This post was written by Lou Kriesberg, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Social Conflict Studies. It also appears on his website.

Four important developments are converging that could help reverse the income and wealth inequality that has been escalating in the United States since the 1980s. First, global warming is having increasingly devastating effects across the country. The frequency of disastrous climate-related events is increasing in the form of extreme heat and consequent droughts and fires and of frequent hurricanes and floods. Second, the Covid-19 pandemic and its variations has sickened and killed millions of people globally and hugely disrupted the economies of the world’s countries. Third, American opinion is turning away from the dominating role the U.S. has played in fighting terrorism and making the world over in our image. Fourth, the great increase in the divisions within the U.S. society is hampering dealing effectively with the societal problems arising from the other developments.
Each of these developments is conducive to taking action to reduce the U.S. hyper inequality. First, by 2020 global warming advanced far enough for the country to frequently suffer droughts and raging fires in the country’s northwest. Frequent powerful hurricanes and floods struck the people in the southern and eastern states. Lives were lost and the costs of recovery rose. Calls increase for the federal government to strengthen the country’s infrastructure to improve its resilience and to slow, even halt, global warming. Even many Republicans, who had denied that human activity was fueling the rising temperatures of the earth, began to acknowledge the reality.
Second, Covid-19 is a major development with two broad sets of profound consequences in the United States: what it revealed and what it changed in class inequality. The great vulnerability of low-income people to Covid-19 meant that they suffer higher rates of illness and death than middle and upper classes of people do. Moreover, the closing down of much of the country’s economy tends to harm low-income people much more than people who have good incomes prior to the locked-down economy. Indeed, the stock market rose to new heights and some corporations profited hugely.
Third, the intervening role the U.S. has played in the world has contributed to the lack of attention to the increasing domestic class inequality. The U.S. war in Vietnam quite directly stifled President Johnson’s War on Poverty. The Cold War against Soviet Communism rose during President Reagan’s first term, when class inequality began its steep rise. The end of the Cold War failed to result in a peace dividend and in a few years the Global War on Terrorism was launched after September 11, 2001. Significantly, by the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. had withdrawn in defeat from Afghanistan. Grave misgivings are being widely expressed, even by leading Republicans, about the mistaken invasion of Iraq and the harms the U.S. suffered by the way the war against terrorism had been waged. Preferences to attend to domestic concerns is now rising.
Finally, the U.S. society and political system has become divisive and antagonistic. Political Party fights often prevented collaboration to meet the country’s real problems. People increasingly want to re-build trust and collective action to reduce our shared problems, including extreme income and class inequality.
These four profound developments converge to support government actions that would reduce the extreme class inequality in the United States. One indicator of that had been the popularity of Bernie Sanders in his run for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president in 2016 and 2020. His primary theme was to greatly increase income and wealth equality. He aroused a large following. Trump also expressed the resentments of working people who felt they were being left behind. Of course, he did not offer to overcome the reasons for the resentments by reducing class inequality, but by blaming immigrants and bad international trade deals.
The hyper inequality of income and wealth in the United States has many unfortunate consequences for the country as a whole. It distorts the political system to serve the interests and concerns of the wealthiest people; for example in relation to military contracts. This uses funds that might otherwise serve the needs of other, less fortunate, Americans. It warps the economy as a whole by advancing production and profits for their interests at the expense of production and incomes for most other people. More and more people are relatively worse off than the ever-richer wealthy people. Social problems, including physical and mental illness and crimes are associated with income inequality among the U.S. states and among the economically advanced countries in the world. Furthermore, the country continued to include a substantial proportion of people living in poverty.
Many of the Biden Administration’s actions and proposals are responsive to the convergence identified here. Recognizing the magnitude of the present challenges should embolden taking even greater actions. For example, increase estate taxes and introduce Federal wealth taxes. This is an excellent way to increase the funds needed to confront the converging challenges. The great convergence indeed provides a great opportunity to creatively and constructively meet those great challenges we face.

This post by Mark Temnycky originally appeared in the Center for European Policy Analysis website. Mark is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

“What would you say to Joe Biden if he were sitting here?” Axios journalist Jonathan Swan asked during an exclusive interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Without a moment’s hesitation, the Ukrainian president replied. “Mr. President, why is Ukraine still not in NATO?”

Zelensky is not the first Ukrainian to ask this question, nor will he be the last. During the 2008 Bucharest Summit, the United States and other NATO members discussed strengthening ties with Ukraine, and the eastern European state made strides toward integrating itself with the West. Ukraine’s efforts have ranged from implementing anti-corruption reforms (although these are far from complete) to rewriting its constitution to ensure that it can one day integrate with the West. Despite these efforts, Ukraine is still not a member of NATO.

Nonetheless, cooperation between Ukraine and NATO has deepened since the Bucharest summit. In 2009, the NATO-Ukraine Charter was signed, signaling that Ukraine would implement key defense reforms to become interoperable with the West. By the start of the Donbas conflict in 2014, Ukraine had been a regular participant in NATO exercises. This increased cooperation led to a series of crucial defense reforms, and the Ukrainian military has vastly improved its capabilities since that time. In 2020, Ukraine was promoted to the status of “NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.” It is only one of six non-NATO members to hold this title. Finally, Ukraine is the first partner nation to participate in NATO’s Response Force, demonstrating that the Alliance has high regard for the Ukrainians.

Georgia, equally eager to be an Alliance member, has also made substantial contributions to NATO. Following Russia’s military incursion into Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008, the Alliance created a framework with Georgia for “close political dialogue and cooperation in support of reform efforts and Euro-Atlantic aspirations.” Throughout this period, the country implemented anti-corruption reforms, although as in Ukraine the issue remains unresolved. In 2010, a NATO Liaison Office was opened in Georgia to demonstrate the importance of the relationship. Georgia also deployed a total of 11,000 soldiers throughout the course of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan. Finally, like Ukraine, Georgia is one of NATO’s six Enhanced Opportunities Partners.

Given this progress, one might assume that NATO has presented Ukraine and Georgia with a membership action plan (MAP). Both countries have sought to clean up the scourge of corruption and modernize their militaries, became regular participants in various NATO exercises, and discussed their interest in joining the Alliance. These are all important steps in the accession process.

However, neither country has been asked to join NATO. They also do not have a MAP. Why is this?

First, some challenges come with joining NATO. According to the Study on NATO Enlargement, candidate states must resolve all international and territorial disputes before joining. Unfortunately, both countries have unresolved conflicts and this would make them ineligible. Even though the crises in Ukraine and Georgia were caused by Russia — since it invaded both countries — some of NATO’s more dovish members will not be willing to move on these points.

