20 years under Putin: a timeline

On July 28, the Legatum Institute and the Institute of Modern Russia presented papers on transitional issues faced by Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova. The forum featured the reflections of two British journalists, Peter Pomerantsev and Oliver Bullough, as well as those of IMR’s editor-in-chief Olga Khvostunova. Anne Applebaum, director of the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum, moderated the discussion. The event took place at the National Endowment for Democracy’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.



In late June, Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova signed EU association agreements, putting to paper a clear desire to turn westward and break from their burdensome post-Soviet legacy. However, the democratic development of these three countries has been impeded by a number of problems, with corruption being the most crucial challenge. All three papers presented at the forum on July 28 focused on analyzing the roots of corruption and the reasons for its wide spread; they also provided policy recommendations.

Opening the forum, Anne Applebaum noted that Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova are all members of the Eastern Partnership, an initiative launched by the European Union in 2009 to develop close relations with post-Soviet countries. According to Applebaum, at least portions of the elite and the broader population of these countries are pro-Western, but corruption undermines their transition efforts.

Among the three countries, Georgia distinguishes itself on the basis of its efficient police and justice reforms, which have helped to decrease corruption in the country. According to Peter Pomerantsev, who authored a paper entitled “Revolutionary Tactics: Insights from Police and Justice Reform in Georgia,” in the years preceding the reforms, corruption in Georgia was systemic, especially within the justice system, where, in Pomerantsev’s words, the prosecutors would literally “tell the judge what to do.” At some point, corruption reached a height at which it became a threat to the country’s national security. After the 2004 Rose Revolution, reformers from the United National Movement (a Georgian party headed by Mikheil Saakashvili) promised to implement a “radical change” in the country, starting with the police reform, which, according to the paper, was “seen as a resounding success.” In Pomerantsev’s words, the overarching goal of the Georgian project was to create a strong state, as well as to “Westernize” the country.

Like Georgia, Ukraine underwent a revolution (the Orange Revolution) in 2004, but despite the fact that pro-Western parties came to power after this event, the corruption situation only deteriorated. According to Oliver Bullough, the author of “Looting Ukraine: The East, the West and the Corruption of a Country,” in 2004, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index rated Ukraine 122nd in the world, a ranking that fell to 144th by 2013. In Bullough’s words, approximately $30 billion were annually embezzled from the state budget between 2010 and 2014. As corruption in Ukraine slipped out of the government’s control, the country underwent the Maidan revolution of 2013–2014, which caused President Viktor Yanukovich to flee the country. However, the new government is still not making sufficient efforts to overcome corruption. Bullough pointed out that the West is partially culpable for the current situation in Ukraine, as many Western countries serve “as repositories for their stolen wealth.” He recommended that the West stop turning a blind eye to the source of the money flowing from post-Soviet countries; instead, he said, Western countries should take a more proactive approach to prosecuting foreign companies engaged in corruption in Ukraine. Additionally, international pressure on the Ukrainian government should increase in order to establish the rule of law.


Anne Applebaum, director of the Legatum Institute’s Transitions Forum, opened and moderated the discussion. Applebaum concludes that in all three countries, the broader population is pro-Western, but corruption undermines their transition efforts.


Since Vladimir Soloviev, who authored a paper on Moldova (“Moldova: The Failing Champion of the European Integration”) could not participate in the event, his report was presented by Olga Khvostunova, editor-in-chief of imrussia.org. According to Khvostunova, Moldova’s current situation is different from that of Ukraine and Georgia. “Moldova’s political environment reminds me of Russia in the 90s. On paper, the country has all the attributes of a democracy—political competition, freedom of speech, a ‘big privatization’ plan in the works—but the reality is not as clear-cut,” she noted. At present, the Alliance for European Integration has the ruling majority in the Moldovan parliament, but the leaders of the parties that are members of this coalition maintain close ties with big business and often act in their own private interests. This leads to regular feuds between coalition members, market monopolization, and corruption, thus undermining public trust. Khvostunova pointed out that “as a result, the number of people supporting EU integration has significantly decreased in favor of the Russia-led Customs Union.” This November, Moldova will have a parliamentary election, and much will be decided based on its outcome. Whatever the results, however, the complex problems facing Moldova have to be addressed without delay.