Bershidsky: Ukraine as a Failed State?

Who would have the temerity to even suggest it? What kind of paid up Kremlin propagandist would even countenance such a possibility?

Leonid Bershidsky is who.

Bershidsky is a Russian journalist who left Moscow for Berlin a year ago on account of his distaste for Russia’s direction under Putin, and where he now agitates for increasing immigration to the EU in Bloomberg’s opinion columns when he isn’t lambasting the World Bank for increasing Russia’s position in its Ease of Business rankings. In short, he is an able and eloquent voice of the Atlanticist-Yuropean Consensus.

That said, Leonid Bershidsky is one of the more objective anti-Putin journalists around, and this level-headedness means that he does have to acknowledge reality on the ground.

Hence his latest article: Ukraine Is in Danger of Becoming a Failed State.

Despite attempts at change by a new generation of bureaucrats, Ukraine’s economy remains unreformed. Taxes are oppressive but widely evaded, the shadow economy is growing and the regulatory climate for business has barely improved. The International Monetary Fund, the country’s biggest source of hard currency after a steep drop in exports, is optimistic about next year’s economic growth prospects, forecasting a 2 percent expansion, but last month it revised this year’s projection to an 11 percent decline…

Equally unreformed is Ukraine’s incredibly corrupt justice system. In September, Christof Heyns, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said after visiting Ukraine that the country lived in an “accountability vacuum.” Heyns bemoaned the failure of the Ukrainian authorities to investigate the deaths of more than 100 people on the streets of Kiev in the final days of the revolution and of 48 pro-Russian protesters in a burning building in Odessa in May, 2014. Those investigations are stalled, and attempts by the victims’ lawyers to speed them up have been stonewalled by authorities as some of the suspects in the Kiev shootings are still employed by the Interior Ministry.

The Maidan has had zero compunctions about purging the old elites, so the allegation that the investigations into the Kiev and Odessa massacres aren’t moving forwards on account of ancien regime protection networks is tendentious in the extreme. People are getting protected alright, but they are the nationalist radicals who set up the Snipergate false flag in the first place. (The evidence for it is so overwhelming – here is a 79 page summary by Canadian academic Ivan Katchanovski, not to mention the fact that even big Western media organs such as the BBC have been forced to point out inconsistencies in the official narrative – that it cannot be treated as a mere conspiracy theory).

Heyns also said Ukraine’s Security Service “seems to be above the law.” Apart from raiding a number of tech companies in an apparent scare campaign in recent weeks, last weekend the service arrested Gennady Korban, a top lieutenant of oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who has been resisting the consolidation of power by Poroshenko. The arrest gave rise to accusations of selective justice in the Ukrainian press. Other oligarchs, after all, face no reprisals — perhaps because they’ve accepted Poroshenko’s dominance.

Out with the new boss, in with the new.

Elite corruption, though virtually impossible to measure, appears to remain as high as ever going by the anecdotal evidence. We also know from the latest opinion poll surveys that everyday corruption hasn’t decreased either.

Two years after the corrupt team of President Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine corruption is still rife and the country’s intrepid investigative journalists have been especially busy again. Setting the tone is Poroshenko — the only of the country’s 10 richest people to see his net worth increase in the past year — who seems to have forgotten his promise to sell off his businesses; his bank has only expanded as many others lost their licenses. Poroshenko’s and Yatsenyuk’s close allies are routinely named in connection with corrupt schemes involving Ukraine’s customs service and state energy companies.

A year ago there were many people seriously arguing that electing someone like Poroshenko is a good thing because he is so rich he wouldn’t feel any need to steal further. And then people wonder why plutocrats find it so easy to hoodwinkle the sheeple.

Americans are highly visible in the Ukrainian political process. The U.S. embassy in Kiev is a center of power, and Ukrainian politicians openly talk of appointments and dismissals being vetted by U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt and even U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. “Pyatt and the U.S. administration have more influence than ever in the history of independent Ukraine,” Leschenko wrote.

Surprised to see him go thus far and so candidly admit that the Maidan regime is run from Washington D.C.

Europe’s requirements for the visa-free regime center on Ukraine’s seriousness in fighting corruption. The European Union recently refused a request for more funding for the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office, because of “concerns raised with regard to some people who participate in the selection” of prosecutors for the office. This is a clear reference to the team of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, a Poroshenko appointee and long-time associate, who has been accused of undermining the anti-corruption efforts.

But evidently they are just about sovereign and independent enough when it comes to their personal financial interests.