Second, the Study on NATO Enlargement states that candidates must “encourage and support democratic reforms, including civilian and democratic control over the military.” While Ukraine and Georgia have implemented anti-corruption reforms, and while they have bolstered their defense capabilities, both have a way to go until they meet these NATO standards.

Third, some of the Alliance’s European members fear that pursuing these enlargement discussions could escalate the conflicts. The Russian-led (and Kremlin influenced) factions in the Donbas, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia would likely increase tensions in response to any membership discussions with NATO. Some Alliance members also worry that NATO membership would drag the Alliance into an armed conflict with Russian forces.

Fourth, pursuing a MAP with Ukraine and Georgia will aggravate Russia. Should these former Soviet states agree a path toward NATO membership, Russia would likely increase its hybrid warfare efforts. Russia previously reacted aggressively to NATO expansion in the 1990s and 2000s. For example, following the admission of the Baltic States, Russia violated their air space. It also conducts military exercises near their borders, and has crippled their infrastructure through the use of cyberattacks. Poland has also faced the brunt of Russia’s hostility. The most alarming examples, however, occurred in the Balkans. As Montenegro and North Macedonia took steps to join NATO, Russia launched disinformation campaigns against these countries. It even attempted a coup against the Montenegrin government. Given this range of Russian action, up to and including the use of military force, the response to Ukraine’s and Georgia’s potential NATO membership could be grave.

Despite these criticisms and reservations, both countries have demonstrated why they should be invited to join. First, they are buffer states between Russia and the West. Throughout their respective conflicts, both have gained invaluable experience from Russia’s hybrid warfare tactics. While they endured heavy losses, both countries deterred Russia’s efforts, and they could pass along this critical knowledge and experience to the Alliance as NATO learns how to counter Russian aggression. Nothing substitutes for combat experience and Ukraine in particular has a huge amount.

Second, Ukraine and Georgia have regularly participated in numerous NATO exercises, and they were involved in NATO’s mission in Afghanistan. The sacrifices made, especially with the loss of life (34 Georgians were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 18 Ukrainians), demonstrate that they are committed to joining the Alliance. Third, both countries underwent immense defense reforms so that their military capabilities are interoperable with NATO. This is a necessary step in joining the Alliance, as strengthening the Ukrainian and Georgian militaries will lead to a more secure and stable European continent.

Now, as Russian forces continue to mass near Ukraine’s borders, the MAP discussions for Ukraine and Georgia have resurfaced. Several Ukrainian and Georgian leaders have argued that establishing a MAP with NATO will help deter Russian aggression in the region. In his Atlantic Council piece, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba argued that the “success of Ukraine and Georgia would demonstrate . . . that freedom and democracy are worth fighting for.” Similarly, Olga Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, argued in Foreign Policy that pursuing Ukraine’s NATO integration will help lead to a free and prosperous Europe. Finally, in a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili reiterated that Georgia has “shown its dedication to reaching the ultimate objective” of integrating with NATO.

Most recently, the Biden administration stated that it is “committed to ensuring that NATO’s door remains open to aspirants when they are ready and able to meet” the membership requirements. This could be applicable to Ukraine. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also visited the eastern European state this week, where he announced that the Pentagon is “looking at what additional assistance . . . would be helpful to Ukraine.” This could include additional lethal military assistance to the Ukrainians as they continue their fight against Russian aggression.

Overall, Ukraine and Georgia have endured a series of hardships caused by Russia. It is possible that these conflicts might not have occurred had Ukraine and Georgia been invited to join the Alliance. The Baltic States are an example of this case. Had NATO forces been stationed in Ukraine and Georgia, it is unlikely that Russia would have annexed parts of their territory.

Nonetheless, Ukraine and Georgia are committed to joining NATO. Through their continued resilience, dedication, and hard work, both countries would be welcomed additions to the Alliance. Their vast knowledge and experience of Russian hybrid warfare would be a valuable asset to the Alliance, and both will surely contribute to NATO’s mission of guaranteeing freedom and security throughout the world.

It is time for the United States and its allies to invite Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Presenting them with a NATO MAP would be a valuable first step.

This post, by Mark Temnycky, originall appeared in EUobserver. Mark is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

As Russian troops gather near Ukraine’s eastern border, the international community has pondered an important question. Will Russia launch a new offensive into Ukraine?

According to some policy analysts and experts, Russia is trying to provoke a response from the new US administration while attempting to unsettle Ukraine.

Russia has already endured heavy losses from the ongoing Donbas conflict, where 14,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers and civilians have perished.

The illegal annexation of Crimea has also not gone according to plan.

Over the past seven years, Russia has spent billions on trying to integrate the peninsula.

Simply put, the costs of launching a new offensive into the Donbas would be too expensive for Russian president Vladimir Putin and his men. The loss of life would also be grave.

Other scholars and specialists, however, have argued that a new Russian incursion is possible. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has continuously tried to keep its neighbours within its sphere of influence.

The West has witnessed this on at least two occasions.

First, in 2008, Russia launched a war against Georgia during the Beijing summer Olympics. Then, in 2014, Russia illegally annexed Crimea and invaded Ukraine’s Donbas region following the conclusion of the Sochi winter Olympics.

In both instances, few predicted that Russia would attack its neighbours, yet this still occurred. Due to an ill-prepared West, the results of these Russian military incursions have been devastating for Georgia and Ukraine.

According to experts, the restoration efforts of Georgia’s and Ukraine’s conflict regions are estimated to cost €3bn and €10bn, respectively. The loss of life was also tremendous.

Given the uncertainty with what lies ahead, Western politicians and policymakers must be prepared to act. There are three possibilities on how they can respond to Russia’s recent military buildup near Ukraine.

Three choices
First, the Nato could conduct joint military exercises with Ukrainian forces near Ukraine’s western border. The West could also station naval vessels on the Black Sea. These actions would demonstrate that the West is committed to defending Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Neither the West nor Russia is willing to start a world war over Ukraine, meaning that a hard power response would show Russia that the West is serious. This would likely de-escalate tensions near the Russo-Ukrainian border.

A second and less forceful alternative would see the West implement new sanctions on the Russian Federation.

The United States recently imposed sanctions on Russia for the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, but Russia has gone unpunished for its meddling in the 2020 US presidential election and its recent cyberattacks.

Should the US and the European Union impose new and greater sanctions, they should target Russian business owners and politicians close to Putin. Implementing these severe sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy, and this would likely see the Russians back down.

