On the first anniversary of the presidency of Viktor Yanukovych, it is entirely appropriate to offer an overall report card on the performance of Ukraine’s new leader and his government team. This article attempts to do so by comparing the actions and policies of Yanukovych and his Prime Minister Mykola Azarov with the state of affairs under the divided rule of President Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in 2009. Given constitutional changes between the two sets of leaders, this article will in effect contrast the Yanukovych presidency with the Yushcheno-Tymoshenko leadership.

In the hyper-polarized environment that is Ukrainian politics, such attempts may seem futile to some. And I have no doubt that many partisan readers are inclined to see the two sets of leaders in black and white terms. But I do hope objective readers will find this effort a useful and honest exercise at assessing the strengths and weaknesses of both presidents and governments. At the very least, I offer this anniversary review as a means of stimulating intelligent discussion and civil debate.

I have no doubt that even the most objective readers are sure to take issue with some of the discrete grades and judgments in this report card on 26 dimensions of policy and practice. Nevertheless, I hope the overall averages and the scores in the five broad categories I have adopted for this report card—Economic Policy, Foreign Relations, Democracy and the Rule of Law, Government Effectiveness, and Culture and Education— helps us get a handle on where Ukraine stands under the leadership of Yanukovych and on how much Ukraine has and hasn’t changed.

Overall Findings

The overall findings show a cumulative average grade of B-minus for Yanukovych’s rule in power, in contrast to a grade of C for 2009 under the divided rule of Yushchenko-Tymoshenko. However, the grades in each of the five categories reveal more substantial differences: there are marked improvements in economic policy and economic performance under the Yanukovych presidency; a notable though not dramatic deterioration in democratic practices and human rights under the new leadership; somewhat better results in foreign relations, significantly better performance in the functioning and effectiveness of government; and poorer performance in the broad sphere of culture, education, and language policy.

With this summary, let’s take a closer, annotated look at the scores in the five major categories. In each subcategory grade, the better performance is noted in bold and italicized form.

The Economy and Economic Policy



  2010-11 2009-10
Privatization B D
Fiscal Responsibility B+ C
Economic Growth B D
Inflation B B
Tax Policy C D
Pension Reform Inc. F
Average Grade B C-

Economic performance and policy have seen a marked improvement in the last year. In part this is a consequence of real policy improvements, and the global economic rebound. Whatever the reasons, the first year of the Yanukovych presidency has represented a real turnaround from the disastrous economic state of affairs of 2009.

Under President Yanukovych, serious efforts at privatization have once again begun. Even with questions presented by the way the tender for the privatization of Ukrtelecom was handled, a sale that generates serious new revenues for a strapped government is better than no privatization at all. More importantly, there are signs that the government is moving toward opening up shale gas exploration to private sector participation. All this is a far better performance than the stasis under Yushchenko-Tymoshenko.

Even serious critics of the new government believe that revenue projections in the new budget represent a serious step forward from 2009. The fact that the IMF resumed its cooperation with Ukraine in 2010 is a further sign of a more responsible fiscal approach.

Serious improvements in GDP performance also cannot be disputed. Like the Yanukovych team or not, you cannot deny that a 15 percent decline, among Europe’s worst performances in 2009, is far worse than growth of 4.2 percent in 2010. 

Inflation is moderately high in 2010, but generally under control as was the case in 2009.

Pension reform is likely to be ambitious if one is to judge by soundings coming from Yanukovych and the government. However, until action is taken, the Yanukovych team gets an incomplete. By contrast, the previous government showed no political will in addressing the problems posed by a corrupted pension system that paid huge dividends for a select few and refused to address the growing gap between revenues and expenditures in a system that unrealistically encourages women to retire at 55. 

Democracy and Human Rights



  2010-11 2009-10
Elections and Political Parties B- A-
Adherence to Constitution C B
Media Freedoms B- B
Civil Society / Assembly B- B
Judicial System C C
Average Grade C+ B

Overall, the last year has seen a measurable though modest decline in democratic practices and human rights.

