The Ukrainian people had made historic choices for independence, democracy and the free market more than a quarter century ago, but they have only partially achieved their vision of a fully democratic and prosperous state. Ukraine is undoubtedly an established political entity with internationally recognized sovereignty, widespread corruption and regressive political cycles. Moreover, Russian occupation, military aggression, hybrid warfare, and a subsequent economic recession, have hamper edits democratic and free market development. Ukraine emerged as a very pluralistic but volatile democracy after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In the 1990s, the political system of the country evolved along two parallel lines that combined the liberal democratic facade and the power and resources of the post-soviet oligarchy.
There were two revolutionary cycles, spanning around 1992–2004 and 2005–2014, in the contradiction between these two dimensions of politics in Ukraine. Every cycle was soon replaced by the simulated democracy that was driven mainly by oligarchic competition, and then subsequently by authoritarian consolidation, leading to civic protests and possible regime changes, which reset the cycle. Those cycles have inhibited the transition from the Soviet to a fully democratic state of Ukraine. Whether Ukraine’s democratic development will set on a sustainable road following Euromaidan 2014, closer political and economic association with the European Union (EU) or on the Donbas war depends on the upcoming elections. There are numerous reasons to hope for the best, but the sustainability of present reform efforts and democratic politics is also a cause for serious concern. A number of key dichotomy areas have been addressed to the constitutional order of the post-Soviet Ukraine: Presidentialism versus Parliamentarianism, power centralization versus local self-government and institutionalized democracy versus persistent clan politics.
The present scenario of presidential election campaign for Ukraine is shaping up to be if anything, a big show. Ukraine has a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system which makes governance tricky. However, a presidential election on March 31, 2019, followed by parliamentary balloting later in the year, will examine whether the country’s institutions and leaders are keeping pace with the people’s desire for change or not. The level of change made in recent years since the 2014 Euromaidan revolution forced the regime of Viktor Yanukovych to flee to Russia has been much discussed. The electorate’s central concerns are the ongoing Donbas war launched by Russia, the economic welfare of the country, and the level of corruption. However, the electorate must also pay heed to countering Kremlin interference for ensuring the stability and unity of the country. A realistic assessment of the Ukrainian economic reforms over the last four years is indispensable. It is certainly incorrect to suggest that “nothing has changed” as it is evidently witnessed that a number of key factors have been taken forward. These include the price of natural gas for the market, reducing budget deficits, stabilizing national debt, decentralization of power to the local level, visa-free travel to the European Union, the establishment of anti-corruption institutions, changing procurement processes, the enhanced VAT refund system, changes to business regulation and the restructuring of the banking system. But, the future for dynamic economic growth is unfortunately lacking and cannot be ignored.
The administration has not been seriously involved in sinking corruption and in establishing a proper rule of law over the last four years. The evidence for Ukrainian citizens is abundantly clear, the current government has consistently appointed prosecutors that have not steered any significant prosecutions. In particular, the government has failed to bring known major oligarchs to justice, some of whom have obvious ties with Russia. Furthermore, the reform of the judiciary introduced by the administration was significantly derailed by the inclusion of judges with identified reputations of corruption, as assessed by independent observers. The police reform was stuck on the road patrols with little change in the system as a whole. The anti-corruption institutions designed to address the problem have been constantly hindered in their operations by other levels of the judicial system, openly harassed and even infused with utterly corrupt officials. Civil society which have remained vigilant and acted as a watchdog in exposing cases of corruption, have been attacked and beleaguered by the controlled media and police.
The implementation of the Asset Declaration System, cited by supporters as evidence of change, is a prime example of the management’s thwarting of reforms. The objective of this system was to expose high-level officials and politicians to illegal assets. These statements were, in fact, submitted and made public. However, the filings have not been seriously followed up and officials with clearly dubious assets have not been prosecuted. Worse still, the system was extended to require a leading anti-corruption filing by the civil society. This extension was obviously a form of bullying especially of activists. The closure of many illiquid banks was also a frequently mentioned reform, but the public had been deeply deceived in the implementation of this policy. The state guaranteed funds to be paid to the depositors of those banks, which had failed, trillions. Simultaneously, there were very few efforts made to deal with the corrupt owners high handedly. The most serious example of this would be the acquisition of Private Bank, the largest bank in Ukraine, whose oligarch owners have not been prosecuted and the public purse has lost about $ 4 billion (USD).
There is a disturbing lack of commitment to combating corruption and establishing a rule of law over the past four years, and this is a major cause of electoral disappointment with the present administration. External observers, like Transparency International, are apparent that Ukraine continues to rank among the most corrupt world’s nations. Other institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and Western governments have repeatedly required progress on corruption as a condition for loans and assistance. Corruption is the sole reason that the flow of investment has been reduced to a lamentable level.It has undermined the country’s budget and has damaged its pension, training or infrastructure capacity. It has allowed oligarchic interests to continue to prevail, leading to excessively regulated prices. Small and medium-sized enterprises have become less evolving. Even the resources allocated to the essential war effort resulted in misappropriation of funds.
Keeping in view the above mentioned corruption issues, a credible and transparent election process can reinforce democratic system where voters must assess the candidates on the basis of credibility. The outcome of the 2019 elections will determine whether Ukraine will experience Orange instability or Euromaidan stability and progress. If Ukrainian voters choose the latter, Ukraine’s European integration by 2024 will be irretrievable. If the former, the end result could be unpredictable. Candidates with cash, controlled media and administrative power would have great favor of the election system. Only if a candidate with personal integrity and commitment is selected as the leader will true reforms be achieved. In achieving this aim, it is essential for Ukraine to consolidate all democratic forces to improve public confidence by strengthening the electoral framework.
