Does Ukraine exist?

In reality, there is more going on in Ukraine than methane transit. President Zelensky currently is involved in a campaign against Ukraine’s oligarchs, which may have a hygienic effect on corruption in the country but which also brings out his own “tendency towards governance through informal means,” as Andrew Wilson of the European Council on Foreign Relations puts it: He has relied on executive authority and national-security pretexts to take on the oligarchs while frequently circumventing parliament. He is struggling politically at home, and both domestic reformers and Ukraine’s Western allies have been frustrated by his apparent lack of progress. Because Ukraine’s internal dysfunction undermines its relationships with allies and would-be allies in NATO and the European Union, Kyiv is paying an overall price for corruption that is much higher than the merely economic one. “Today, unblocking key transformations in the face of the new wave of Russian aggression is an existential matter for Ukraine,” writes Olena Prokopenko of the German Marshall Fund.

Ukraine, then, is in a kind of catch-22: Russian interference prevents it from dealing with corruption, and corruption keeps it from accessing the resources it needs to deal with Russian interference.

Vladimir Putin has made his own vision for Ukraine as clear as can be. The Biden administration has, for its part, sent mixed messages. And so Kyiv faces a reliable enemy with an unreliable ally.