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How Ukraine could build a more prosperous democracy

Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. For more than six years, he directed FSI’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, where he now leads its Program on Arab Reform and Democracy and its Global Digital Policy Incubator. He is the founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy and also serves as senior consultant at the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy.

His research focuses on democratic trends and conditions around the world and on policies and reforms to defend and advance democracy. His latest book, China's Influence and American Interests (Hoover Press, 2019), focuses on promoting constructive vigilance of China’s ambitions as a global economic and military superpower. Diamond’s other books include Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency (Penguin Press, 2019), In Search of Democracy (2016), The Spirit of Democracy (2008), Developing Democracy: Toward Consolidation (1999), Promoting Democracy in the 1990s (1995), and Class, Ethnicity, and Democracy in Nigeria (1989). He has also edited or coedited more than forty books on democratic development around the world.

During 2002–03, Diamond served as a consultant to the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and was a contributing author of its report Foreign Aid in the National Interest. He has also advised and lectured to universities and think tanks around the world, and to the World Bank, the United Nations, the State Department, and other governmental and nongovernmental agencies dealing with governance and development. During the first three months of 2004, Diamond served as a senior adviser on governance to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad. His 2005 book, Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, was one of the first books to critically analyze America's postwar engagement in Iraq.

Among Diamond’s edited books are Democracy in Decline?; Democratization and Authoritarianism in the Arab World; Will China Democratize?; and Liberation Technology: Social Media and the Struggle for Democracy, all edited with Marc F. Plattner; and Politics and Culture in Contemporary Iran, with Abbas Milani. With Juan J. Linz and Seymour Martin Lipset, he edited the series, Democracy in Developing Countries, which helped to shape a new generation of comparative study of democratic development.

1. Ukraine has had all prerequisites for economic growth and was ahead of many Eastern European nations after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Why our political elites have failed so badly to transform our country into a prosperous one in almost three decades?

I am not sure how far ahead Ukraine was of other East European countries. Certainly, one can point to major differences and handicaps. The most obvious one was that Eastern Europe had a path of entry into the European Union, and so strong pressure and incentives to move toward democracy and the rule of law as conditions for entry. Ukraine lacked that degree of external pressure and incentive, and remained too tied to Russia, and too vulnerable to its pernicious authoritarian influence, especially after Putin came to power. The Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity were attempts to break free of that, but old elites and oligarchs retain extensive influence. Corruption has been another major problem. Ukraine simply cannot move forward to genuine development--and real defense of sovereignty--unless it reins in corruption and makes more progress toward establishing a true rule of law.

2. How can Ukrainians make politicians and the bureaucracy more accountable? Do you think there has been any substantial progress in this direction since 2014?

I think there has been modest progress, but from what I hear, it has been inadequate. President Zelensky needs to continue to make this an extremely high priority, and he needs the help of civil society to pressure him, his government, and the parliament. All of the evidence tells us that endemic corruption cannot be effectively reduced without sustained pressure and monitoring from the media and civil society. Then, of course, there needs to be institutional arrangements independent of the elected government, with professional training and strong, politically neutral commitment to fighting corruption. These include the courts, the prosecutors, the anti-corruption agency, a system of auditors within government ministries, a public ombudsman, and various other oversight and regulatory agencies, what we call "agencies of horizontal accountability." These must be professional, well-resourced, and insulated from political pressure.

3. Do you think that President Zelensky and his team are moving Ukraine in a positive direction?

It seems as though he is trying. I deeply regret that he was subjected to humiliating and counterproductive pressure from President Trump to weaponize the prosecutorial process to aid Trump in his reelection campaign. It put Zelensky in an impossible situation and set a terrible example of how "anti-corruption" can be twisted and politicized for corrupt personal and political ends. He managed to avoid giving Trump what he asked for and still get the military assistance package before the deadline, but only because the scandal began to break inside the United States. So perhaps his caution and patience paid off here. I hope he will not yield to further corrupt pressure from this US Administration and just do the right thing to fight corruption and defend Ukraine's sovereignty.

4. What do you think the future holds for Ukraine? What should Ukraine do to preserve its sovereignty and build a more prosperous democracy?

First, fight corruption seriously, with no mercy or partisan bias. Put in place serious, professional, politically neutral people to do this and wage a long-term battle for the rule of law. Second, educate the public about why this struggle is so vital to Ukraine's very survival as an independent country, and mobilize the public on behalf of it. Third, look for ways to encourage investment and the creation of new businesses, including in the tech sector. Fourth, institutionalize a political party that can rally behind these initiatives and sustain support for the president as he makes tough choices. Fifth, avoid giving gratuitous offense to President Putin and to Russia, and look for ways to settle or contain the conflict in the Donbas region, but recognize that Putin needs international conflict to sustain his grip on power, so this will probably be difficult to resolve by negotiations. Therefore, build and maintain a vigorous military defense and make clear to the Kremlin that Ukraine will fight to defend its sovereignty and its democracy and will not capitulate.

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