Finally, a third option that the West should pursue is their continued dialogue with Ukrainian leaders.

Over the past few weeks, American and European representatives held phone calls with Ukrainian officials. During these discussions, the Western leaders reaffirmed their commitment to Ukraine.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg and Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba also met to discuss the recent tensions near the Russo-Ukrainian border.

These interactions demonstrate that the West is serious about its relationship with Ukraine, and that it will support the Eastern European state during its time of need.

Western politicians should also work with their Russian counterparts to try and dissolve the situation. Maintaining an open course of dialogue would show that the West and Russia are willing to cooperate on this important issue.

Putin’s puzzling enigma
Overall, many Western politicians, civil servants, and policymakers are puzzled by Putin’s intentions as Russia reinforces its military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border.

Some have argued that Russia is trying to provoke a response from the West. Others claim that the Russians are preparing for another attack.

Given this uncertainty, nothing should be ruled out of the realm of possibility, and the West should be prepared to respond.

A new Russian incursion into Ukraine would upend the European continent’s security apparatus, and Western leaders must be ready for this potential scenario. Otherwise, if they are not prepared, the aftermath of these events will be catastrophic for Europe and the globe.

This post was written by Mark Temnycky. He is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It originally appeared in the blog of the Wilson Center.

On August 24, 2017, Gazprom’s Western partners agreed to help fund the upcoming Nord Stream 2 pipeline. This allowed the Russian gas company to make preparations for one of Europe’s most recent controversies. By January 2018, Germany had granted permits for the project’s construction, and the first parts of the pipeline were installed in July 2018.

Many German politicians, companies, and business leaders have supported Nord Stream 2, arguing it would improve Europe’s energy security. Several nations within the EU, the United States, and Eastern Europe, however, have opposed the project. These critics have argued that Nord Stream 2 will threaten Europe’s national security. As these two sides debate the pipeline, Russia continues to construct Nord Stream 2 as it is determined to finish the project.

The Energy Situation in Europe
Currently, one-third of Russian gas exports to Europe travel through Ukraine. As a result, several Central European states are highly sensitive to Russo-Ukrainian relations. Previous disputes between these two countries saw Russia turn off its gas pipelines to Ukraine, and this left millions of Europeans without gas during the winter months in 2006 and 2009. As a result of these events, some European states began to explore other avenues to acquire a gas supply without disruption. This eventually led to the push for Nord Stream 2 (as well as TurkStream, a southern pipeline that carries gas from Russia to the Balkans by way of Turkey).

Supporters of Nord Stream 2 have argued that the pipeline will bring in new gas to Europe, increasing Europe’s gas consumption. The facts tell another story. According to reports, repairing the current Ukrainian-Polish pipeline would cost around €6 billion. The construction of Nord Stream 2, however, would cost €10 billion. Experts believe that Nord Stream 2 is diverting gas from the preexisting Ukrainian-Polish pipeline, meaning Europeans will receive the same amount of gas, if from a different source.

Economic and Security Implications of Nord Stream 2
There are many reasons to oppose Nord Stream 2. First, the pipeline will flow directly from Russia to Germany by way of the Baltic Sea, meaning the Russians would gain additional leverage over the Europeans. Second, creating this pipeline could increase Russia’s naval presence in the Baltic Sea, a move that would unsettle the Baltic states. Third, if relations between Europe and Russia were to sour, the Russians could quickly turn off the flow of gas to Germany, similar to what it did to Ukraine. Fourth, the completion of Nord Stream 2 would give the Russians an energy monopoly over the European continent.

Nord Stream 2 poses several problems for Ukraine. This Eastern European state makes roughly $1 billion annually from the current pipeline. The competition of Nord Stream 2 would see Ukraine lose a substantial amount of revenue. Ukraine would also lose its influence over Western Europe as its pipelines would become obsolete. As a result, while Europe would become dependent on Russia, the Russians could further meddle in Ukraine’s affairs without consequence.

Poland is also threatened by Nord Stream 2. This Central European state has already begun to find ways to counter the construction of this pipeline. For example, the Poles have started to import liquid natural gas from the United States. Discontinuing the Ukrainian-Polish pipeline would force Poland to import gas from its neighbor, Germany. This would see gas prices rise for the average Polish consumer, and it would be a burden on the Polish economy.

While Nord Stream 2 poses issues for Ukraine and Poland, several German politicians, businesspeople, investors, and companies favor the pipeline. These supporters have argued that the pipeline will provide new economic opportunities for Germany. Second, as Germany shifts from coal and nuclear energy, it has become Europe’s biggest natural gas consumer. Third, some Germans believe that Nord Stream 2 could help mend the relationship between Germany and Russia as the revenue earned from this pipeline would boost their economies.

Despite this German support, many European states have opposed Nord Stream 2. The consequences of the pipeline would be grave for Europe’s energy security. The United States is also firmly against the project, and it has implemented numerous sanctions to halt its construction. To stop the pipeline, the United States and its allies must continue to impose sanctions on the companies, board members, and vessels supporting Nord Stream 2. Numerous organizations have already abandoned the project because of these threats. Continued pressure could force additional groups to abandon the project. Finally, the West should aid Ukraine and Poland by helping them reform their respective energy sectors. Adopting this strategy would help Ukraine and Poland become less energy dependent on Russia.

Opponents of Nord Stream 2, however, must be careful. First, sanctioning German politicians, companies, and executives could strain U.S.-German relations. Additional sanctions could lead to greater tensions within the EU. Finally, a more conservative approach would be to wait until the 2021 German elections. Germany’s Greens political party opposes the project. A Greens victory could lead to the end of Nord Stream 2. If the Greens were to lose, however, this would open the way to the completion of project. In other words, this would be a risky gamble.

A Gordian Knot

Overall, Nord Stream 2 poses many problems for Europe. First, completion of the pipeline would see the European continent increase its dependence on Russian gas. If tensions were to rise between Europe and Russia, Russia could turn off the pipeline, leaving millions of Europeans without gas. Second, Europe’s reliance on Russian gas would present Russia with the leverage to further meddle in the affairs of its neighbors without consequence. Third, the new pipeline would divert the flow of gas from Ukraine and Poland, leaving these two countries to face a substantial revenue loss. They would also be forced to pay higher gas prices.

Given these risks, the opponents of Nord Stream 2 must work quickly to persuade Germany that the pipeline’s consequences far outweigh the benefits. Otherwise, if these parties are unable to convince the Germans, Europe’s energy security will hang in the balance.

