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Ukraine Loses Its Way

PRAGUE – Since the election of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, Ukraine has experienced a significant and alarming deterioration in its democratic framework. Fundamental tenets of a democratic society, such as freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of the press are increasingly coming under pressure. And the prosecution of opposition members, which has now culminated in the arrest and detention of former Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko – during an ongoing trial that most of the West has deemed political – seems to confirm that the rule of law is being brushed aside.

Given Ukraine’s strategic importance, the country’s fate has become an urgent matter of concern not only for Europe, but for the entire international community. Among the most worrying factors underlying Ukraine’s anti-democratic turn are the following:

Consolidation of power. After Viktor Yanukovych’s election last year, the Constitutional Court rescinded constitutional changes made in 2004 as part of the settlement that brought about a peaceful end to the Orange Revolution. By doing so, a consensus was reversed that aimed to reduce the presidency’s powers and move toward a more parliamentary system. Instead, Ukraine’s president is now increasingly consolidating his total control over the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary.

Endemic corruption. Corruption is widely believed to be endemic in the country’s police, secret service, administration, government, and Prosecutor’s Office. On Transparency International´s Corruption Perceptions Index 2010, Ukraine scored 2.4 on a scale from zero (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean). Efforts to combat corruption are at best half-hearted and are not bringing any apparent results. Corruption cripples the country´s institutions and the government´s inaction on this problem is also having an economic impact.