On the fifth anniversary of the beginning of Ukraine’s Maidan revolution, the Russian state news outlet RT ran a scathing article asserting that the revolution was a disaster that left “Ukraine teetering on the edge of becoming a failed state.” The article contains a number of erroneous claims, including the assertion that Maidan was a Western-backed “coup,” which has been debunked by Polygraph.info and others.
The article in part focuses on economic issues as well as corruption, and these points have merit, particularly the issue of corruption which we will demonstrate later. Ukraine is the second poorest country in Europe, and corruption remains endemic, contributing to its poverty. However, the RT article not only focuses on Ukraine’s failures while omitting any successes, but also leaves out important context.
For example, a paragraph near the beginning of the article reads:
“On the evening of November 21, 2013, pro-West protesters began flocking to Kiev’s Maidan Square, carrying banners and waving EU flags. Hours earlier, then-president Viktor Yanukovych had suspended preparations to sign a European Association Agreement, which would have been a potential step on the road to joining the EU – and a move which Russia had warned would be ‘trade suicide’ for the post-Soviet state. The West, on the other hand, was determined to wrangle Ukraine out of Russia’s ‘orbit’ and lure it into its own.”
This account reflects the Kremlin narrative that Euromaidan protesters were essentially puppets manipulated by “the West.” It left out the fact that then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych initiated talks on the European Association Agreement, and protests in the streets followed when the initiative stalled, Yanukovych refusing to sign it.
Yanukovych had been quoted on November 21 2013 as saying: "An alternative for reforms in Ukraine and an alternative for European integration do not exist." He also said: “We are walking along this path and are not changing direction.” By omitting this information, the article leaves the impression that Yanukovych was against the deal from the beginning, neatly dividing the conflict into “pro-West” protesters against a pro-Russian Yanukovych government.
The RT article also claimed that Russia “warned” Yanukovych about the deal being “trade suicide.” “Threatened” might be more appropriate than “warned,” considering what had been going on with trade between the two countries since about mid-2013. On August 19, 2013, EU Observer reported that Russian customs had tightened controls on Ukrainian imports, leaving Ukrainian products “piling up on the Russian border for the past week.” It quoted Russian Presidential Adviser Sergei Glazyev as stating: “We are preparing to tighten customs procedures if suddenly Ukraine makes this suicidal step of signing the EU association agreement.”
This was not an isolated threat. While in Yalta in September 2013, Glazyev repeated his threats, saying that Russia could no longer guarantee Ukraine’s status as a state if its government signed the EU trade agreement. He also made threats about Russia intervening in “pro-Russian” areas of Ukraine. It is worth noting that after Yanukovych fled Ukraine, Russia followed those threats by annexing the Crimean peninsula and invading the eastern part of the country. Incidentally, Glazyev himself was found to have taken an active role in organizing some of these efforts.
The RT article did not mention Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and it referred to the war in the Donbas as an “insurgency” even though it has been proven to be a Russian invasion and remains under “forcible control” of Russia, according to the U.S. State Department. The article also provided an inaccurate explanation for the “insurgency,” stating: “More than 10,000 died during an insurgency in the eastern regions which began when the ethnic Russian population began to fear it would be swallowed into an anti-Russia nationalist state backed by Western powers.”
While the population of ethnic Russians is higher in the Donbas than in Ukraine as a whole, ethnic Ukrainians are still the majority in both Donetsk and Luhansk, where the war broke out. Moreover, Russia has never shown evidence of significant support for separatism prior to the conflict. In fact, what happened in Donbas in 2014 looks not like an organic insurgency, but rather an invasion disguised to look like one. All evidence points to Russia being responsible for the war.
Interestingly, the RT article did not connect the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine with the country’s economic woes and failure to deal with corruption adequately. A 2017 report by the Wilson Center noted the economic downturn that Ukraine experienced after the 2014 revolution. However, it went on to say that explanations which “attribute these developments exclusively to a failed economic policy of the new administration are insufficient.”
“As a result of the military conflict in the Donbas, Ukraine lost control over an area of high industrial output,” the Wilson Center report stated. “It had to hike spending on defense, and an ongoing, if local, armed conflict is not exactly an attractive factor for potential foreign investors.”
This context is absent in the RT article, which instead follows the Kremlin’s official line -- that despite evidence to the contrary, Russia has nothing to do with the war in the Donbas and that Crimea voluntarily joined Russia -- another claim Polygraph.info has debunked.
The Wilson Center report also noted Ukraine has made key economic gains since Maidan.
“Indeed, post-Euromaidan Ukraine can and should be praised for several major economic achievements,” it stated. “These include cleaning up its banking system; reforming Naftogaz, the national oil and gas company; creating a transparent system of public procurements; and adopting norms allowing fiscal decentralization.”
Decentralization is one of post-Maidan Ukraine’s least reported, yet most successful comprehensive reforms. It has helped Ukraine greatly increase revenues for its municipal and communal accounts, improving the effectiveness of local government. Ukraine has also made huge progress in health care reforms.
Nevertheless, Transparency International ranks Ukraine at 130th out of 180 countries that it ranks in its “Corruption Perceptions Index 2017,”slightly ahead of Russia which ranks 135th. The organization reports that “anti-corruption activists, NGO’s and journalists face harassment, beatings and other impediments in Ukraine.
While Ukraine still struggles with endemic corruption and other problems that predate the Maidan revolution, it is misleading to call that situation post-revolution situation “a disaster,” particularly with a large part of Ukraine under Russian control, and since the same index finds Russia to be worse.