This post by Mark Temnycky, originally appeared in the Diplomatic Courier. Mark is a graduate of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Few Americans know Ukraine as well as U.S. President Joe Biden. Throughout his public service career, Biden continuously supported the Eastern European state in its fight for democracy. During his 36-year tenure in the Senate, Biden sponsored several pieces of legislation on Ukraine. He was then selected as the point person on Ukraine during U.S. President Barack Obama's administration. While in this position, then-Vice President Biden oversaw $2 billion in financial assistance to the country. The United States helped Ukraine implement key defense reforms, and the U.S. provided critical, nonlethal military hardware to the Ukrainians during their fight against Russian aggression. Finally, Biden worked with Ukrainian officials in their fight against corruption, where he helped them implement crucial anti-corruption reforms. In short, Biden's commitment to aiding the Eastern European state demonstrated that he understood the significance of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship and Ukraine's role on the European continent.Few Americans know Ukraine as well as U.S. President Joe Biden. Throughout his public service career, Biden continuously supported the Eastern European state in its fight for democracy. During his 36-year tenure in the Senate, Biden sponsored several pieces of legislation on Ukraine. He was then selected as the point person on Ukraine during U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration. While in this position, then-Vice President Biden oversaw $2 billion in financial assistance to the country. The United States helped Ukraine implement key defense reforms, and the U.S. provided critical, nonlethal military hardware to the Ukrainians during their fight against Russian aggression. Finally, Biden worked with Ukrainian officials in their fight against corruption, where he helped them implement crucial anti-corruption reforms. In short, Biden’s commitment to aiding the Eastern European state demonstrated that he understood the significance of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship and Ukraine’s role on the European continent.

After the Obama administration, Ukraine regressed in many ways. The country has begun to backslide on its anti-corruption initiatives, undoing much of its hard work during the Euromaidan years. The war in the Donbas also continues without an end. Ukraine has entered another bleak period in its history, and the Ukrainians need someone who can help guide them from these struggles. Given Biden’s previous relationship with Ukraine, his administration should make it a priority to aid the country during its time of need.

First, the United States must reaffirm its commitment to supporting Ukraine. Over the past several years, American foreign aid programs to Eastern Europe and other areas of the globe were cut. Without the backing of the United States, many of these countries began to scale back on their anti-corruption efforts. In Ukraine, many oligarchs expanded their influence throughout various political circles, corruption within the judicial and economic systems grew, and ordinary Ukrainian citizens continued to suffer. Reintroducing these foreign aid programs and anti-corruption initiatives would strengthen several governmental and financial institutions. The success of these organizations is crucial for aspiring democracies such as Ukraine as they help reinforce transparency within the government, and they allow for the voices of citizens to be heard. Biden has also named the fight against corruption as a top priority for his administration.

Second, the Biden administration should provide lethal aid to Ukraine as the country continues to fight for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. April 2021 will mark the seven-year anniversary of Ukraine’s war against Russian aggression. 14,000 people have died in the Donbas conflict, nearly two million are displaced, and the crisis has cost the Ukrainians billions. Providing lethal and non-lethal assistance to the Ukrainians would help them deter the Russian threat. Ukraine currently serves as a buffer between the European Union (EU) and Russia, and the success of Ukraine would lead to a more stable and secure European continent. If Ukraine were to fail, the Russians could gain a foothold in the heart of Europe. Russia would use this opportunity to spread its influence in the European mainland. This could lead to future conflicts between Russia and the EU.

Third, the United States and its allies must continue to hold Russia accountable for its aggressive behavior. Following Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its military incursion into Ukraine’s Donbas region, the U.S. and EU imposed economic sanctions to punish Russia. The U.S. and EU recently renewed their sanctions on Russia, and these sanctions should stay in place until the Russian Federation returns Crimea and the Donbas to Ukraine. Similarly, Russia’s suspension from the G7 should remain until Russia’s conduct improves. Only then should the easing of sanctions be discussed between the West and Russia.

Finally, barring any COVID-19 restrictions, Biden should make it a priority to meet with Ukrainian foreign dignitaries. Over the past 13 years, no sitting U.S. president has visited Ukraine. Moreover, an American vice president has not visited Ukraine in four years. A sitting Ukrainian president has also not visited the White House in four years. Encouraging a state visit between the United States and Ukraine would further underscore America’s commitment to Ukraine as the Eastern European state fights for democracy. Biden has previously visited Ukraine on six occasions and he wants to see Ukraine succeed as a democratic state.

Overall, Biden will encounter numerous challenges throughout his presidency. These issues will span from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and a global recession to combatting oppressive regimes and eradicating corruption throughout the world. Nonetheless, the Biden administration should not overlook Ukraine. Biden’s record demonstrates that he understands the significance of the U.S.-Ukraine relationship, and he has previously stressed that the success of this state “is in the vital national interest of both the United States [and Europe].” Implementing these Ukraine policies and supporting the country in its fight for democracy would see the U.S. gain a valuable partner on the European continent. After all, the success of Ukraine would lead to a freer and more prosperous Europe. A failed Ukraine would be both dangerous and costly.

Disclaimer: During the 2020 U.S. presidential election, Mark was a volunteer and an advisor to Ukrainian Americans for Biden (UAB), a network within the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not reflect he views of UAB.

This post is by Mark Temnycky. He is a graduate of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University. This post originally appeared in the blog of the Wilson Center.

On January 20, 2021, Joe Biden became the 46th president of the United States. While numerous heads of state have shared that they look forward to working with him, no other country will be more relieved by a Biden presidency than Ukraine.

Through his career in public service, Biden has been a friend of Ukraine. During his time in the U.S. Senate, he served on and chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he became well acquainted with Ukraine’s challenges and aspirations. The senator from Delaware sponsored six pieces of legislation and cosponsored thirty-three others in support of this Eastern European state. These bills ranged from declarations deploring the Soviet government’s active persecution of religious believers in Ukraine to ones providing security sector cooperation or helping Ukraine forge a path to NATO membership.

As vice president of the United States under President Barack Obama, Biden became the point person on Ukraine. Biden traveled to Ukraine on six occasions, more than any previous American president or vice president. During his first trip, Biden stated that Ukraine had “come a long way since the 2004 Orange Revolution” and that, while there was still work to be done, the United States would stand by Ukraine as it continued on its path to democracy.

From the start of the Donbas conflict and Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014, Biden worked hard with American and European leaders to implement sanctions against Russia for its aggressive behavior. At Obama’s direction, Biden oversaw American efforts to provide aid to Ukraine in its time of need, including more than $2 billion in financial assistance. The United States trained Ukrainian soldiers, helped Ukraine implement key defense reforms, and provided critical, nonlethal military equipment to Ukraine. This military aid included night-vision goggles and counter-battery radars, hardware that the Ukrainians lacked. Finally Biden worked tirelessly with former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and other Ukrainian leaders in their fight against corruption.

