© Maksymenko Oleksandr, CC BY 2.0,

The war in Ukraine was preceded by massive social protests that came to be known as the “Maidan” or “Euromaidan”. The demonstrations were sparked by the decision of then President Yanukovych not to sign Ukraine's Association Agreement with the European Union after years of negotiations. After the Maidan protests came to a head in February 2014, Yanukovych fled and a transitional government took over in Kyiv. Russia responded by annexing Crimea and destabilising the Donbas. President Petro Poroshenko and the various successive governments Ukraine has seen since the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2014 continue to insist on Ukraine’s territorial integrity – including Crimea – which they seek to defend in an undeclared war with Russia and the pro-Russian separatists. They are also committed, at least rhetorically, to implementing credible reforms in almost all areas of society and to pursuing a pro-Western foreign policy whose aims include political and economic convergence with the European Union and future NATO membership. Politically and economically, Ukraine is increasingly disconnecting from Russia.

Despite notable change in multiple areas, it remains to be seen whether the Ukrainian leadership can muster the determination needed to overcome a deeply corrupt system. Representatives of the old elites remain part of the leadership and profit from the status quo. The war in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s continuing efforts to thwart the Ukrainian reform process represent further almost insurmountable hurdles blocking the path to systemic transformation. Yet Ukraine must demonstrate progress on reforms in order to maintain favour with its partners in the European Union and IMF and secure the support it requires to avoid state bankruptcy. Moreover, pressure for reforms also comes from significant sections of Ukrainian (civil) society which are ready to protest again in the absence of fundamental elite renewal with positive socio-economic consequences for the population.


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Challenges of Developing a New Political Culture

SWP Comment 2014/C 18, April 2014, 7 Pages

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