Ukrainians are a delightfully pithy people when it comes to folk wisdom. “Borrowed bread lies heavy on the stomach”, they say. “The earth will cover the doctor’s mistakes”. And, my favourite; “Your head is not only for putting a hat on”. Today we’re going to take a look at the opinions of some folks who appear sorely in need of a little homespun wisdom in the latter advice category. The reference for this (hat tip to Mike Averko over at the American Chronicle) is this wilfully ignorant piece published by the Kyiv Post, and based on supporting information from our old friend The Democratist. The Democratist is a big fan of “colour revolutions” in general, and appears to be of the opinion that things have turned decidedly for the worse in Ukraine since the Orange Revolution, well… basically failed to deliver on any of its promises.
Discussion of this disingenuous piece would be misplaced without first discussing liberal “colour revolution” democracy initiatives in general. This is assisted by a review of the role in such upheavals of NGO’s – Non-Government Organizations, or “Ingos”. Here, we learn that (a) American international NGOs were prominent mechanisms through which [the] causal link between superpower foreign policy interests and regime change worked out in many transitions from authoritarian rule in the twenty-one-year-long “third wave”; (b) The “rose revolution” in Georgia (November 2003-January 2004), the “orange revolution” in Ukraine (January 2005) and the “tulip revolution” in Kyrgyzstan (April 2005) – each followed a near-identical trajectory; all were spearheaded by the American democratisation Ingos working at the behest of the US foreign policy establishment; and (c) rarely has the US promoted human rights and democracy in a region when they did not suit its grander foreign-policy objectives.
On the face of it, this is not unreasonable. The world has often relied in the past on the USA to manage situations or circumstances that nobody else could have done – often, in fact, after everybody else had tried and failed. It wouldn’t make sense to expect America, then, to deliberately work against its own best interests. But that pretext begs the question whether it is democratic government and its people’s interests that are being served, or corporate meddling. In this we are perhaps given a clue by recognized democratisation and political reform expert and current Vice President for Studies at the Cargegie Endowment for International Peace, Thomas Carothers. Mr. Carothers is quoted in the previously-referenced article on democratisation and Colour Revolutions as decrying the instrumentalization of democracy initiatives by recent American administrations: “The United States has close, even intimate relations with many undemocratic regimes for the sake of American security and economic interests… and struggles very imperfectly to balance its ideals with the realist imperatives it faces.” Just off the top of your head, in a conflict between ideals and realist imperatives over the last 20 years, which side has won more often?
Well, let’s go back to the recent inspiration for Democratist’s (and, by extension, the Kyiv Post‘s) analysis of Ukraine’s current situation under the presidency of, if you’ll forgive me, kremlin stooge Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych. The source for this treasure-trove of political insider dope is, we learn, a “new friend” in Odessa who “seems to know everyone worth knowing”. While that may well be an accurate characterization, it sounds to me suspiciously like a description of an aide to the Tymoschenko campaign, or at least someone whose political preferences closely mirror Democratist’s own – although neither of those necessarily indicate a true finger-on-the-pulse report of what’s actually going on in Ukraine rather than, say, a bundle of information certain interests would like to transmit through a western-media conduit.
But let’s take a look at it; you can’t know too much, right? Before we leave Democratist’s original post, “Ukraine May Be Turning Back Toward the EU, But Integration Remains a Distant Prospect”, let’s deal with the allegation that Ukraine is experiencing an “intensified wave of high-level corruption under Yanukovych”.
Is it? It appears some of this information is based on what Democratist considers “credible allegations”, without much further in the way of qualification. But a good bit of it appears to be centred on the suggestion that “reforms introduced as part of a $15 billion IMF loan arrangement have not boosted Ukraine’s competitiveness or market freedom, but have instead benefitted a few businessmen close to the President. Officially the economy appears to be bouncing back from the global financial crisis, with growth projected at 4.5% this year and 6.5% for 2012, but this does not yet appear to be filtering down to the popular level.” That statement is attributed to Anders Aslund, of the Peterson Institute. That’d be the same Anders Aslund who, although he had a moment of lucidity when he argued (in company with Fred Bergstrom) that Russia should be allowed to join the WTO, has nonetheless compared the Russian oligarchs who hijacked the nation’s wealth in Yeltsin’s time to “engines of capitalist development”, predicted that Dmitry Medvedev would be overthrown by a military coup d’etat and regularly whispers juicy gossip to the Moscow Times about the enormous wealth Vladimir Putin has amassed although nobody else can seem to find any trace of it.