During the Obama-Biden administration, the United States helped Ukraine implement crucial anticorruption legislation. These efforts helped Ukraine earn a significant loan from the IMF and paved the way for Ukraine’s visa-free travel to the EU. Biden spoke with Ukrainian leaders on how to reform their government, and Poroshenko visited Obama at the White House, where they discussed ways to strengthen US-Ukraine relations. Biden’s interactions with Ukrainian leaders demonstrated America’s willingness to help Ukraine in its time of need and emphasized Ukraine’s desire to establish itself as a true democracy.

As the newly elected president of the United States, Biden is expected to build on the US-Ukraine relationship. First, he will continue to hold Russia accountable for its aggressive behavior in Eastern Europe. The United States will work with its allies as they continue to renew Russian sanctions. These sanctions, and Russia’s suspension from the G7, will remain in place until Crimea has been returned to Ukraine and the Donbas conflict has been resolved. The Biden administration is also expected to respond forcefully to the recent cyberattack on America’s critical infrastructure. A response could include additional Russian sanctions, potential cyber retaliations, and further suspensions of Russia from additional international organizations.

Second, the Biden-Harris administration is likely to seek from Congress additional military assistance to Ukraine as that country continues its fight against Russian aggression. Biden has promised to provide lethal military equipment to Ukraine. In all probability, the United States will ensure that Ukraine has the military assistance it needs to deter the Russian threat. The United States is also projected to continue its military training operations with Ukraine to help Ukraine modernize its defense capabilities, and to assist the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense as it seeks to reform Ukraine’s military doctrine.

Third, the United States is expected to aid Ukraine in its fight against corruption. Currently, Ukraine is facing a constitutional crisis as the Ukrainian government and the constitutional courts find themselves at odds on anticorruption reform and the authorities of different branches of government have to impose specific reform mechanisms. The Biden administration may pressure the Ukrainian leadership to overcome these challenges, as further relapses could see the Ukrainians miss out on future loans from the IMF. The Biden administration will likely stress that Ukraine must eliminate corruption, and the United States may seek to further this goal by engaging with Ukrainian government officials, politicians, business owners and activists.

Overall, Biden’s track record has demonstrated that he is very familiar with the challenges Ukraine faces, but this is not something Ukrainians should take for granted. Biden understands the importance of the US-Ukraine relationship within a larger regional and global context, and his administration is expected to work vigorously to help this Eastern European state in its fight to join the democratic nations. In turn, the Ukrainian government must demonstrate that it is willing to implement crucial anticorruption reforms. With a knowledgeable politician and friend to Ukraine once more leading the United States, Ukraine has its best opportunity to move foward on its path to democracy.

Disclosure: During the 2020 US Presidential election, Mark Temnycky was a volunteer and an adviser to Ukrainian Americans for Biden (UAB), a network within the Democratic National Committee’s National Democratic Ethnic Coordinating Council. The opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and do not reflect the views of the Kennan Institute or the UAB.

This post by Mark Temnycky originally appeared in the Euromaidan Press. Mark is a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

November 2020 marked the seven-year anniversary of the Euromaidan protests and the Russian military invasion into eastern Ukraine. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region has resulted in the displacement of 1.5 million people and the deaths of over 14,000.
Despite the hardships caused by the Russian incursion, Ukraine persevered by containing these invaders to the occupied regions in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine’s success is in part thanks to the international community, including that of the United States.
American assistance to this Eastern European state is no secret as the U.S.-Ukraine relationship dominated headlines earlier this year. Since the start of the Donbas conflict in 2014, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with $1.5 billion in military assistance. This American aid, however, has been questioned by some political pundits, policy analysts, and high-ranking government officials. Their arguments spanned from Ukraine being a corrupt country to how American assistance could escalate the Donbas conflict.

Unbeknownst to the critics of this aid, the U.S. does not simply throw financial assistance to Ukraine in the hopes that it will magically help reform the country. Instead, American aid to the Eastern European state is delivered in various forms, such as educational initiatives, reform programs, and military exercises.
An example of sustained support to Ukraine is the California-Ukraine State Partnership Program.

Established in 1993, the U.S. Department of Defense, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State, launched the State Partnership Program, or SPP. The SPP’s goal was to assist the former Warsaw Pact and Soviet states in their democracy efforts and reform their defense forces following the Soviet Union’s collapse. The SPP has since expanded beyond Europe, where there are now 89 programs worldwide.
To support these program objectives, U.S. National Guard units are paired with various countries around the world. These American National Guard units are then charged to oversee the success of these SPPs.
Ukraine was one of the first recipients of this program. According to Lt. Col. Robert Swertfager, a former Director of the California-Ukraine SPP, the Eastern European state was paired with California due to its “similar agricultural output, long coastlines, and large tech[nology] sectors.”
California and Ukraine have [been] extremely cooperative” over the past three decades, said Lt. Col. Swertfager in an interview with the U.S. Air Force’s 144th Fighter Wing. “The more [the United States] can increase Ukraine’s ability to interoperate with other nations, the more secure the region becomes for both Ukraine and its neighbors.”
Throughout this 27-year-old relationship, the California National Guard conducted regular military-to-military engagements with the Ukrainians, and these training exercises have established an element of trust between both parties.

When asked about the California-Ukraine SPP, a spokesperson from the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, DC underlined that “the Ukrainian government appreciates America’s robust and unwavering support of Ukraine, its sovereignty, and its territorial integrity, as well as [America’s] assistance with the implementation of comprehensive reforms” in Ukraine. The spokesperson also emphasized that “it is a priority for Kyiv to further develop and strengthen this strategic partnership between the United States and Ukraine.”
The success of this relationship could help “the U.S. and Ukraine proceed to more ambitious goals in this security domain,” added another spokesperson.
The formation of this particular SPP has helped Ukraine improve its defense capabilities, thus developing it into a valuable strategic partner for the West.
For example, NATO military exercise Operation Rapid Trident “contributed to Ukraine’s continued defense modernization to U.S. standardization.”
Meanwhile, Operation Clear Sky, a NATO military exercise hosted by the Ukrainian Air Force, influenced the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to implement substantial changes to Ukraine’s military doctrine.
In other words, the work of the California-Ukraine SPP has led to significant defense reforms in Ukraine, and it has helped Ukraine’s ability to interoperate with the West.
Despite the complications caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the California-Ukraine SPP still remains active. In September 2020, members of the American and Ukrainian National Guard gathered to participate in the annual multinational Rapid Trident training exercise. This two-week operation was hosted near Yavoriv, Ukraine.

