On Friday 3rd May, whilst I was enjoying my time off in the Odessa sunshine and taking in the beach life, Ukrainian Energy Minister Eduard Stavytsky had a meeting with the EU Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger (as well as Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil amongst others) in Brussels.
What became immediately apparent, if it wasn’t already clear before, is that Ukraine has decided that it can become a gas hub for the European continent and intends to pursue that strategy, making the most of its gas transport system and more particularly its vast underground gas storage facilities (50 billion cubic meters).
The infrastructure, whilst somewhat decrepit and thus in need of some serious investment, does at least exist already.
Very good – and an obvious goal to pursue given the soviet legacy Ukraine inherited.
But then there is the widely talked about “resource curse” to consider should Ukraine actually achieve its aim of both Black Sea Shelf and fracking production, transit and storage. It may very well turn into an oil and (mostly) gas State.
Quite possibly a very good thing for the Ukrainian economy, GNI and indeed citizen income as well.
But at what social cost?
Of all 23 nations on the planet where 60% or more of GDP is derived from oil and gas – not a single one can be classed as a democracy.
Further all are very corrupt, almost completely unresponsive to the demands of their populations and have extremely low accountability amongst the political elite.
Looking at the Human Development Index which is a key identifier when it comes to identifying liberal consolidated democracies, almost all oil and gas States with 60% of GDP coming from those sources have extremely low HDI scores regardless of citizen wealth and GNI per capita.
That is not to say a low HDI score prevents democracy, of the bottom 46 ranking nations in HDI, 13 can be deemed a democracy of sorts and 2 of those, as liberal democracies.
Looking at the top 25 HDI scoring nations, only Singapore is not a democracy – and from the top 40 HDI scoring nations they are all democracies less Singapore and a few small oil and gas States (Qatar, UAE etc.)
Thus becoming an energy producing exporter and hub may well have dire consequences for an already “feckless” (per academic definition) political system in Ukraine.
One of the best ways to identify an effective and consolidated democracy seems to be to take the Freedom House score and multiply it by the World Bank anti-corruption score, and more often than not it closely mirrors the HDI position in the HDI league table – Spooky!
In fact, discounting the Islamic world, there is a very strong correlation between democracy, freedoms and any HDI score a nation has.
So becoming an energy producer and energy hub as planned will destine Ukraine to the usual fate of oil and gas dominant GDP nations with regards to democracy?
Well, not necessarily.
“Feckless” as the Ukrainian politics are and have been historically, there is nothing to prevent the current “feckless democracy” of Ukraine moving to a consolidated effective and possibly liberal democracy prior to the full realisation of the energy producing/energy hub plan. Should that movement to an effective and consolidated democracy occur prior to, or even simultaneously with the “energy plan”, then all may bode very well for democracy in Ukraine.
A very smart scholar named Przeworski has proven that (again removing the Islamic world from the equation) should the personal purchasing power of a nation reach a certain monetary figure (currently about $10,000, but a figure that needs to be index linked to remain relevant), then no democracy has ever crumbled.
In effect with a diversified economy and the average purchasing power per capita of $10,ooo or more, democracy is not only consolidated but invincible to the challenges of other governance models due to the middle class/ independent bourgeoisie.
Ergo, empirical evidence and academic works from the likes of Lipset, Prezeworski, Welzel and Ingehart etc, would all point towards the necessity of moving Ukraine’s currently “feckless politics” to an effective democracy whilst simultaneously trying to reach $X personal purchasing power and climbing the HDI league table if democracy is to survive any significant oil and gas increased share of the Ukrainian GDP.
The question is can the feckless political system stop being feckless before it leads Ukraine into the black hole of the resource cursed nations? Looking at the entire Ukrainian political landscape and personalities within, that seems very unlikely without consistent external pressure and guidance.
All in all, an obvious and achievable plan for Ukraine – with very scary possible outcomes should it succeed.