Ukraine’s biggest achievement since independence in 1991 is to have confounded its critics, ill-wishers, and the Kremlin by surviving as a democratic state. Many expected Ukraine to be short-lived. And many others expected it to follow in the footsteps of its post-Soviet neighbors and abandon democracy. Instead, 25 years after independence, Ukraine survives as a democratic state, albeit an imperfect one.
Ironically, Putin forced Ukraine’s political elites to finally get serious about systemic reform. It is small wonder that Ukraine has changed more in the two years since the Euromaidan Revolution than in the 23 years that preceded it. The political elites have performed well, or well enough, introducing significant economic, political, and cultural changes. They may even have begun to address issues of corruption and rule of law. That most Ukrainians refuse to recognize the reality of these changes—in large part because corrupt elites now removed from power have escaped justice and revenge—does not change the empirical fact of these changes.
Almost miraculously, Ukraine managed to field a genuine army, generate thousands of volunteers, and stop the Russian assault. The current stalemate in eastern Ukraine—despite costing the lives of innocent Ukrainian soldiers and civilians—is a major victory for Ukraine. It stopped one of the world’s largest armies and most vicious dictators. That is an achievement that most Europeans would be hard-pressed to repeat. And yet, it is a short-term victory.