“Rapid Trident 2020 demonstrate[d] the strength of Ukraine’s strategic partnership with the U.S. and others, and [Ukraine’s] commitment to enhanced readiness,” the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv stated.
Over 4,000 military personnel participated in this year’s multinational operation.
During these [annual] exercises, the Californians and Ukrainians collaborate to complete their objectives,” said Col. Andrii Ordynovych of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “This cooperation leads to the division of tasks, which multiplies their probabilities of success.”
The California-Ukraine SPP, however, is not without challenges. For example, language barriers between American and Ukrainian military personnel have led to miscommunications, but both parties have overcome these hurdles. Attempts to reduce future issues are demonstrated by Ukraine’s efforts to incorporate language interoperability while conducting various military training exercises.
Second, while the Ukrainians made strides toward improving their military capabilities, other avenues of success have been difficult to measure as specific guidelines do not exist. Nonetheless, some benefits are difficult to quantify, such as the long-term personal relationships formed from the partnership.

The intangible results include trust between both parties. Mutual learning extends beyond military systems and operations, and service members gain an understanding of each other’s history, cultures, and traditions. These personal interactions are invaluable as it promotes the continuing transformation and democratization of Ukraine.
Finally, funding for the SPP appears to be minimal on the macro level.
According to a Pentagon comptroller report, only $22.8 million was allocated to the SPP in fiscal year 2019. This figure, however, excludes funds received from the various National Guard units and the United States Combatant Commands (in the case of the California-Ukraine SPP, the United States European Command provides additional funding for this program).
Thus, despite the claims of some critics, American aid is not simply thrown to foreign governments. Instead, these resources provide for developmental opportunities, such as the SPP.
Overall, the California-Ukraine SPP is one of the many ways in which the U.S. provides foreign military assistance to Ukraine. The program denotes California’s commitment toward Ukraine’s success, and the Eastern European state has made strides toward reforming its military.

The SPP has demonstrated the importance of the partnerships the U.S. has established with its allies throughout the world. This has helped countries develop their own democracies and defensive capabilities. Through the sustained mentoring provided by American National Guard units to the California-Ukraine SPP, and with Ukraine’s willingness and desire to modernize its defense capabilities, the Eastern European state has demonstrated it has what it takes to become an important strategic partner on the European continent.

This post by Prof. Jok Madut Jok originally appeared in the Nation of Kenya.

As Covid-19 rips through the United States of America, where new case numbers and death toll have been at 150 thousand and 1,500 a day respectively since Monday, the scale of the tragedy has certainly prompted almost an unprecedented scramble to develop a vaccine. 

The pandemic has been so politicised in America that politicians and their appointee scientists have chosen bravado over science, suggesting that they can beat this disease through herd immunity, a total misuse of that concept.

Luckily, while there has been no political leadership to rally the American people behind a national plan of action, there has been an army of conscientious scientists who have tried their best to battle the disease from their labs and medical personnel standing on the frontlines against the disease in their intensive care units and hospital wards with bravery, humility and humanity.  

Most of these scientists have sustained the zeal to stick to the facts and deserve an applause for the current momentum on the vaccine front.

As the world continues to be hammered by this disease with ferocity unseen since the 1918 Spanish flu, the global biopharmaceutical industry has worked non-stop since January to develop safe and effective vaccines against Covid. These efforts now appear to be paying off, at least for the countries in the global north for the immediate future, and perhaps later for the rest of the world. 

There are now several vaccines that have shown immense promise, some exhibiting up to 95pc efficacy in preventing Covid-19 infections. The most prominent of these are from the global giant Pfizer in collaboration with a German research firm, BioNTech, from a Boston-based Moderna and from AstraZeneca in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

With the announcement on Wednesday that the United Kingdom’s Medicine and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has approved the Pfizer vaccine and plans to deploy it within the UK in the next week or so, the world has edged closer to a relief. US vaccine developers also announced on Monday that they, too, have filed for approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, the US regulator. 

With these, victory against this most monstrous of viruses seems imminent. Or is it? 
Vaccines are wonderful gifts of science to humanity and there is no question the news is being greeted with euphoria around the world. But it appears that many corners of the world will not be touched by the good news just yet.

Access race

Africa, particularly, will have challenges ahead regarding access to vaccines in the near future, and this will give many Africans material for debate, just as the puzzle of the continent’s low case numbers has triggered all manner of speculation. 

First of all, there is still a wait-and-see attitude toward the Pfizer vaccine, even within North America and Europe. The European Union will not take the UK approval of the Pfizer vaccine as a done deal for its member states but will first subject it to its own verification and approval mechanism, which is quite intriguing, given that the vaccine was developed in concert with a German company, was manufactured in Belgium and yet, Europe wants its own corroboration of the vaccine. 

Secondly, it’s quite costly, $20 a jab for a two shots regimen. On both accounts, the uncertainty about safety and efficacy and the cost, Africans will most likely want to wait and see. After all, the trials in the West selected participants that covered all population segments by age, medical conditions, social characteristics and race, and there is no telling whether vaccines developed without participation of African volunteers could be administered to Africans without further tests that consider the unique population characteristics in Africa.


Thirdly, there is the issue of the logistics to move and store the vaccines. The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine requires storage conditions of minus 70 degrees centigrade temperature, something one can hardly imagine possible in many African countries where electricity, transport infrastructure and security are such serious challenges as to make it impossible to keep the vaccine safe and potent.

Fourthly, while there has been negotiation involving World Health Organisation (WHO), the Africa Centre for Disease Control and the vaccine alliance (GAVI) to find ways to get the vaccines to the developing world through something called COVAX Facility, Europe and North America will first prioritise vaccination of their most at-risk populations, and Africa might not get a chance until mid 2021. Alternatively, the pharmaceutical companies might be persuaded to grant permission to developing world’s local manufacturers in India,

South Africa or Egypt, which would reduce the cost, assuming safety and efficacy matters can be sorted out by these countries.

Fifth, perhaps the most important, is the nature of the coronavirus itself, which has continued to elude a good handle on it, even as more and more is understood about it. For example, as some countries have a disaster on their hands, others seem to have been relatively spared, in some cases due to public health actions and other times for reasons that are yet to be discovered. 

In Africa, where the infection rates have remained quite low and declining, where most people who got infected remained asymptomatic and those with symptoms not developing severe clinical conditions, the situation has evolved in surprising ways. 

