The Negativists are Wrong on Ukraine

It was at the California Republican state convention in San Diego on September 11, 1970 that Vice President Spiro Agnew immortalized his speech writer, William Safire, by saying the following memorable words: “In the United States today, we have more than our share of nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H club—the hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.”

Too bad the witty and erudite Safire, who eventually went on to become a New York Times columnist, isn’t alive today. If he were, he might be tempted to direct his rhetoric at the nattering nabobs and hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs who comment on Ukraine.

Some live in the West; many of whom never cared much about Ukraine and decided they were experts after surfing the Internet. Many more live in Ukraine; they’re the populists, the right- and left-wing hotheads, the intellectuals who spin pristine theories and then cry foul when reality fails to meet their expectations, and the analysts who refuse to admit that a half-empty glass is better than an empty one.

I’d be rich if I had a hryvnia for every article that said Ukraine was on the “brink of disaster” or the “verge of collapse.” And I’d be richer if I had half a hryvnia for every time people have said that “nothing has changed” in Ukraine since the Euromaidan Revolution.

Here are some of the most popular examples of hopeless hysteria:

  • The economy is on the verge of collapse. No, it’s not. The macro-economy has been stabilized. A reasonable budget has been adopted. The banking system is being fixed. Energy prices are beginning to make sense. And, thanks to Russia’s Putin, all of Ukraine’s trade will be with EBR (Everybody but Russia) as of 2016. Expect Ukraine’s economy to become more competitive and globally oriented this year.

  • Ukraine is unstable. Say that again?More Ukrainians are patriotic and committed to statehood than at any time in recent history.The far right is weak; the far left is even weaker. The former Regionnaires organized in the Opposition Bloc are mostly a nuisance. Few people like the president and prime minister, but virtually no one wants to replace them with radicals or bring back Yanukovych. True, many, perhaps most, elites are corrupt, but corruption isn’t instability.

  • Neo-Nazis are poised to seize power. This claim says more about the West’s phobias than about Ukraine’s problems and about the Western media's love affair with the country’s few score genuine neo-Nazis. This ragtag group is to topple a government? C’mon!

  • Free Ukraine will split in two. If the country controlled by Kyiv didn’t fracture in 2014, when the government and army were weak, polarization was high, and Putin could have invaded with impunity, it won’t in 2016. In any case, Ukraine’s vaunted East-West “divide” is no more threatening to the country’s unity than America’s red state/blue state divide.

  • The volunteer militias in free Ukraine are powerful and destabilizing warlords. They were always too few to be destabilizing, and they have long since stopped being powerful. And how can you be a warlord, if you control no territory? 

  • Ukraine will never be normal as long as the Donbas is occupied. Quite the contrary. Ukraine’s chances of becoming normal are high as long as the Donbas cancer remains outside its body politic—which, thanks to Putin, is likely to be a long time

The fact is that, although it still has a very long way to go, Ukraine has changed enormously, and mostly for the better, in the last two years. For statistical evidence, take a look at an excellent joint study recently published by VoxUkraine and the Ekonomichna Pravda website.

You may even conclude that the nabobs and hypochondriacs are right about one thing. Ukraine is on the brink—of success. 

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