Anyway, Anders Aslund is right, this time. The problem seems to be that Democratist is talking about the wrong president. In fact, the IMF suspended Ukraine’s 2009 $16.4 Billion loan “because the former administration of President Viktor Yushchenko, who was at odds with his government, reneged on promises of financial restraint.” Yanukovych is playing catch-up, and is committed by IMF oversight to “unpopular measures such as hiking utilities tariffs and reducing pensions or raising the retirement age” in order to realize the directed goal of reducing the national deficit to 3.5% of GDP in 2011. Just a guess, but that might well account for the surliness over the economy Democratist claims to have registered.
However, if you’d like a refresher on how Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) behaved under Orange-Revolution-installed wunderkind Viktor Yushchenko, here’s a handy reminder from the World Bank. A comprehensive understanding of economics is not necessary to see that FDI in Ukraine fell off a cliff just around the time Yushchenko took the helm, after observing an equally steep positive trend to that point. Just for fun, here’s the Russian Federation’s figures for the same time period, in case you were thinking the entire region experienced a blizzard of bad news on the FDI front. Au contraire, mon frère.
The week after the economic reform package of President Yanukovych’s government was released, deals were inked for nearly $60 million in FDI from Barclay’s Capital, the IFC (private-investment arm of the World Bank) and Hera Holdings of Spain. Analysts at the time were skeptical that this progress would continue. But it did; FDI was up 4.9% in 2010 and up another 11.6% year-over-year in the first quarter 2011.
But economics is boring. Let’s have some fun. Although the odious Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) compiled by the somewhat ironically-named Transparency International is a regular source of mockery in blogs like this one, Russophobes swear by it, and love to giggle about the poor ratings received by Russia. The CPI’s methodology has been regularly and resoundingly deconstructed by sources such as Anatoly Karlin’s Sublime Oblivion, and statistical variations offer flexible reasons for why a country is up or down in the ratings; the size of the sample group, for one, which he was recently forced to explain in childlike terms to La Russophobe’s Kim Zigfeld.
Still, let’s imagine none of that is true – pretend it’s accurate. Even if you can’t do that, surely everyone will acknowledge that a trend is a trend, and down cannot be made to look like up no matter what analysis discipline you choose to employ. With that in mind, let’s look at the CPI specific to Ukraine, with a view to how things shook out on the corruption front. Ready? All right, then.
In 2004, the last full year before Yushchenko ascended to the presidency, Ukraine ranked 122 of 145 countries rated. In 2006, the first full year of Yushchenko’s presidency, Ukraine rated 118 of 179. So Ukraine moved up 4 positions on the list – but another 34 positions were added to the sample group. Is that a net gain for Ukraine, do you think? In case you do, let’s look at 2009, the final full year of Yushchenko’s presidency. Ukraine plunged to 146th on a list of 180 nations. The following year, after Yanukovych took over the presidency, Ukraine stood at 134 in a sample group of 178 nations. For the statistically challenged, that means Ukraine stood higher on the list after showing a steady downward trend, while the sample group got smaller.
Democratist attempts a bit of preemptive damage control by sternly warning that Transparency International has taken Ukraine to the woodshed because of corruption. This, he blithely suggests, is “part of the Soviet inheritance”. Do tell. How, pray, does that equate to a steady decline in Ukraine’s rating for corrupt practices during the reign of the most progressive western-style leader Ukraine has ever had, followed by an uptick in the same rating – as measured by a barometer that is holy writ for russophobes – as soon as he was unseated? Was Yushchenko also part of the Soviet inheritance? If so, he seems to me a most unsuitable choice for leader of a western-style revolution. See? I said this would be fun.
But, as fun as statistics demonstrably are, it’s often helpful to view the results from a different perspective. Just for fun, let’s run a comparison of Ukraine against a couple of nations that have been much in the news of late. First, Egypt.
As you can see, although the figures moved around a little, there was never a period of the Yushchenko presidency when Ukraine was assessed by Transparency International as less corrupt than Egypt under Hosni Mubarak. What did a spokesperson for American policy like Republican presidential candidate John McCain have to say about Mubarak lately? He was invited to resign immediately for the good of his country. Want to do another one? Okay, how about Libya?
For the last two years of the Yushchenko presidency, Ukraine sank below Libya on the corruption scale and was steadily getting worse. What does the U.S. Secretary of State have to say about Moammar Gaddafi? That his forcible removal is in the best interests of his people, while committing $25 Million in U.S. funding to support for the group attempting his overthrow.
As comparative unknown Philip K. Dick once told the world, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away”.