.
R

ussia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is just a handful of days old, but it’s already clear things haven’t gone the way most expected. Western officials say the Kremlin and President Putin are frustrated at the slow pace of the invasion, due both to Ukraine’s stronger-than-expected resistance and logistics issues experienced by Russian forces due to poor planning. Russia’s tactics and very mixed results have largely confounded Western analysts as well. 

Aside from the surprising (to many) state of things in Ukraine, over the past several days there have been a host of unexpected developments. In some cases, these are negative consequences for Russia that perhaps go beyond what the Kremlin bargained for. In other cases, these are unexpected silver linings that might just give us a bit of hope for the future. Today, Diplomatic Courier is bringing you a two-part miniseries that rounds up the unexpected developments as reported across the media landscape - all gathered together in one place and contextualized for easier digestion. Part two, below, surveys unexpected silver linings for the world at large. Part one, which you can find here, surveys unexpected silver linings. 

Institutional Buy-in Rebounding

NATO isn’t the only institution that suddenly seems more relevant (as discussed in part one of this series.). The EU and UN are both taking vigorous action - potentially vigorous enough to act as a counterweight to what had been a prevailing sense that our current multilateral institutions have largely outlived their usefulness.

The European Union has taken a strong, unified stance in favor of Ukraine. Even Hungary - which has stood out among EU member states for its praise of Russia and Putin - ultimately voted in favor of powerful EU sanctions against Russia. The EU took a leadership role in levying sanctions, not only putting together a harsh package that denied Russia access to its currency reserves (and expanding these sanctions to 26 more oligarchs Sunday evening, bringing the total to over 30), but they also brought traditionally neutral Switzerland with. As for the SWIFT ban, the European Parliament called for Russia to be excluded from SWIFT after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and both the European Parliament and EU leaders pressed for the finally-enacted ban.

The EU is also supplying arms to Ukraine despite a history of avoiding similar actions. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday, “Another taboo has fallen, the taboo that the EU was not providing arms in a war. … This war requires our engagement in order to support the Ukrainian army.” Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, signed Ukraine’s application to join the EU and asked the bloc to initiate a special procedure allowing Ukraine to be accepted immediately. While immediate accession seems unlikely, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview that Ukraine is “one of us” and that “we want them in” the EU. Finally, the EU also enacted a blanket flight ban on all Russian flights - including private jets owned by oligarchs - from landing in, taking off from, or flying over their airspace. At the time of this writing, Canada and the UK have followed suit.

At the UN, results have been - as one should expect - much more mixed. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia was able to block a UNSC resolution calling for it to immediately withdraw troops from Ukraine on Friday. During the vote, eleven of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution while China, India, and the UAE abstained. Extraordinarily, the resolution was co-sponsored by 87 countries - including governments which have elsewhere hesitated to speak against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Brazil, Moldova, and Albania.

However, the UNSC on Sunday voted to hold an emergency special session of the UNGA. The first session was Monday and there have been at least three sessions thus far.  This is only the 11th time an emergency session has been called since 1950. These emergency sessions allow for the UNGA to consider matters of peace and security in the event the UNSC cannot act due to vetoes by permanent members. Finally, the UNGA this week will vote on a draft resolution which is substantively similar to the vetoed UNSC resolution, condemning Russian aggression and demanding it withdraw its troops. Western diplomats have expressed confidence the resolution will pass, though it bears watching who votes for, against, and abstains. While these votes are non-binding, a strong majority could isolate Russia politically and increase pressure for a ceasefire and more intense negotiations.

That’s not to say that everything is going smoothly, however. The African Union has expressed alarm over instances of African nationals being denied the right to flee Ukraine by border officials. At the live streamed UNGA Emergency Special Session debates, representatives from African countries spoke against the invasion of Ukraine and human suffering. Many also had harsh words for the lack of attention to violations of the rights of Africans trying to leave Ukraine as well as the lack of attention paid by the UN to other instances of state-sanctioned violence outside of Europe.

Zelensky’s Rising Star

Ukraine has a long-standing reputation for corruption and poor governance - since at least 2002 corruption has been characterized as a primary threat to the country’s security. Any efforts to combat corruption have been complicated by just how embedded corruption is in the entities which underpin the Ukrainian economy.

Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected in 2019 with a mandate to fight corruption and turn the country’s orientation further toward the West. He has since been sharply criticized from some corners for ties to individuals implicated in corruption scandals, while other critics have said he values form and gesture over serious action. In reality, Zelensky’s anti-corruption efforts appear to be incomplete and mixed - and assessments of his successes or failures are surely hit by the wave of optimism accompanying his election. Yet anti-corruption advocates say there have been important wins, and Zelensky does appear to be committed to the cause. 

