Konstantin Skorkin is an associate fellow with GLOBSEC. Originally from Luhansk, Ukraine, his work on the conflict in Donbas and Ukrainian politics has appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Moscow Times, Republic.
It’s true that Ukraine’s oligarchs corrupted the Ukrainian state and undermined effective reform and development, preventing it from escaping from its post-Soviet stagnation. But they were also a key protective mechanism against anyone else usurping power.
The occupying authorities are trying to integrate the region with Russia as quickly as possible, and to create the illusion that Ukraine has abandoned its own people while Russia, on the contrary, is helping them.
Despite numerous blustering announcements that Ukraine’s separatist-held territories are set to become part of Russia, Moscow is in no hurry to hold Crimea-style referendums there, and with good reason.
Yet again, Zelensky is faced with a crisis even worse than all the previous ones. Every report of another Russian plan to invade Ukraine is a blow to its economy, weakening the hryvnia, pushing up interest rates, and sowing panic among the public.
It’s unlikely that Zelensky seriously believed that his sharp rhetoric with Merkel and Biden would lead to the West accepting Ukraine into NATO or canceling Nord Stream 2. But his behavior strikes a chord with the public at home.
The Kremlin continues to view the breakaway republics as a buffer zone and Trojan horse inside a recalcitrant Ukraine, but allowing their inhabitants to take part in Russian domestic politics will help to score key propaganda points.
In the last two years, President Zelensky has managed to strengthen his personal power considerably. His battle against the influence of Ukraine’s oligarchs, therefore, may not be as hopeless as it might first seem.
The self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics are moving on from the wild days of economic piracy to more orderly exploitation schemes. The prospects of reintegrating the region under the Minsk accords are growing more illusory.
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