Ukraine is facing a Constitutional Court and corruption crisis that will impact its ability to recover from the devastation to democratic sovereignty caused by Russia’s advances of military action in the nation. The invasion of Ukraine has created an opportunity to study the ability of a developing democracy to withstand both internal and external forces of conflict. Freedom House currently categorizes Ukraine as a democracy in transition in their 2022 Nations in Transit Report, due to the many instances of corruption and inability to maintain a nonpartisan, impartial judicial system, as well as ongoing conflict with Russia. An unchangeable body of constitutional interpretation, lack of checks and balances, and rampant corruption are internal precursors of democratic erosion stemming from just one branch of government in the country.
The Constitutional Court of Ukraine currently has the ability to strike down laws and create rulings that have no way to be appealed or reversed, and there is no oversight committee to review their decisions. This lack of accountability has led to the ability of oligarchs to widen their networks, and net worths, in the nation due to the leniency and little penalty for committing acts of corruption. The ability to influence the path of legislation through financial persuasion, as well as the monopolization of major corporations and media outlets has made the presence of oligarchic influence within the fragile democracy very apparent.
The nullification of asset declaration laws by the court in 2020 was another huge step backwards in creating government transparency, access to NATO and the EU, and allowed for the continued growth of the billionaire elite up until the start of Russia’s full scale invasion. The court deemed these laws unconstitutional, as well as many of the powers of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption (NAPC), therefore creating an inability to stop further issues of crime committed by the one percent in the country.
Although President Zelensky has taken action to introduce legislation in an attempt to “deoligarchize” the country, little results have been achieved due to ongoing obstruction by the Constitutional Court in the fight for anti corruption reform. Zelenksy’s own motives for limiting the power of oligarchs has also been questioned, as these moves to limit the power of main opposition could signal a move to consolidate his own political power. Let’s not forget in 2021 President Zelensky was accused of holding offshore accounts when the publication of the Pandora Papers implicated him and many others in the world’s biggest global corruption investigation to date. The current president’s ties to the country’s oligarchs, specifically 1+1 Media Group conglomerate and PrivatBank owner Ihor Kolomoisky, has raised concerns over the trajectory of his attack on the billionaires that control the majority of political power in the country (RFERL).
The instability caused by Russia’s attacks, as well as internal struggles to create a strong democratic system has set the stage for a populist leader to take control of the future of the fragile nation.
Zelensky garnered support for his approach to politics as being a candidate that is a change from the status quo. The country’s reliance on him as a unifying figure throughout the war has created a path to re-election, but raises flags for the possibility of oligarchic and autocratic consolidation of the government. The current president’s ties to corruption in the nation despite his many efforts to bust the monopolies created by powerful billionaires leads to a conflict of interest that may show in the severity of his “crackdown” on this corruption.
The president’s attempts to “clean up” the government is a large undertaking and will require the cooperation of the judiciary in order to make any lasting effects, or for these laws to at least not be immediately overturned in opposition. This would require a commitment to support the National Security and Defence Council (NSDC) and NAPC in identifying, prosecuting, and punishing those who are committing acts of corruption and creating monopolies within the country. This seems unlikely due to focus on the war being the nation’s priority, and the upcoming election having too great a stake on Zelensky’s ability to retain power to further his movement.
In addition, the current president’s campaign will likely benefit from funding by these oligarchies, as well as the publications they are able to provide access to for further promotion. The president’s campaign ads have previously been run through media outlets such as the 1+1 Media Conglomerate, the next campaign cycle will see if he can commit to his anti oligarch promises or if he will also reap the benefits of the monopolization of Ukraine (OCCRP).
The future of the country is uncertain, but what is certain is that the path to political access Zelensky has been given will continue to create opportunities for exerting control over the young democracy. The inability to become a stabilized system of government, or curb the growing oligarchies and subsequent corruption they cause has led Ukraine to a crossroads. Will the country be able to find its footing and create a concrete constitutional governance, or will it succumb to consolidation of the president’s populist movement and the will of the ultra powerful billionaire elites once the dust from the war has settled?
This was an incredibly interesting article to read, especially given the incredible focus that’s been put on Ukraine recently due to Russia’s invasion. With Zelensky named Time’s Person of the Year, it was fascinating to read an article about his attempts at combating corruption within Ukraine. I was previously unaware of the role that the Constitutional Court played in maintaining the interests of the oligarchs, and it’ll be interesting to see how Ukraine’s transition to democracy continues once the war with Russia comes to an end.
In your blog post, I think you did an amazing job of detailing the uncertainty of Ukraine’s political future. I want to highlight how impressed I was with your ability to condense an extensive topic into such an easily digestible format. Additionally, the first paragraph of your blog post provided much-needed incite into how Ukraine’s internal crises, particularly within its judicial system are interplaying with Russia’s invasion of the country to drive fissures into an already vulnerable democracy. I also think your choice of sources also did a great job of providing additional information.
I found myself agreeing with your assertion that the current circumstances of Ukraine’s political system are primed for a populist takeover. Zelensky’s attempts to, as you stated, ‘clean up’ the government are arguably futile due to the external pressure of the Russian invasion of the country and the stress it has put on both the government and the citizens of Ukraine.
The concluding statements of your blog post solidified the limbo of Ukrainian democracy in my mind. And although I hope for a desirable outcome in which we see a strengthening of Ukrainian democracy, I am not sure if that is in the future for the country.