While progress has been mixed, there do in fact appear to be some significant wins. In 2020, Ukraine opened up the farming land market, ending a long-standing prohibition on the sale of farmland that kept around ⅔ of Ukraine’s territory from being sold. Zelensky also championed the digitization of Ukrainian government functions, making these functions easier to access and more transparent. One criticism of the Zelensky government has been its handling of corruption within the Constitutional Court, with Zelensky in 2020 failing in an attempt to dissolve the Constitutional Court after it struck down powerful anti-corruption legislation. By late 2021, however, Zelensky announced that a program of judicial reform in the country was set to be successfully completed - the first such reform package to survive from launch to implementation.

In many ways, Ukraine’s reputation for being intractably corrupt makes it difficult for officials to be taken seriously. Zelensky’s government introduced a bill targeting oligarchic corruption but those efforts, according to officials within his office, are being hampered by attacks on Zelensky’s character by media outlets influenced by those very oligarchs. (Zelensky’s connection to at least one oligarch does raise at least some questions about his commitment to deoligarchization, however.) That reputation played a key role in the believability of the Hunter Biden conspiracy theory and also allowed Donald Trump to exert pressure on Zelensky to come up with evidence corroborating that conspiracy theory. 

Zelensky has gained a great deal of international recognition by refusing to evacuate in the face of Russia’s invasion. Perhaps his past as an actor and comedian give him a flair for the dramatic, but photos of Zelensky patrolling Kyiv and posing with members of his cabinet alongside savvy use of social media have made him an instant darling with the global public. If Ukraine’s government survives the Russian invasion and if Zelensky’s government retains the political will to fight corruption, this sudden popularity would give him a great deal of political capital to expend toward improving governance in his country - and that would be a valuable silver lining, indeed.

About
Shane Szarkowski
:
Dr. Shane Szarkowski is Managing Editor of Diplomatic Courier and the Executive Director of World in 2050. A Marine Corps Veteran, he is an experienced editor and analyst with expertise in energy, security, and state failure. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneSzarkowski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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www.diplomaticourier.com

Ukraine Invasion: Silver Linings

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeals directly to citizens of Russia in speech. Screen Image via YouTube.

March 2, 2022

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is frightening, not least because of the specter of nuclear war hovering in the background. Yet it appears the world may have some silver linings to enjoy from this as well. W2050 & Diplomatic Courier's Shane Szarkowski surveys the media landscape for some optimism.

R

ussia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine is just a handful of days old, but it’s already clear things haven’t gone the way most expected. Western officials say the Kremlin and President Putin are frustrated at the slow pace of the invasion, due both to Ukraine’s stronger-than-expected resistance and logistics issues experienced by Russian forces due to poor planning. Russia’s tactics and very mixed results have largely confounded Western analysts as well. 

Aside from the surprising (to many) state of things in Ukraine, over the past several days there have been a host of unexpected developments. In some cases, these are negative consequences for Russia that perhaps go beyond what the Kremlin bargained for. In other cases, these are unexpected silver linings that might just give us a bit of hope for the future. Today, Diplomatic Courier is bringing you a two-part miniseries that rounds up the unexpected developments as reported across the media landscape - all gathered together in one place and contextualized for easier digestion. Part two, below, surveys unexpected silver linings for the world at large. Part one, which you can find here, surveys unexpected silver linings. 

Institutional Buy-in Rebounding

NATO isn’t the only institution that suddenly seems more relevant (as discussed in part one of this series.). The EU and UN are both taking vigorous action - potentially vigorous enough to act as a counterweight to what had been a prevailing sense that our current multilateral institutions have largely outlived their usefulness.

The European Union has taken a strong, unified stance in favor of Ukraine. Even Hungary - which has stood out among EU member states for its praise of Russia and Putin - ultimately voted in favor of powerful EU sanctions against Russia. The EU took a leadership role in levying sanctions, not only putting together a harsh package that denied Russia access to its currency reserves (and expanding these sanctions to 26 more oligarchs Sunday evening, bringing the total to over 30), but they also brought traditionally neutral Switzerland with. As for the SWIFT ban, the European Parliament called for Russia to be excluded from SWIFT after Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine and both the European Parliament and EU leaders pressed for the finally-enacted ban.

The EU is also supplying arms to Ukraine despite a history of avoiding similar actions. EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Sunday, “Another taboo has fallen, the taboo that the EU was not providing arms in a war. … This war requires our engagement in order to support the Ukrainian army.” Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky, signed Ukraine’s application to join the EU and asked the bloc to initiate a special procedure allowing Ukraine to be accepted immediately. While immediate accession seems unlikely, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in an interview that Ukraine is “one of us” and that “we want them in” the EU. Finally, the EU also enacted a blanket flight ban on all Russian flights - including private jets owned by oligarchs - from landing in, taking off from, or flying over their airspace. At the time of this writing, Canada and the UK have followed suit.

