Pro-Ukrainian demonstrators this week vandalized the Kiev branch of a Russian bank and the offices of a pro-Russia political movement. They also rifled through the offices of the Ukrainian envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group, the international body attempting to settle the conflict with pro-Russia separatists in the east. Vandals set fires, destroyed equipment and broke windows.
The spasm of rage coincided with the third anniversary of the Maidan revolution in the center of the Ukrainian capital, which overthrew the government of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, who immediately took refuge in Russia.
The protests mark a visceral warning to the government that ordinary Ukrainians are desperate for the change they were promised and hoped for, given the blood that was shed that violent winter. The mostly young people fought and died for a new Ukraine, facing down snipers with nothing but wooden shields and words.
Three years later, they remain angry and frustrated, and their patience is wearing thin.
The International Monetary Fund just left Kiev without an agreement to release more of the aid that had been allocated to Ukraine in the latest round of negotiations. It seems the IMF did not see enough progress on recapitalizing the banks, reducing subsidies and making state industry profitable. But the biggest problem of all, flagged by the IMF, was the lack of “tangible results in prosecuting and convicting corrupt high-level officials and recovering proceeds from corruption.”
Despite the revolution, corruption continues to strangle the country. Recent directives for politicians to disclose personal wealth showed that many of the country’s “public servants” own vast fortunes. Obviously, this “serious money” was not earned based on the salary of a member of parliament or the paycheck of an executive-branch employee. In addition, the agency that investigates politicians’ wealth is underfunded and lacks the technology and resources to do an effective job — most likely on purpose.
The conflict in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, eased somewhat by the removal heavy weapons under the latest Minsk agreement, is flaring up again. Russia has made a big issue of incidents in Crimea involving the supposed kidnapping of Russian servicemen and the planning of “terrorist” incidents.
To top it off, it seems the president-elect in Washington may not see Ukraine as vital to the national security of the United States.
Donald Trump is as ambiguous on the subject as he is with many other issues — again, on purpose — perhaps in a bid to keep his adversaries guessing. Perhaps he is just putting pressure on Ukraine to finally deal with rampant corruption, the same way he is pressuring NATO countries in Europe to pay more for their own defense. Perhaps all of this is just a negotiating tactic, the opening bid in a long, drawn-out plan to get results that are favorable to America.
In any event, Ukraine would be well served to tackle the corruption issue seriously and get its house in order. Time is running out. Russia would like nothing better than to see Ukraine become a failed state forced to come back to Moscow, hat in hand, for help. This scenario is possible if the IMF, at some point, decides to pull the plug on forking over more billions in aid dollars.
Russia is most likely keeping the border areas smoldering for just that reason. The Kremlin plays the long game, seeing presidents and secretaries of state come and go. Moscow is most likely pleasantly surprised by how things have gone their way over the last eight years. Russia’s leaders probably think that all they have to do is wait a little longer.
In the end, Ukraine’s future is up to Ukraine. The violent demonstrations in Kiev this week are a warning that time is running out.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.