UkraineAlert

Anyone who feels that Eurovision has become too politicized need look no further than Ukraine for confirmation. Nobody takes the song contest quite as seriously as the Ukrainians, who treat it as an extension of foreign policy complete with furious nationwide debates and heavy-handed government interventions. The latest scandal, which has seen the winner of the national competition deselected following outcry over her decision to continue performing in Russia despite the state of undeclared war between the two countries, is entirely in keeping with the exaggerated political importance attached to Ukraine’s annual participation. Indeed, for students of modern Ukrainian history, the country’s yearly Eurovision soap opera serves an entertaining guide to Ukraine’s broader post-Soviet progress.

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There was a distinct sense of the theatrical inside and outside Kyiv’s Administrative Court #2 earlier this month as it decided the fate of Dr. Ulana Suprun, Ukraine’s acting minister of health.

Leaving the proceedings, one was left with at least two seemingly absurd questions: what was this showdown all about and why was an “administrative court” deciding the fate of a politically appointed cabinet minister?

All societies where corrupt ethical practices hold sway tend to produce narratives which suggest both an overt and hidden meaning, and which, almost always, cause confusion as to the meaning of the narrative that people have witnessed.

However, from the beginning there was never any doubt that this was a political showdown instigated by MP Ihor Mosiychuk, seen throughout the country as he was filmed accepting bribes, and three political parties, Opposition Bloc, Fatherland, and the Radical Party, to personally discredit the minister and her efforts at “transformative reform” of the country’s medical system.

What became immediately evident was that this clash was never really about the questions of her citizenship, or her status as “acting minister,” or even about who was running the ministry or had signing authority while she traveled on business.

How did we get here?

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Last year Washington finally gave Kyiv the javelin missiles it had been begging for. But the javelins are mostly symbolic and won’t change much on the frontlines. For more than six months, Washington has been talking about giving Ukraine additional arms to improve its air and naval defenses. These arms are more likely after Russian ships attacked Ukrainian ones in November 2018. Some experts have put together lists of equipment that the United States could easily give or transfer.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, Congress may wonder if the Ukrainian army is any good and whether the funds will go to waste. Is the Ukrainian army worthy of greater investment? 

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The ongoing political standoff in Venezuela offers an opportunity for Washington to get something it wants: a democratically elected president in Venezuela and one less vocal Russian ally in its backyard. The Trump Administration recently announced that it plans to leave Syria without any conditions. Russia is involved in both Venezuela and Syria, so if the United States thinks strategically, it can advance its interests by linking the two. The deal will be complicated but it’s worth a shot.

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In Ukraine, demand for a genuine fight against corruption is still extremely high. According to recent surveys, voters name corruption as one of the three biggest problems in Ukraine. Nine out of ten Ukrainians consider grand political corruption the greatest threat to the country, while 80 percent are convinced that the main reason for corruption is a lack of accountability. A majority of Ukrainians say that the president bears the largest responsibility for the fight.

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Ukraine’s presidential elections present a difficult choice for those who want to see the country of 44 million finish what it started in 2014. Sadly all reliable opinion polls indicate that experienced reform candidates have no chance of winning. Former Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko currently stands at around 8 percent and Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyi at 4 percent. It is highly unlikely that either will significantly increase their appeal in the coming six weeks.

Two candidates with long experience in Ukraine’s politics have a chance of making it through the first round: President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. However, they have poor reform credentials.

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The world is in turmoil, Russia occupies part of Ukraine, reforms in Ukraine still have a way to go, and democracy is in retreat in much of Europe.

One would think Ukrainians would be worried. One would think they would want an experienced person at the helm. Instead, they may be about to elect the 41-year-old television comedian, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as their next president.

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On February 7, hundreds of Facebook users in Ukraine posted videos with red nose filters. Everyone ended up looking like a clown, and that was precisely the point. Ukrainians are clowns because they’ve allowed the country’s political elites to rob them blind, keeping salaries and social benefits low. This was part of a flash mob started by Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a Ukrainian comedian and the surprise leader in the latest polls for the presidential election slated for March 31.  

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Elections may be on the horizon, but I firmly believe that reforms will continue through 2020 and beyond. Now that Ukraine has enshrined EU and NATO accession as the fundamental direction of the country, whoever comes to power, Ukraine’s pro-western economic development and orientation cannot be reversed.

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On February 1, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the United States would suspend its obligations under the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Pompeo said Russia had violated the treaty for years. The next day, the State Department notified the Russian embassy and the embassies of the other treaty parties, including Ukraine, of the US intention to withdraw from the treaty. President Vladimir Putin that same day said that Russia also would suspend its treaty obligations.

Unfortunately, the INF Treaty is headed for demise.

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