(Russia is terrified of the emergence of another successful state on its borders.)
First, there is the brutal fact of Russian military aggression. Moscow’s offensive in the country’s South and East has not only damaged Ukraine’s territorial integrity, but has also profoundly affected many other aspects of society, including its capacity for radical change. Thousands of Ukrainians — among them many selfless patriots — have been killed, mutilated, wounded, or traumatized by the fighting. The country lost two economically important territories, the Crimean peninsula and much of the Donets Basin (Donbas). Ukraine has had to redirect large portions of its already scarce financial, material, and human resources from civilian to military sectors as well to post-war restoration.
The war and various related challenges have had serious repercussions for Ukraine’s civil society and its diaspora in the West. Tens of thousands of activists mobilized by the revolution could no longer concentrate their efforts on transforming the country. Instead, they had to refocus on its very survival. . . .
The second major impediment to reform was the country’s economic crisis. Mainly but not exclusively as a result of the war, Ukraine’s GDP collapsed in 2014-15, taking the national currency with it. Real wages plummeted as well, by over 13 percent in 2014, and by another 10 percent in 2015.
Ukrainians have also faced sharp increases in energy costs — a condition imposed by the International Monetary Fund before it would agree to disburse its multi-billion standby loans. To be sure, these painful measures are long overdue. But this drastic macroeconomic adjustment during wartime further exacerbated the shock of the country’s already severe financial and social problems.
The resulting surge in utility costs and consumer goods prices have not only reduced private consumption, investment, and comfort. They have also reduced the living standards of civic activists, reduced popular support for the government’s Westernization agenda, and facilitated the rise of irresponsible political populism. . . .
Finally, Ukraine’s ability to reform has been seriously damaged by Russia’s general campaign of subversion. The more traditional aspects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been accompanied by a wide gamut of unconventional “hybrid war” elements, including non-military economic, social, psychological, political, and other measures that are only partially visible to western policymakers and publics. These include trade sanctions, secret intelligence operations, international propaganda campaigns, cyber-attacks, diplomatic skirmishes, clustering of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border, and so on.
The aim of the latter element — the staging of large-scale army exercises and movements of ground forces — is not only to train and prepare Russian soldiers for a possible future attack on Ukraine. Of more immediate concern is the anxiety the maneuvers create within Ukraine and among its partners. Like the enormous amounts of heavy weapons with which Moscow has armed its puppet regimes in the Donbas, the army drills near the border are designed to keep everyone guessing.