Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 77

Ukraine’s political situation in the wake of the March 29 elections is stable, but the country’s political system may not be able to generate the decisive leadership needed to introduce the economic reforms the country urgently needs. This was the general conclusion of the specialists discussing Ukraine’s political parties at the annual convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities at Columbia University on 18 April.

Sherman Garnett of the Carnegie Endowment issued a stark warning to Ukraine’s leaders. While welcoming the fact that elections have become a regular feature of Ukrainian democracy, Garnett argued that the elections involve primarily a competition for power between rival clans of regional oligarchs. Voters are not given the opportunity to choose policies which can tackle Ukraine’s ongoing economic crisis. Garnett said the philosophy of “muddling through”–which the political elite has come to adopt–will no longer suffice. It would be a mistake, he asserted, to assume that Kyiv can wait until the October 1999 presidential elections before tackling the country’s problems.

Although inflation has been conquered (falling to 10 percent this year) economic restructuring has barely begun and corruption is rife–and this corruption has often struck at US business interests in recent months. Garnett suggested that U.S. interest in Ukraine is likely to wane, given that the questions of Ukrainian independence and the removal of nuclear weapons have been resolved. A leadership role will now pass to the European Union–which has yet to conclude an association treaty with Ukraine. Unless some new political initiative is taken by the Ukrainian leadership, Garnett suggested, Ukraine may come to be regarded as the “Turkey of Europe,” banished to the periphery for the immediate future.