Lithuania is left in the dust
The nearly completed Nord Stream 2 is again in focus. It has become known that the U.S. Senate on January 13 failed to pass a bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The tally was 55 in favor and 44 against the bill that needed 60 votes to pass. Those who voted against his bill said it risked breaking unity in Washington and in Europe. U.S. senators said also Cruz sanctions on Nord Stream 2 could harm relations with Germany which is very important for the U.S. foreign policy and economy.
Top Ukrainian officials, as well as Lithuanian government supported Cruz’s bill, arguing the United States should do everything in its power to halt the pipeline project.
The link is designed to export gas from Russia directly to Germany by bypassing Ukraine, through which Russia has sent gas to Europe for decades. That would deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermine its struggle against alleged Russian aggression. The decision will allow the completion of the gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further US sanctions. Earlier Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the a deal between the United States and Germany on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a “mistake”. It is interesting that the vote came as U.S. and European officials held high-level talks with their Russian counterparts. It is quite possible that the decision about Nord Stream 2 pipeline was the result of these negotiations.
This fact has sparked anger and has become great political disappointment for the Lithuanian officials who view the project as a security threat.
Lithuania, positioning itself as the main Ukraine’s patron in Europe, is confused with such U.S. decision. Lithuania promotes the U.S. interests and support all American initiatives even to the detriment of its own interests. Only this month Lithuania took a number of steps to prove its commitment to US policy. Lithuania even has dared to challenge China, one the main US strategic competitors. It continues to spend millions of dollars on military purchases from the U.S. using the narrative of “the threat from the East”. In December Lithuania signed an agreement with the U.S. to improve military interoperability.
The more so, the Lithuanian government has decided to accelerate its planned purchase of a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) amid Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The decision to buy US’ Lockheed Martin system in 2026, two years earlier than Vilnius previously planned.
The country also regularly holds political consultations with the U.S. officials to coordinate its further actions. But the U.S. in its turn does not pay attention to Lithuania’s opinion and makes decision in its favour.
Lithuanian government should gain Lithuanians’ support and pay attention to their needs. The matter is discontent in Lithuanian society is growing every day. Thus, on January 13, the usual commemoration of Freedom Defenders saw loud booing and heckles from the crowd of protesters who called on the government (and the parliament) to resign.
It is obviously that the threat from the East is not so real as threat to be fired due to loss of confidence in near future.
Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021
The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.
During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.
The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.
The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.
Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.
In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.
Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.
Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.
The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.
All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.
No borders to struggle against COVİD-19: Solidarity of humanity can help the situation
Just as COVID-19 does not recognize borders, it is necessary to build the struggle against it on the basis of organization, solidarity, mutual assistance, the use of positive experience, and it should not recognize borders.
2021 was a year of continued struggle against the pandemic and of the emergence of new variants of the virus. The South Caucasus also was not away from COVID-19 and its variants. Azerbaijan continued its effective fight against COVID-19, making the most of the lessons of previous years and the opportunities for rapid response. The vaccination campaign, which was conducted as well as in highly developed countries, is a real sign of performance in this sector. During the year Azerbaijan gave humanitarian and financial aid to more than 30 countries in order to fight the pandemic, made a voluntary financial contribution of 10 million US dollars to the World Health Organization and freely donated 150,000 doses of vaccine to four countries.
The newly appointed head of the EU delegation to Azerbaijan, Petr Michako, also stressed the high level of vaccination in Azerbaijan. The capital – Baku is working closely with The European Union in this direction. The European Union and the World Health Organization have supported the fight against COVID-19 in Azerbaijan with the necessary medical equipment. Medical personnel in Azerbaijan have been repeatedly provided with respirators, goggles, transparent masks and overalls for this purpose. All equipment sent for the safety of medical personnel fighting the virus on the front lines was tested for compliance with quality and safety standards. Kestutis Jankauskas, Head of the EU Delegation to Azerbaijan, said that his organization, as a “Team Europe”, is helping to prevent, detect and combat the COVID-19 pandemic. “Healthcare workers are at the forefront of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which increases their risk of contracting the virus,” he said. -They are our heroes and they need protection. “As part of the Team Europe initiative, the EU has launched an individual COVID-19 package with a budget of around € 32 million to support urgent needs and socio-economic recovery.
In 2021, Azerbaijan achieved major progress in combating the pandemic and the global economic crisis and in mutual cooperation. As a chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Azerbaijan put forward an initiative to establish a UN High-Level Panel on global restoration after COVID-19. The member states of the Non-Aligned Movement took a unanimous decision to extend Azerbaijan’s chairmanship of the movement for another year, until the end of 2023.
Azerbaijan proposed a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement on equal and universal access to vaccines for all countries and the resolution was passed unanimously in March 2021. This resolution showed Azerbaijan’s stance on the increasing vaccine nationalism in the world and became an international success.
As a result of all measurements now the number of people receiving the second,third and further doses of the vaccine in Azerbaijan has exceeded 40 percent. Azerbaijan is one of the countries in the continent where the number of virus infections is rapidly declining. Azerbaijan is doing its best to observe this trend around the world. Solidarity can help the situation.
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