Africa has now gone from the doomsday predictions when the virus first landed there in March, that, due to poverty of the people and the poor health services in most countries, the streets would be littered with dead bodies, as Melinda Gates and other public health experts once declared, to a situation where Africans are wondering if the global race to develop a vaccine is even a priority for Africa at the moment. 

Most Africans have presumably moved on with their lives, past the fears that the coronavirus had imposed on them, not in the spirit of bluster exhibited by the American politicians, but because people were not seeing the feared community spread of Covid, and because the measures that governments had imposed were just unworkable. 

And, with this, the vaccine will come to Africa when it does, but I suspect ordinary Africans are not losing sleep over the vaccine. What African scientists should be doing now is to find out what is making Covid less deadly in Africa.


This is not to say Covid-19 did not affect Africa. Far from it. The maximum lockdowns, night curfews and mobility restrictions imposed across the continent have all visited a disastrous situation on most African economies and livelihoods. Covid has come to Africa in ways that will be deadly to Africans for years to come, not by invading lungs, but by creating conditions that will allow poverty to invade homes and hunger to invade human bodies. 

Not only has it ruined national economies, impeding the countries’ ability to deliver goods and services, it has also given governments perfect alibis for failure to take responsibility for public welfare and misuse of public resources. 

It has also enabled unscrupulous government officials and their cronies in the markets to steal funds meant to fight Covid. Kenya’s “Covid Billionaires” is a case in point.

Revealed social ills 

Covid-19 has revealed a lot of social ills. It is being utilised by governments to suppress descent and take away past democratic and civic gains. For example, the government of Uganda has arrested opposition leader Bobi Wine, disrupted his election campaigns, all on accusations that he has violated Covid-19 moratorium on crowds, but it’s known that he is being harassed on political grounds. 

It is also now convenient for the government of South Sudan to blame Covid-19 for the country’s bankruptcy, even as every citizen knows this is not entirely true, that the country’s wealth had started migrating into individual bank accounts in Eastern Africa and beyond long before Wuhan coughed. 

This is East Africa’s pivotal moment for democratic forces to push for a change agenda on all the glaring inequities and institutional frailties that Covid-19 has unmasked. Perhaps, like in Europe and America, African scientists will labour on with research even as political leaders take advantage of health emergencies to score for themselves.

This piece was written by Prof. Jok Madut Jok. It originally appeared as an editorial in Kenya’s Nation newspaper.

The war that is raging in northern Ethiopia, between the Federal Army (Ethiopian National Defence Forces) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is uncalled-for and ghastly by all measures.
The passions that have seized both sides and propelled them to use war as a means of settling differences are historically deep.

The government of Ethiopia represents the old imperial pride imbued with the arrogance of centuries of dictating to everyone from Addis Ababa, and Tigray is incensed by the gradual loss of power its leaders had wielded for over three decades since the fall of the Derg in 1991, power which the current Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has been chipping away through his programme of rapid and slightly unclear reforms since his ascent to power in 2018.
A little background is necessary here. One of the things that Abiy did was dismantle Ethiopia’s ruling party, EPRDF, which had run the country with violence and brutality under former Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for almost 30 years. The guys who ran that show were TPLF and they were sidelined by Abiy’s reforms. Since then, he has accused them of destabilising the country by stoking ethnic tensions.

His allies have accused them of assassinations, including one attempt against Abiy himself. When the government of Ethiopia postponed the elections scheduled for August 29, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tigray defied Addis Ababa and forged ahead with its elections, asserting the region’s autonomy and undermining the central government, which has clearly angered the rest of the leadership.

On November 3, 2020, after the Ethiopian government accused TPLF of supporting rebels who massacred civilians in western Oromia, several Tigrayan officials escalated words, threatening to “bring down” Abiy’s government. Then on November 4, 2020, the government announced that the TPLF forces had attacked the Ethiopian National Defence Forces Base located in Tigray region and attempted to rob the northern command of artillery and military equipment. That’s when Abiy ordered his army into the Tigray region.
The result of this confrontation is a senseless war, perhaps a war whose true origins are beyond Ethiopia and the outcome of which will benefit no one in the country.
What we see from outside Ethiopia is that Africa has yet again, without fail, showed the world the old images that paint the continent as a place of misery, where citizens suffer unnecessarily just because the leaders running some of the countries have chosen personal pride and wrestling for control of power over and above the welfare of the people, over the viability of the country itself. It seems that it is going to be Ethiopia’s turn this time round to shame the region, just as the East African region may have thought South Sudan was the winner in terms of senseless and pointless wars.

West Africa region, while still faced with the problem of leaders who cling to power beyond their term limits, has really made a marked progress when it comes to reining in war tendencies. Southern Africa is far ahead of the rest in this regard since it ended cold war era civil wars. East, Central and Horn of Africa have a long way to go in terms of resisting the temptation to rush to arms.

And when it is the turn of Ethiopia to make us in this region look bad, the war is all the more painful, not just because it is the biggest country, the most populated, the biggest economy, nor even the fact of it being the capital of Africa in a way, the African Union base, but also because what ails Ethiopia also in many ways bites in Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Kenya and further afield.
One is unable to wrap their head around the wave of news headlines about this conflict. Reports of close to 30,000 Tigrayan and other Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan to escape attacks by the Ethiopian Federal Army; the involvement of Eritrea on Ethiopian government’s side; the appeals for peace talks from regional organisations and heads of state from within the Horn and East Africa; of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed showing determination to end this conflict militarily; the Tigrayan leaders in Makelle, the regional capital, insisting that they would rather die standing up than surrender to what they see as a one man dictatorship.

But Ethiopia, a country that has been the pride of the region because of its double digit growth, its government’s reform agenda, the inspirational story of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, is stuck between the federal government’s right to assert control over the country’s affairs, a right no one doubts, and the cries from the civilians in Tigray who are being hammered in this confrontation. Who will blink first to save Ethiopia from totally ruining itself by its own hands and spare the regional neighbourhood the ripple effects of this baseless war?
Prime Minister Abiy is caught at once between Ethiopia’s ethnic politics, the desire for state monopoly of force and the Nobel Prize for peace he received in 2019 on the occasion of ending the war with Eritrea.
Which way will he pick? Perhaps his own attempt to remind us all about the pains of war would best be read back to him in an effort to sway him against the way of war. During his Nobel lecture, he talked about his participation in war and he called it the epitome of hell, saying, “I’ve seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield. I have seen older men, women and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells. War makes for bitter men, heartless and savage men.”

