We have known for some time that Ukraine has serious problems that it is failing to address. The economy continues to contract, and living standards are declining, for starters. Some reforms are moving quickly, but they’re typically the kinds people don’t want, like rising gas prices. The reforms that Ukrainians really want, like getting rid of crooked judges and making the government work better, are happening slowly—if it at all.
That is bad news for any politician, and it’s being borne out big time in Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s polls. General elections are three years away, but if they were held today, Poroshenko would command only 14.7 percent support; Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is scraping the bottom of the barrel with 1.3 percent.
More ominously, the guys with the guns are getting impatient. The Financial Times has the sobering account:
On the road into Avdiivka in eastern Ukraine, Vasyl, a Ukrainian army soldier, gestures at fresh roadside craters — the result of shelling by Russian-backed separatists the night before. His men face attacks almost nightly as they guard a checkpoint in this front line suburb of rebel-held Donetsk, he says.
Their only defences from the barrages are machine guns, a small concrete shelter and a decrepit, Soviet-era armoured personnel carrier.
“Why doesn’t the president come here?” spits Vasyl. “Then he’ll see first-hand how poorly supplied we are — although we’re dodging artillery almost every day under this ceasefire he himself brokered.”
Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, seems to prefer visiting training grounds far from the war zone, testing advanced weapons that have yet to make it to the front line, he says, adding: “Our morale is burning out due to their actions.”
Vasyl asks not to be identified. But his comments are both typical of those heard among Ukrainian soldiers in the east these days, and significant. They reflect an anger and mistrust towards commanders and the country’s political leaders that has grown sharply in the past 12 months.
Vladimir Putin’s modus operandi is to look for the West’s weaknesses and strategic mistakes to exploit them. The continuing failure of both the EU and the U.S. to come up with effective ways to support Ukraine is giving Putin just such an opportunity, as well as deepening the suffering of Ukrainians.