Article for «U.S. News & World Report»
There's been much anxiety here since the U.S. election about what a Donald Trump presidency means for Ukraine; to a certain extent, this makes sense. According to one report, concerted efforts by some members of Ukraine's current government to support the Hillary Clinton campaign are now threatening the specter of blowback. But suggesting that Trump now has it out for Ukraine is shortsighted, and gives too little credit to my country's ability to set our own course.
On one hand, the uneasiness of Ukraine's current government is understandable. The newly-stood-up National Anti-Corruption Bureau directed its efforts not at exposing the massive malfeasance most Ukrainians believe to be at play within their own government, but instead at manufacturing a case last summer against Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. In parallel, much of the rhetoric in Clinton's campaign revolved around Trump's alleged ties to Russia. Were there real fire behind all this smoke, Ukrainian authorities would have more to worry about.
Former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul tweeted on Nov. 9 that Ukraine was the biggest loser in the American's presidential contest, but I disagree: The biggest losers in the change of U.S. administrations were those governments around the world who assumed America would solve their problems for them.
Ukraine does not need to panic about a Trump administration. Nevertheless, the same cannot be said about Ukrainian politicians who gamely thought they could benefit from the result of U.S. elections. The best strategy for us as a nation is to escape from the myth of "external control" and populism falsely presented as patriotism, and instead to begin pursuing our own, clear interests.
First of all, Ukraine must end the conflict in the country's east. Unity is not just a slogan, it is a policy and a mode of behaving. Kiev's pro-government politicians have shown themselves to be intolerant of opposing views. When prominent businessman Victor Pinchuk penned an op-ed suggesting painful concessions might be necessary to end the war, the state security service formally investigated his article as potentially treasonous. Meanwhile, the minister of culture stated not long ago that eastern Ukrainians are somehow genetically inferior. Actions and words like these could not be less constructive.If we continue on our current course, then peace and unity will be devalued as meaningless words.
It is time for the political class in Ukraine to put the concerns about their political ratings aside and start taking the war as seriously as the Ukrainian people do. Recent public opinion research conducted in Ukraine late last year indicates that a clear majority of Ukrainians believe the war should end now but is being artificially drawn out for political benefit.
Only when the conflict is firmly in the rearview mirror will our economy start to grow again. But instead of conducting superficial reforms similar to those we have seen over the last several years, we need a number of real reforms in how the government itself works if we are to be competitive among other nations. Kiev needs to take its boot off the neck of Ukrainian entrepreneurialism and local communities and let the markets, local self-government and businesses grow in the regions.
Finally, it is time to change our approach when it comes to foreign policy and national security. In the age of Trump's America, countries that are the source of unending problems are unlikely to get the attention they seek, much like a millennial child who stamps his feet and pouts. In fact, such behavior is more likely to be ignored by an America preoccupied with putting its own interests first. That is why now it is time to begin thinking about a Ukraine that is not a source of problems on the international stage, but rather a home to solutions.
Adapting to this new reality is perhaps the first step to a Ukraine that is at peace with itself and its neighbors. This will require the courage to restore peace, carry out changes as required and a willingness to assume new responsibility for ourselves and for the destiny of our country.