen three times. For them it is no secret that not only have Ukrainian high-tech enterprises lost foreign markets, but even Ukraine’s agricultural products are being displaced.

That is, they know that there are no chances for a rapid restoration of Ukrainian statehood and the Ukrainian economy following the fall of the current regime. There is simply nobody to do this. And yet they believe that Russia will do this, and in a short time will return welfare to at least the 2013 level…

They argue that, first of all, Russia still cannot allow a “European Somalia” on its borders. Secondly, the country [Ukraine] has large agricultural and transit potential, so there is something on which to rely to start recovery. Thirdly, industry can be at least partially revived.

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Why is the expectation of a quick revival of Ukraine a dangerous illusion? In principle, I am inclined to think that there will never be any revival within the framework of Ukrainian statehood. Firstly, the fragmentation of Ukraine and its fragments’ integration into neighboring states is a long process (a founding state of the UN can’t simply be taken and liquidated “because one wants to”). Secondly, even such a turn of events does not promise any “Ukrainian economic miracle” in the foreseeable future.

Why? Because all significant economic leaps have always been achieved under the leadership of an adequate national elite which works itself and others to the bone in building a system of international political and economic alliances in a way that the development of national industry and access to world markets is beneficial to partners.

The US has invested tens of billions of dollars in Germany, Japan, South Korea. You may not believe it, but they also invested tens of billions in Ukraine (including through the IMF). If we add to the EU investments, the number is even more. At the same time, Russia, by virtue of low energy prices and various distortions in bilateral trade which benefited Ukraine, has also subsidized Kiev three times more than the West has invested. Taken together Western loans and financial assistance and Russian loans and trade preferences for Ukraine have brought over four hundred billion dollars into different channels over Ukraine’s 27 years of independence. In other words, every two out of three dollars of Ukraine’s state budget has been from the West or Russia.

So what? At the moment, Ukraine has neither a state nor an economy, yet Kiev hopes that the next IMF loan of a billion dollars, which the country has been waiting for a year and a half (and, obviously, will not receive) will solve all its problems.

In fact, not only have the huge sums of money invested in Ukraine by its multi-vector partners been stolen, but Ukraine itself – as such – has been stolen. The territory and the population remain, but the state and the economy have not. And there is no local elite that would be willing to take responsibility for a breakthrough “economic miracle”. Poroshenko’s opponents are now once again promising the people “a salary of one thousand dollars” after they come to power. Yatsenyuk in 2014 promised more, but now the appetites of the impoverished population have become much more modest.

The opposition’s lack of any idea for Ukrainian economic recovery, as well as alternative foreign and domestic policy, is convincing evidence that Poroshenko’s opponents, who are rushing to get into power, do not plan to change anything except the name of the owner of the pocket into which financial flows land. In such a situation, any help, whether from Russia, Europe, or even the United States, even all together, is rendered meaningless. Thieves are only capable of stealing as their profession. And Ukraine is too big to ensure the rule of law at the expense of external management.

I am horrified to see how the situation in the 17th century has been repeated with astounding accuracy in Ukraine. Back then, the territory had already left Poland, but had not yet finally passed to Russia. The result of the domination of local elites was called “Ruina”, a civilizational disaster: many decades of civil war, endless upheaval, the partition of the country and division of society, the destruction of the (pre-Deluge, grain-export-oriented) economy which existed under the Poles, the loss of from third to half of the population, etc. Does this ring a bell?

Both in the 17th century and now, Poland and Russia have no interest in a European Somalia flailing on their borders. But nobody has been able to do anything about this, as all attempts to rely on the local elite have led to the recognition that they are dealing with a scoundrel, thief, and traitor.

Tens of thousands of intelligent administrators will not come out of nowhere. Responsible politicians will not be sent in from Moscow, Berlin, or Washington. Until there are people there who can effectively use external assistance, there will be no help. The same goes for “humanitarian” aid (under the protection of blue helmets).

The fall of the Kiev regime does not automatically mean an economic miracle. The regime has had only political opponents, not economic ones, and there is simply no one to pursue a new economic policy.

The circle is closed. All that remains is to hope that the international situation will develop in such a way that Ukraine’s neighbors will be able to restore order on their borders and bring the survivors back to civilization. Except this will not happen anytime soon.

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