In just over a year, Russia has seized 9 percent of Ukraine, killed 6,200, wounded 30,000, displaced 1.38 million people, and shot down a commercial airliner with 298 people aboard.
Even so, European and American retaliation has been soft, and ineffective. The Russians have ignored a February ceasefire agreement and captured another 28 towns and villages, 250 square kilometers, and killed 200 Ukrainians. It's also moving tanks, artillery, troops, and equipment into Ukraine by the trainload.
Ukraine ranks 142nd out of 175 countries on Transparency International's latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index. Of the fifteen former Soviet republics, only Tajikistan and Uzbekistan score lower. Official graft is widespread, but public procurement corruption tops the Kyiv government's list of challenges. In early 2014, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk noted that 40 percent of the $25 billion spent annually on public procurement "stays in the corrupt pockets of the people who carry out these purchases." Under the old regime, 50 percent kickbacks in state tenders was considered normal, and a survey from Business Environment and Enterprise Performance discovered that an astounding 99 percent of firms expect to pay bribes to win government contracts.
If only this were true. In fact, even though Russia hasn't yet attacked Ukraine head-on, and the time for such a full-scale offensive is slipping away—not to mention the crippling impact sanctions and falling oil prices have had on Russia's economy—the Kremlin threat has not gone away.
The day I learned about Mr. X's remarkable academic achievements, the weekly magazine Vlast Deneg named Education Minister Serhiy Kvit the most successful reformer in Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk's cabinet. The press praised Kvit for adopting the Higher Education Law, which broadened universities' autonomy and brought Ukraine's higher education systems in line with global academic standards. Kvit had quickly ended the corrupt state procurements of school textbooks and revoked the accreditation of 70 universities with low academic standards. Under ex-Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk—now a fugitive from Ukrainian justice—textbook printers allegedly paid millions of hryvnia in kickbacks, while numerous private universities easily renewed their academic licenses after paying tokens of respect to the right people.
Upon independence in 1991, Ukraine inherited the world's third-largest arsenal of nuclear warheads. Most were not immediately deployable, since the black suitcase remained in Moscow. Even so, in principle, Kyiv had the possibility of resetting the old firing control systems of the Soviet nuclear weapons left on Ukrainian territory.
In early 1992, Ukraine's armed forces possessed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), long-range bombers and their payloads, as well as additional atomic weapons—a total of 4,025 units, or 15 percent of the former Soviet nuclear arsenal, according to the US Natural Resources Defense Council. Up until the mid-1990s, Ukraine had far more nuclear weapons than China, France, or the United Kingdom combined. The cumulative destructive power of this arsenal was enormous. Even if Ukraine had retained only a fraction of this weaponry, today it would be a feared nuclear power.
- In Sochi, Kerry's principal focus was Iran, and his subsequent public statements about the breach of the Minsk II ceasefire by Russia and its separatist agents were weak;
- The post-Sochi visit of Assistant US Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland to Moscow to establish a US-Russia channel on the Ukraine crisis with Deputy Minister Grigory Karasin without Ukrainian participation;
- Nuland's presence in Kyiv in mid-July to lobby the Verkhovna Rada to pass the constitutional change on decentralization granting the Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples' Republics special status, as required by Minsk II;
- Praise by President Barack Obama, Kerry, and other senior US officials for Moscow's role in clinching the nuclear deal with Iran in late July; and
- The quick White House denial that an aggressive Kremlin is the top US national security challenge, after General Joseph Dunford, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, made that statement at his Congressional confirmation hearings in July.
But the notion that Washington is restraining or curtailing that support in exchange for Russian cooperation on Iran doesn't match the facts. Kyiv has been understandably disappointed by limited support from the West in addressing Moscow's aggression in Ukraine. While the White House has been slow to recognize the grave danger posed by Putin's revisionist ambitions, its policies in fact have been improving with time.
Hundreds of volunteers from around the country have tried to fill the communications and humanitarian gap in the Donbas. Over the last year, I have been privileged to work in eastern Ukraine as part of the Lviv Education Foundation's efforts. I found eight initiatives that demonstrate that volunteerism is on the rise in the Donbas and they—along with the people that I've met—give me cause to be hopeful for eastern Ukraine.
The involvement of Chechen soldiers fighting in eastern Ukraine devoutly loyal to Kadyrov has broad implications for Kremlin policy. Not only does it reinforce Moscow's reliance on "informal paramilitary-style forces" that shift blame for controversial operations away from the Kremlin, it also provides an example as to how Russian President Vladimir Putin may use Kadyrov to solidify his own power.