The 2010 presidential race under President Yushchenko was open, competitive and was judged to be free and fair. Local elections during the Yanukovych were a step away from best practices. In some cities very close results failed to trigger rigorous recounts as courts shied away from protecting the public’s democratic rights. The process, moreover, was not helped by the fact that the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc was off the ballot in Western Ukraine, in part as a result of questionable legal decisions and in part because of internal disputes inside the BYUT camp. Political party freedoms were not advanced by the perception that anti-corruption cases are restricting the ability of Ms. Tymoshenko to move freely about the country to promote her party’s popularity.

A constitutional court decision returning significant executive power to President Yanukovych and in effect contradicting court rulings that consecrated the reverse under President Yushchenko eroded faith in constitutional practices and undermined confidence in the apolitical nature of judicial decisions. But then again, in 2000, George Bush won the US presidency from Al Gore in a Supreme Court decision that reflected the political divide in the highest court of one of the world’s longest lasting and stable democracies.

In the media and public information sphere, there was less of an erosion than partisans might think. News programs have become less hard-hitting than in 2009, but immensely popular political talk shows, which go on for hours in prime time afford all Ukrainians who care significant access to opposition views. And a new law on public access to information, at the very least, gives reporters and citizens broader legal rights to information about government activity and policymaking.

Civil society continued to show significant vibrancy during 2010, despite the more apparent interest shown in its activities by the State Security service, the SBU. Protests proliferated, as students, opposition parties, and small business leaders protested vigorously around the country, the latter with some effect on tax policy, suggesting freedom of assembly remains strong and resistant to government encroachment.

 Alas, the judicial system continues to suffer from external political influence, high levels of alleged corruption, and laws on the books since the dark days of Soviet rule. But that is hardly different from the state of affairs prior to President Yanukovych’s coming to office. The one difference, here, is that before judges maneuvered between the competing interests of Ms. Tymoshenko and President Yushchenko, and legal gridlock ruled.

Foreign Relations



  2010-11 2009-10
Russia B- D
Foreign Investment C C-
Average Grade B- C-

Overall, Ukraine has seen measurable improvements in its international relations. President Yanukovych has been a frequent flyer with numerous trips to Asia, the EU, the US and Russia. In part this improvement is occasioned by the sense in foreign capitals that there is one place where policy is made in Ukraine. This contrasts positively to the fatigue and exasperation that greeted the endless efforts of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko to undermine one another at home and abroad.

After the deep concessions made by Ukraine to Russia as a result of the prolongation of the Russo-Ukrainian Black Sea Fleet agreement, many feared that Yanukovych is ready to erode Ukraine’s sovereignty. Instead, he has spent the last year pursuing pragmatic relations with Russia, without surrendering national interest. By contrast, in 2009, Ukraine’s relations with Russia suffered from excessively harsh and escalating rhetoric emanating from both Presidents and from excessive concessions made by Ukraine in a far-reaching gas deal between the two country’s prime ministers, Vladimir Putin and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Relations with the European Union have improved in practical terms under the Yanukovych team as free trade and open visa regime discussions move forward. Greater progress, however, has been stifled by setbacks in human rights and the negative reaction from Europe that has greeted the widescale legal cases against a broad swath of the former Tymoshenko government.

The resumption of IMF funding and cooperation under the Yanukovych presidency represents an important turnaround in relations with the world’s major international financial institutions.

US-Ukraine relations are on an upswing. Ukraine’s contributions to international nuclear security, its openness to US participation in shale gas exploration, and its own reset of relations with Russia are welcomed in Washington. While criticisms of human rights erosions have increased, the overall state of relations is significantly better than during the last dysfunctional year of Orange rule, when Ukraine fatigue prevailed.

Alas, there is little improvement as yet in the flow of foreign investment into Ukraine as corporate raids, weak enforcement of shareholder rights and property rights continue to trump a market that offers potential for high returns.

