A Way Forward for Ukraine

19 Mar 2014

(Co-authored by Scott Gehlbach, Roger Myerson, and Tymofiy Mylovanov)

(The New York Times) However the current crisis over Crimea finally ends, Ukraine will still be left with a crisis of its own politics — a crisis that Russia seized as a pretext to annex Crimea, and that would invite further intervention in Ukraine unless it is immediately addressed. The origins of the current emergency, in fact, lie in a failure of Ukraine’s political institutions to accomplish two fundamental tasks: produce leaders with a reputation for honesty and competence, and ensure that public policy is responsive to all segments of the public.

The cure would be to decentralize the way power is distributed, so that all Ukrainians can feel better represented in a unified Ukraine free from Russian interference.

The corruption and incompetence of the ousted president, Russia-oriented Viktor F. Yanukovych, was what helped draw thousands of Ukrainians onto Independence Square in Kiev last fall. But with the kleptocratic Mr. Yanukovych now having decamped to Russia, which still maintains he is Ukraine’s legitimate president, there appears to be nobody in the Western-oriented erstwhile opposition with the stature and authority to lead and unify the country. That void increases the risk that elections proposed for later this year will bring to power demagogues or worse.

The failure to guarantee that public policy will reflect the will of the public opened the door to secessionist sentiment; that, in turn, provided Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, with the pretext he needed to use force, crude lies and a parody of an election referendum in order to snatch Crimea from Kiev’s control.

Simply put, no matter how transparent Mr. Putin’s tactics have been, many ethnic Russians living throughout southern and eastern Ukraine — not just in Crimea — do not trust the new government in Kiev to protect their language rights and culture. Many fear they will be treated less favorably than the less industrialized West, where the population is more heavily weighted to ethnic Ukrainians. [...]

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