Ukrainian civil society is stunted by these powerful vested interests. I doubt it can push the country to a more civilized direction with the usual tools of electoral democracy: The local elections have proven that post-Soviet practices of fraud, bribery and intimidation have not been overcome. There’s little will for further upheavals so soon after the revolution and the war in the east. But unless the current political elite finds it in itself to clean up — a highly unlikely turn of events –Ukraine’s history of violent regime change is probably not over yet.

Here I have to put in a more “upbeat” note.

Although Bershidsky is correct to be pessimistic about Ukraine’s reform prospects, ultimately, the threat of revolt in a place like Kharkov or Odessa that could unravel the rest of the country has been contained. The economy is steadily stabilizing and, although the implementation of the DCFTA from January 2016 may produce a second derailment, frankly the country is already at such rock-bottom – even Moldova is now ahead – that I really don’t see how it could fall much further before resuming growth. The chances of a new Maidan are very small regardless of how unpopular Poroshenko gets or how much corruption increases even further (this is because the Maidans have always been primarily driven by deep ideological and ethnic factors, not the we’re-tired-of-corruption tropes presented to slack-jawed Westerners). Meanwhile, due to the exit of Crimea and the LDNR, not to mention the emigration of the more pro-Russian orientated elements of society, demographics has completely extinguished any change of an electoral challenge to the Maidanist course.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Solid conclusion and it’s the only reasonable one.

    There isn’t going to be a March on Kiev. There isn’t going to be a land bridge to Crimea.

    There isn’t going to be a rebellion in Kharkov nor in Odessa.

    Ukraine is going to sputter, with continuous demographic decline and the threat of losing much of its population to emigration should Ukrainians be given the right to work in the EU.

  2. As long as Cold War II continues, there will be a possibility of the Ukraine-Novorossiya proxy war flaring up again. If that happens, the front line might move again. There might be lots of proxy wars ahead – in the Caucasus, in Central Asia, in Latin America.

  3. The police in Britain are no better. They turned a blind eye to mass rape of under-age girls, and the Murdoch papers bugging people’s phones. When his top editor admitted to a parliamentary committee that the police were supplying them with information nothing happened. A failed state is where people outside government are pulling the strings.

    Demographics may require Ukraine to hand over parts of its territory to neighbouring countries. People want to go be somewhere with educational and medical infrastructure, and community amenities for a pleasant life. Whole regions of Ukraine, which is a big country, are going to empty.

  4. Why is Ukraine a failed state?
    What is wrong with Ukrainians?
    On an individual basis they seem to be pretty intelligent and hard working.
    Although their behaviour is sometimes strange – a bit wild, uncultured.

  5. Corruption is a feature, not a bug.

  6. Ukraine has always been slightly more corrupt than Russia. Slightly but noticeable. This was well understood in the Soviet times; e.g. see all those army jokes about Ukrainian NCOs in charge of supplies.

    On the other hand, the Belorussians had a reputation of a hardworking honest folk, practically the Germans of the Eastern Slavdom. The post-Soviet experience bears this out.

  7. Aixa:

    One thing that isn’t mentioned much, is simply that Ukraine hadn’t existed as an independent state for many centuries. They have no history of cohesion in a nationalist sense. There really has never ever been a ‘Ukraine’ as a state, only a region. ‘Ukraine’ means ‘Borderlands’, and so it is; the border where Europe meets Eurasia. The Grand Duchy of Kiev was dissolved in the 12th century. For many centuries, Ukraine was a province of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, then for several more they were under Russian control. Ukraine as a nation is not like Poland, reborn from the ashes. It never existed at all. So really, it’s much like the middle eastern states such as Iraq, or perhaps Yugoslavia, in this manner. No surprise then there are issues…There is no history of unification, the culture is diverse, and it’s cities range from places like Lviv, which was long a part of Poland or then Austria, to Kiev, which is probably the most ‘Ukrainian’, and then of course the eastern cities which are Russian in language and character. It’s not a nation, its an amalgam of former empires.

  8. Interesting, i had no idea.

  9. frankly the country is already at such rock-bottom – even Moldova is now ahead

    I’ve seen this claim made by several Russian sources but it is true, or wishful thinking?

    According to IMF:

    In 2014 it nominal GDP was $3055 for Ukraine, $2233 for Moldova. GDP PPP was $8668 for Ukraine, $4979 for Moldova.

    Worldbank figures about the same:

    If Ukraine lost 10% of its GDP per capita in 2015 it would still be well ahead of Moldova.

    Maybe you are confusing Moldova with Armenia and Georgia? 2014 is the year that Ukraine fell behind those two in nominal GDP per capita (though it still bears them in GDP PPP per capita).