Why Has Ukraine Failed to Democratise?

The democratisation literature remains highly contested as to why some states successfully democratise and why others do not. Traditional demo- cratisation theories have tended to look at the internal conditions as to whether a state democratises or not, with a particular focus on the prerequisites required in implementing democracy, the role of elites in choosing democratisation (or not) and the constraints of internal power structures (Potter 1997). However, since Huntington’s (1991) ‘waves of democratisation’ argument in the early 1990s, the body of literature has added an external focus to the traditional internal focus as to why states democratise. Thus, this body of literature broadly argues that external (and international) factors play a prominent role in democratisation as transitions are not random occurrences but are linked to the external environment (Gleditsch and Ward 2006).

This chapter holds that understanding both internal and external factors is important when examining why a state, such as Ukraine, has failed to democratise. Although a number of variables deserve examination in the context of Ukraine, one key internal and one key external variable will be examined in this chapter. The chosen key internal variable is the unwillingness of the Ukrainian political elite to embrace substantial demo- cratisation. Elites, it is argued, are a crucially important variable for the undertaking of democratisation, particularly in the post-Soviet context of Ukraine where the ‘oligarchisation of power’ has occurred. Thus, it is argued that it has not been in the interests of Ukraine’s ‘oligarchic class’ to undertake deep democratic reform to date. The chosen key external variable is Ukraine’s geopolitical position in Eastern Europe wedged between two powers with competing regime preferences for it, the EU and Russia. On the one hand, the EU attempts to promote democracy in Ukraine through its Eastern Partnership initiative. However, on the other hand, Russia has a countervailing regime promotion strategy in Ukraine, a kind of autocracy promotion. Consequently, Ukraine’s precarious geopolitical position creates an external impediment to the diffusion of democracy from the West.

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