For a man with such memory to get into a power struggle with his own former comrades to the point of driving his country to the brink of an all-out war, Abiy Ahmed will have a lot of explaining to do to thousands of Ethiopians who are facing death because their leader, like others before him, could not swallow his pride and take the path of peace, if only to just honour his peace prize and his own reflections on what war does to men.
Whatever he chooses to do going forward, assuming it is all up to him and no invisible hands steering him, whether to sit down in peace talks with TPLF, pursue a military solution or isolate and starve Tigray over a long period of time, there is no question that Ethiopia as a country will be the biggest loser, not just in terms of lives wasted, infrastructure destroyed or resources squandered, but most importantly the injury to the country’s body politic. Ethiopia’s unity will be in tatters and the war will no longer be confined to Tigray.
With huge street demonstrations that took place in Addis Ababa on Monday and Tuesday, which are purported to be spontaneous in support of the war, but were reportedly encouraged by the Prime Minister himself to drum up the case for a sense of aggression the rest of Ethiopia feels Tigray has inflicted, it is clear that he wants to first exhaust his military options before seeking a peaceful settlement. On November 17, 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said “the final and crucial” military operation will launch in the coming days against TPLF forces.

Perhaps it is time for the elders of West and Southern Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Graca Machel Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, to apply their hard-earned statesmanship to take yet another peace trip to Ethiopia. They can stop along the way to get Paul Kagame, the only East African leader who has earned that status while still in office. Can Africa, for once, just once, put out its own fires!

Mark Temnycky, graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs and Citizenship, is the author of this article for the Wilson Center on Ukraine’s local elections and what the results will mean for Zelensky’s Servant of the People party.

In April 2019, political novice Volodymyr Zelensky defeated incumbent Petro Poroshenko in Ukraine’s presidential election in historic fashion. Zelensky’s success then extended to the July 2019 parliamentary elections, where his Servant of the People party won a majority of seats in the Verkhovna Rada. The results meant that Ukrainians were willing to give the inexperienced men and women of Zelensky’s party an opportunity to lead their country. Servant of the People ran on a reformist platform, and the party’s victory suggested that its members would pursue anticorruption reform in Ukraine. Zelensky’s alleged ties to Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky put some on edge, as skeptics wondered if Zelensky’s rise to power had been encouraged by Kolomoisky so that the oligarch could reclaim PrivatBank. Nonetheless, they were willing to give Zelensky a chance.
Servant of the People pushed through several pieces of anticorruption legislation in its first few months in parliament, and the new government revitalized various anticorruption institutes. Ukraine’s gross domestic product grew by 3.5 percent. Zelensky negotiated a large prisoner exchange with Russia in December 2019—a decision viewed positively by the West—and also remained firm with Russia during the Normandy Summit.

Things seemed to be going well for Ukraine under Zelensky, but by March 2020 everything changed. Zelensky appointed as his new chief of staff Andriy Yermak, a person rumored to have business connections to Russia. Zelensky sacked his cabinet of ministers, and Denys Shmyhal, a former governor who had ties to oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, became the new prime minister. The Verkhovna Rada also voted to remove prosecutor general Ruslan Ryaboshapka, a decision that concerned the West. In selecting his new cabinet, Zelensky appointed numerous figures who had ties to former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and pro-Russian Ukrainian politician Viktor Medvedchuk. Zelensky, it seemed, was surrounding himself with Ukraine’s old faces.
Beyond the internal government turmoil, there also were problems within Servant of the People. Some reports claim the party is fragmenting. Other reports state that the party lacks a sense of direction. As a result, support for the party has significantly declined. According to a poll conducted by the Sociological Group Rating, support for Servant of the People has waned to 34 percent. Zelensky’s personal popularity has also declined. During the presidential election, Zelensky won 73.2 percent of the popular vote. By September 2020, his popularity dropped to 31.8 percent. This sharp decline demonstrates that voters have started to lose faith in their government.
Ukrainians expressed their frustrations with Zelensky and Servant of the People during the recent local elections, and the Ukrainian president and his party experienced their first major political loss since their historic presidential and parliamentary victories in 2019. According to Ukrainian exit polls, Servant of the People did not perform well in any of the prominent mayoral races. The party is also not expected to perform well in any of the runoff elections.

The results of Ukraine’s local elections illustrate the drastic decline of Servant of the People. What was once viewed as a potential reform party has now become a group synonymous with Ukraine’s corruption crisis. It is no wonder why Zelensky’s popularity and the popularity of his party have faded. Zelensky and his team will now regroup as they try to formulate a strategy on how they can maintain their influence despite this significant political loss.
Meanwhile, voter turnout in this year’s local elections fell significantly. During the 2015 local elections, Ukraine had a turnout of roughly 47 percent, and some western oblasts had a turnout of greater than 50 percent. The turnout for the 2020 local elections, however, was 37 percent. Some of the low turnout can be attributed to the precautions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. According to a poll conducted by the Sociological Group Rating, 20 percent of survey participants did not vote in the local elections citing health reasons. Another 10 percent did not vote because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This means that one-third of those surveyed did not vote because of health reasons, which is a serious matter.
The other reasons listed as to why Ukrainians did not vote were even more troubling. Fifteen percent stated they were too busy to vote on election day, 14 percent said they did not know who they should vote for and thus decided not to vote, and 12 percent said they were not interested in the local elections. In other words, 41 percent of eligible voters provided troubling reasons for why they did not vote. These responses demonstrate that the Ukrainian electorate may be losing faith in its government.
Ukrainians may feel hopeless with their country’s current political situation. Many of the same issues that have put strains on Ukraine, such as corruption, a struggling economy, and the ongoing Donbas conflict, still remain. This has been a difficult period in Ukrainian history, and many Ukrainian families are feeling the effects of these trying times. Despite these challenges, Ukrainian voters must realize they have the power to decide their future. Traditionally, low voter turnout usually leads to the reelection of career politicians. This also means that Ukraine’s political and socioeconomic situations are unlikely to change.

If Ukrainian elections were to have higher turnouts, however, this could help change the political landscape of Ukraine. In this scenario, Ukrainian citizens could vote for better-suited and more qualified candidates, rather than for their career politicians who rely on voter apathy to retain their seats, which is something that has traditionally occurred. Such a scenario could bring about genuine change to Ukraine. Ukrainians will have to be patient before a new electoral opportunity presents itself, but they will know what kind of power they have with their vote. In the meantime, Ukrainians will watch carefully as Zelensky and Servant of the People regroup after their major political loss. Their leadership’s response may well help determine the results of the next Ukrainian election.