“The strongest of all warriors are these two — Time and Patience” TolstoyAugust 18, 2016
Deep within the masterful and mountainous prose of Tolstoy’s War and Peace amidst comment to Prince Andrew sits the line “The strongest of all warriors are these two – Time and Patience.” (Book 10 Ch 16)
They are also perhaps the exasperating of warriors too, for there are few commentators upon matters Ukrainian that refrain from swinging from outright (and justified) frustration to robust delight (again justified) and then back again. Those moments of delight generally arriving after society and civil society – light years ahead of the political class in terms of values and direction – drag the feckless politicians over the legislative line only then to swiftly return to frustration when the feckless do nothing to implement and enforce the legislation begrudgingly passed.
The “external friends” of Ukraine are trying to pick their battles wisely. To break the spine of energy oligarchy is a priority. To force the ending of subsidies (both direct and indirect) that feed the oligarchy is another. Half completed police reform necessarily has to be completed. The battle waging within the Prosecutor General’s Office cannot see NABU lost to the remainder of a thoroughly corrupted empire. VAT fraud needs to end. The deliberate sabotage and obstruction of reform would necessarily benefit from Ukraine’s “external friends” enacting their own money laundering laws upon the Ukrainian elite that actively undermines reform.
Nevertheless there is progress, albeit perceived as far too glacial by far too many both within and without Ukraine. Thus far however, policy reversal has not occurred – perhaps the political class, feckless as it is, realises there remains far more lampposts in Kyiv from which they can swing than there are politicians to swing from them. Thus whilst the political class remains light years behind society and civil society in terms of collective ethic, creative thinking and simple desire and will to accomplish, its fecklessness remains a constant. Its ability to avoid self-inflicted wounds remains absent.
Nobody of note from within the Ukrainian elite has gone to jail since 2014, and they will not go to jail as long as the leadership fails to lead but instead tries to manage “interests” by continuing the practice of deal making behind the curtain. President Poroshenko is such a manager – some will argue by necessity, others by design. This outcome however projects a poor perception and also dramatically slows the reforms the Ukrainian political class have obliged themselves to undertake both domestically and internationally.
Thus, as one example of many, for all the necessary corruption prevention measures, and regardless of any reduction in corruption be it real or perceived, people expect to see the most corrupt of the elite jailed – not arrested, not found guilty in absentia – physically jailed, and jailed for a long time. Half a dozen or a dozen incarcerations will go a long way toward a return of trust and also electoral support.
The greatness of those two strongest of warriors “Time” and “Patience” thus diminishes and with that rises the spectre of populism to fill the void. Indeed these two warriors arguably do not work in harmony but against each other, for does not time wear away patience eventually? It is not what a politician says, but what a constituent hears that matters. Fighting emotion with facts and figures does not always result in logical outcomes. Populism is a domestic enemy of Ukraine as potentially as great as corruption.
As such the next elections for both President and Verkhovna Rada present not a choice of political personality or party, but a choice between a slow plod with continued nepotism and policy sabotage along a centralist path toward sustainable and consolidated goals, or a populist disaster that would manifest within months.
It may or may not be that new Verkhovna Rada elections would bring about a “reformist mass” strong enough to beat down the oligarch party backers and old-school grubby party leaders, for to be sure almost all party lists will still be filled with the most odious and corrupt, the sly and the feckless, led (overtly and/or covertly) by the same long-since discredited self-serving faces and egos.
Will patience or time win the battle over early Verkhovna Rada elections? Will the result chose populism of plodding centralism? Will sections of the electorate get what they want, but not what the entire electorate needs?
Likewise the war in eastern Ukraine is now a war of exhaustion. It is not a war of attrition. Patience and not Time perhaps the strongest warrior that stands alongside the Ukrainian military in the eastern regions.
To the south, the return of Crimea is clearly not within Ukrainian military capabilities – and it is not a solution either considered in public nor in private by policy makers. Same policy makers do not believe that the passing of President Putin dictates its return under another Tsar either. Whilst the official narrative is that when Ukraine modernises and reforms Crimea will return of its own accord, considering the ever-growing Russian militarisation and ever-increasing spook presence on the peninsula even if the population wanted to, it would seem highly improbable unopposed.
Indeed having spoken privately with those that sit within governmental committees tasked with “Crimea”, the thinking is that its return will come with the fraying and disintegration of the Russian Federation (if that happens), but that decay is something that is unlikely to begin with the peninsula – beginning elsewhere. Needless to say, any fraying or disintegration will probably cause many problems for neighbouring States – and beyond. Nevertheless with regard to Crimea those to strongest of warriors will be Time.
Rome, it is said, was not built in a day. The new Ukraine, however that will eventually look, clearly will not be either. The evolutionary path over than of revolutionary was chosen. It may be 10 years, maybe a generation, before a values based nation is consolidated and irreversible. Where parliament sits above president. Where equity before the law is routine and not headline news. It will prove wise to have both strongest of warriors, “Patience” and “Time” man the ramparts – but perhaps on different fronts and/or appearing in different battles – be they outward or inward facing when called upon to do their duty.
Meanwhile, as the 25th Independence Day approaches, a modern nation whose identity is now forged in blood and war over values and direction is forced to fight one bullet, one skirmish, and one battle at a time both in reality in its east and also metaphorically within (and perhaps against) the Verkhovna Rada under the gaze of Tolstoy’s strongest of warriors – who will eventually come good.