Sunday, April 9, 2017

Ukraine: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

November 2016 marked the third anniversary of the popular uprising that erupted in Kyiv’s Maidan Square in late 2013 over the government’s decision to reject closer relations with the European Union (EU). February 2017 will mark the third anniversary of the collapse of the Kremlin-favored government of Viktor Yanukovych. The regime’s demise was brought about by bitter protests and by civil society’s reaction to a brutal government response to the Maidan protestors. In the aftermath of the turmoil of the Maidan and the collapse of the government, Ukraine saw the emergence of a pro-Western government promising reform and generally anxious to lessen Moscow’s influence, as well as an energized civil society committed to pressing for the implementation of serious reform measures and determined to draw closer to the EU and the United States.

The current government of President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, appears, to many, to be moving slowly and cautiously in a positive direction, implementing much-needed government reform, addressing endemic corruption, and achieving economic progress. For some, the government has already achieved what they believe has been the most substantial reform wave seen in Ukraine in the last 25 years.

Under Groysman, the adoption of a public asset and income declaration law required of all government officials has been hailed as a significant anticorruption achievement. Significant reforms also have taken place in the federal prosecutor’s office, energy and banking sectors, and health care system. Economic progress has begun to increase slowly as the government has reduced its budget and accounts deficits. Exports have begun to increase. Shortcomings in the rule of law that have plagued the country are also reportedly being overcome. The judicial system, however, remains a problem, and attempts to promote privatization have not been successful.

At the same time, the government’s cautious approach has failed to impress some sectors of a frustrated public that continues to pressure the government for more progress. The influence of a small group of old-time oligarchs and politicians, who initially refused to relinquish power or support reform, remains a distraction, and the opposition continues to criticize the government. And although the international community appears to be more encouraged by government action, many concede more work needs to be done.

Ukraine’s problems have not been solely political and economic. Russia responded by seizing Ukraine’s Crimea region and annexing it March 2014. In April 2014, armed pro-Russian separatists supported by Moscow seized parts of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. A 12-point agreement to end the conflict, known as Minsk-2, was reached by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France, and Germany and took effect in February 2015. Since then, however, the separatists and their patrons in the Kremlin have shown little interest in fulfilling their responsibilities to implement Minsk-2.

The United States and the EU strongly condemned Russia’s incursions into Ukraine and have imposed sanctions on Russian individuals and key Russian economic and business sectors. The United States has committed close to $1.5 billion in foreign assistance to Ukraine to advance reforms and strengthen democratic institutions, including some $135 million in humanitarian assistance provided through the United Nations and $3 billion in loan guarantees.

Nevertheless, some observers believe there is a growing Ukraine fatigue in Europe and a euro-skepticism taking hold in Ukraine, fueled by those who oppose the government and its reform effort and by those who have become disenchanted by Europe’s lack of actions to support the pro-Europe movement in Ukraine. Concerns about the new U.S. Administration’s commitment to Ukraine also are raising the level of anxiety among many in Kyiv.

This report provides an overview of the situation in Ukraine.

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