At the UN, results have been - as one should expect - much more mixed. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia was able to block a UNSC resolution calling for it to immediately withdraw troops from Ukraine on Friday. During the vote, eleven of the Council’s 15 members voted in favor of the resolution while China, India, and the UAE abstained. Extraordinarily, the resolution was co-sponsored by 87 countries - including governments which have elsewhere hesitated to speak against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, including Brazil, Moldova, and Albania.

However, the UNSC on Sunday voted to hold an emergency special session of the UNGA. The first session was Monday and there have been at least three sessions thus far.  This is only the 11th time an emergency session has been called since 1950. These emergency sessions allow for the UNGA to consider matters of peace and security in the event the UNSC cannot act due to vetoes by permanent members. Finally, the UNGA this week will vote on a draft resolution which is substantively similar to the vetoed UNSC resolution, condemning Russian aggression and demanding it withdraw its troops. Western diplomats have expressed confidence the resolution will pass, though it bears watching who votes for, against, and abstains. While these votes are non-binding, a strong majority could isolate Russia politically and increase pressure for a ceasefire and more intense negotiations.

That’s not to say that everything is going smoothly, however. The African Union has expressed alarm over instances of African nationals being denied the right to flee Ukraine by border officials. At the live streamed UNGA Emergency Special Session debates, representatives from African countries spoke against the invasion of Ukraine and human suffering. Many also had harsh words for the lack of attention to violations of the rights of Africans trying to leave Ukraine as well as the lack of attention paid by the UN to other instances of state-sanctioned violence outside of Europe.

Zelensky’s Rising Star

Ukraine has a long-standing reputation for corruption and poor governance - since at least 2002 corruption has been characterized as a primary threat to the country’s security. Any efforts to combat corruption have been complicated by just how embedded corruption is in the entities which underpin the Ukrainian economy.

Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky was elected in 2019 with a mandate to fight corruption and turn the country’s orientation further toward the West. He has since been sharply criticized from some corners for ties to individuals implicated in corruption scandals, while other critics have said he values form and gesture over serious action. In reality, Zelensky’s anti-corruption efforts appear to be incomplete and mixed - and assessments of his successes or failures are surely hit by the wave of optimism accompanying his election. Yet anti-corruption advocates say there have been important wins, and Zelensky does appear to be committed to the cause. 

While progress has been mixed, there do in fact appear to be some significant wins. In 2020, Ukraine opened up the farming land market, ending a long-standing prohibition on the sale of farmland that kept around ⅔ of Ukraine’s territory from being sold. Zelensky also championed the digitization of Ukrainian government functions, making these functions easier to access and more transparent. One criticism of the Zelensky government has been its handling of corruption within the Constitutional Court, with Zelensky in 2020 failing in an attempt to dissolve the Constitutional Court after it struck down powerful anti-corruption legislation. By late 2021, however, Zelensky announced that a program of judicial reform in the country was set to be successfully completed - the first such reform package to survive from launch to implementation.

In many ways, Ukraine’s reputation for being intractably corrupt makes it difficult for officials to be taken seriously. Zelensky’s government introduced a bill targeting oligarchic corruption but those efforts, according to officials within his office, are being hampered by attacks on Zelensky’s character by media outlets influenced by those very oligarchs. (Zelensky’s connection to at least one oligarch does raise at least some questions about his commitment to deoligarchization, however.) That reputation played a key role in the believability of the Hunter Biden conspiracy theory and also allowed Donald Trump to exert pressure on Zelensky to come up with evidence corroborating that conspiracy theory. 

Zelensky has gained a great deal of international recognition by refusing to evacuate in the face of Russia’s invasion. Perhaps his past as an actor and comedian give him a flair for the dramatic, but photos of Zelensky patrolling Kyiv and posing with members of his cabinet alongside savvy use of social media have made him an instant darling with the global public. If Ukraine’s government survives the Russian invasion and if Zelensky’s government retains the political will to fight corruption, this sudden popularity would give him a great deal of political capital to expend toward improving governance in his country - and that would be a valuable silver lining, indeed.

About
Shane Szarkowski
:
Dr. Shane Szarkowski is Managing Editor of Diplomatic Courier and the Executive Director of World in 2050. A Marine Corps Veteran, he is an experienced editor and analyst with expertise in energy, security, and state failure. Follow him on Twitter @ShaneSzarkowski.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.