Government Reform



  2010-11 2009-10
Stability B+ B-
Effective Chain of Command A- D
Corruption C C
Anti-Corruption Efforts B D
Administrative Reform B F
Average Grade B C-

Overall, the area of government reform has seen significant improvement under Yanukovych. Policymaking and decision-making is more clear cut. Government rule in more stable, marred primarily by a partly unnecessary polarization in language and national identity policy. The chain of command is clear cut and effective. Corruption remains an endemic and generic problem at all levels, as it did under Orange rule. Serious anti-corruption campaigns have targeted pro- and anti-government officials, alike, though the latter campaigns are marred by the growing international perception that they are motivated by the desire to attack political opponents. Still, Yanukovych appears committed to attacking a system which shakes down citizens and the private sector from top to bottom.

At the same time, the government deserves high marks for its commitment to administrative reform and its determination to pare down the size of government. Fewer bureaucrats means a more rational use of personnel, and, perhaps, a reduction of intrusive inspections of small business that retard productivity and give greater scope for corruption. This contrasts favorably with the failure to claw back at a growing government bureaucracy during the Yushchenko years. 

Culture and Education



  2010-11 2009-10
National Unity / Identity C C
Educational Policy D B
Ukrainian Language C B-
Promotion of Culture B- B
Euro 2012 A- C+
Average Grade C B-

If not for the disastrous educational policies pursued by Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk, his efforts at eroding university autonomy and his needless polarization of relations between Ukrainian- and Russian-speakers, the Yanukovych presidency would have a higher grade in this sphere.

National unity continues to be undermined by the absence of an intelligent narrative that encompasses both the Russian- and Ukrainian-speaking communities. Under Yushchenko, Ukraine pursued a Right-bank narrative with the celebration of polarizing movements such as the OUN. Under President Yanukovych, the narrative has tilted toward the right bank, and appointments of a Communist to head the Institute of National Memory suggest a tilt in the direction of the Soviet narrative. Both approaches have undermined the shaping of a unifying narrative which would emphasize the suffering that Ukraine’s inhabitants have met as a result of the historical absence of statehood and emphasize the strong desire for autonomy that was present in both the Right and Left banks of Ukrainian politics through the centuries.

On the language sphere there is less than meets the eye, as efforts to make Russian the second state language appear unlikely. Moreover, Eastern Ukrainians continue to give preference to Russian, a fact left unchanged by the Ukrainization efforts of President Yushchenko.

On the cultural sphere, few state leaders could compete with President Yushchenko’s interest in folk culture and the arts.

By contrast, preparations for the Euro 2012 soccer championship have gathered dramatic steam as stadiums and roads are being built at an impressive pace. Allegations of cronyism in the awarding of infrastructure contracts persist, a fact largely unchanged from the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko years.


Overall, on the basis of this survey, the first year of the Yanukovych presidency represented a modest step forward for Ukraine. In some areas—government effectiveness, an improving economy, international relations, and administrative reforms—the progress over the last year has been tangible. In others – the state of the judiciary and human rights – serious problems require urgent attention.

If Yanukovych uses the next year to address growing international concerns about negative trends in the democracy sphere, places greater emphasis on building national unity between East and West by removing officials who polarize education needlessly, introduces a new generation of young managers into a pared-down government, tackles corruption in a way that allays worries about politically-motivated persecution, and addresses a criminal justice system largely unreformed since the Soviet era, he will be able to move from the real progress on the economy and effective governance, toward the shaping of a modern, European state. Having established a clear chain of command and made highly public declarations of his intention to transform Ukraine into a state that intends to be an integral part of the European Union, he has taken on a high stakes burden. And by concentrating power in the executive, he has let everyone in Ukraine and around the world know that he bears ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of his plans.

Adrian Karatnycky is Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council of the U.S. and an advisor to European and North American businesses. For over a decade he headed the US NGO Freedom House, directing its annual survey of Freedom in the World and developing its Nations in Transit, its pioneering annual assessment of the reform post-Communist world.

The A to F grade scale is, quite obviously, adapted from modified US and European Union academic usage. It is intended to roughly correspond to the 5 to 1 scale employed in Ukraine and other Eastern European states.

Related Experts: Adrian Karatnycky