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When Politics Returns to Kyiv – Foreign Affairs Magazine



On a visit to Kyiv earlier this summer, I was struck by what was present that I had expected to be absent—young people sharing Aperol spritzes at a sidewalk café, municipal services such as trash collection up and running—and by what was absent that had previously been omnipresent in the Ukrainian capital—politics. The existential crisis precipitated by Russia’s illegal and unconscionable war against Ukraine has produced now legendary scenes of defiance. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s charismatic courage, aided by masterful communication skills, has turned him into an almost Churchillian figure. And Zelensky is not alone. Ukrainians from every walk of life have come together to resist the Russians, forging an undeniable sense of unity in a city accustomed to pitched political battles that can make Washington feel tame.

Back in 2015, on another visit in a different time, I asked a friend in Kyiv why the Netflix show House of Cards was so immensely popular among Ukraine’s power class. “Here, its depiction of how politics works is understood as documentary rather than satire,” he replied slyly. One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s greatest errors, predicated on his false claim that Ukraine isn’t a real country, was his failure to understand that Ukraine is a democracy—a messy, factional, scrappy democracy but a democracy nonetheless. In the years since Ukraine’s 2014 Revolution of Dignity, when demonstrators overthrew the pro-Russian government of President Viktor Yanukovych, the political culture has become more and more democratic: civil society is increasingly well organized and strategic about holding the government accountable, parliamentary elections shift the balance of power and lead to consequential dealmaking, public figures joust in a raucous media landscape, and the vestiges of Homo Sovieticus, or the conformist “Soviet man,” are receding.

A year ago, Ukraine’s political discourse was a heated cacophony. But in late June, no one I met wanted to criticize the government. It wasn’t that they thought everything was being done perfectly. They just knew that even a hint of division wouldn’t help anyone except those in Moscow. For the moment, national unity and the exigencies of war have displaced politics.

The more recent news that Zelensky fired the head of Ukraine’s intelligence service and the prosecutor general, whose office is responsible for, among other things, investigating over 25,000 cases of potential Russian war crimes, foreshadows the creeping return of politics to Ukraine. War will not hold the country’s internal demons at bay indefinitely. As those in power, those on the frontlines, those harvesting grain with nowhere to put it, those trying to carry on with their lives despite the war, and those displaced by the fighting all reckon with the realities of a drawn out, grinding conflict, grace and grit will give way to grievance.

When this happens, Ukraine will struggle with both operational and reputational challenges. The free hand that Zelensky has had to commandeer the war effort will be curtailed to some degree. More important, he and others will be distracted. Ukraine’s war effort depends on the superior deployment of resources—soldiers and hardware—which requires the smart and agile use of intelligence and the maintenance of morale. All this becomes more difficult if those in Kyiv are fighting their own battles in addition to directing the war.

The return of politics will also strain Ukraine’s international support, which is existential—Ukraine cannot continue to fight and, therefore, to exist as a sovereign country without it. Russian leaders will seek to amplify divisions in Kyiv, and opposition parties in Western democracies will question the wisdom of aiding a Ukrainian movement that is internally divided (Russia will amplify these doubting voices, too). This growing fractiousness will pose a new, more nuanced challenge for Western leaders seeking to sustain international support for the Ukrainian cause against a more complicated backdrop.

But there are reasons to look forward to, even welcome, the return of political life to Ukraine. The resurgence of politics may complicate the country’s war effort, but it is not a sign of Ukrainian failure. Rather, it is a reflection of the high stakes of the war and of the broader struggle to define Ukraine’s future. The country has enormous, meaningful questions to contend with. That is why even in the best possible scenario—a reversal of Russia’s recent military gains and a settlement that restores the pre-February 24 border lines—politics will return.

Politics must return. This is a country living under martial law, after all. And when the war is over or, more likely, when it has been contained in geography and scale, Ukraine will not only have to be rebuilt but, in a sense, re-democratized. “Yes, we must win, but we do not win just by beating back this Russian invasion. We win by securing the institutions that will protect freedom and democracy for our country,” Oleksandra Matviichuk, a human rights lawyer in Kyiv, told me. Ukraine’s government and society will need to manage many challenges simultaneously in the coming months and years. It is not too early for Ukraine to start planning to meet those challenges or for their international partners to start thinking about how they can help.


The return of politics to Kyiv will bring at least three big tests for Ukrainian democracy. The most obvious one is physical reconstruction. Some of this needs to begin now: schools, hospitals, and homes destroyed in areas from which the conflict has receded must be rebuilt. Early reconstruction efforts signal the intention of Ukrainians to return and to secure their future, helping boost morale. But talk of a Marshall Plan for Ukraine has been more abundant than the money will be. With reconstruction costs projected to exceed $1 trillion, it would be foolish to expect grants to make up the lion’s share of the funding. Ukraine will therefore need to leverage extraordinary assistance from international financial institutions and attract private capital, which will require creative thinking with international partners about how to mitigate risks for investors.

One way to reassure investors would be to create special courts that can provide predictable judgments on business matters, perhaps aided by technical support from European and North American governments. Every decision about reconstruction is inevitably a decision about resources and, therefore, likely to be contested. When politics comes back to Kyiv, Ukrainians must expect a rush for limited resources, and donors should push to incorporate regional governments, civil society, and industry in the process of reconstruction.

Ukraine’s partners also need to prepare for moral and human reconstruction. The work of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine—established to investigate violations of human rights and international humanitarian law—and of the country’s top prosecutor investigating war crimes will be especially crucial. War crimes prosecutions do not heal unhealable wounds, but they help cauterize them for society. The harder test for the Ukrainian justice system will be to ensure accountability for any wartime crimes committed by Ukrainian troops or corruption by Ukrainian officials responsible for key elements of the war effort. These prosecutions will be politically fraught but essential to protect democratic values and uphold the rule of law.

Finally, Ukraine and its partners must help the millions of civilians displaced by the war return home and rebuild their lives. Many have experienced profound trauma and will need psychosocial support that is difficult to deliver, especially in a recent conflict zone. Politics will insert itself in debates about how to treat the immediate mental and physical health needs of the country, as well as the long-term needs of the wounded. Amid the wreckage, the people of Ukraine will have to emotionally multitask: to grieve what was and simultaneously muster the energy to imagine a future. That is a heavy lift, and although the real villain is across the border, tempers tend to find more proximate targets. The Ukrainians may struggle to avoid the trap of scapegoating one another.


A second big test concerns the role of oligarchs in Ukrainian society. Although several of Ukraine’s wealthiest business tycoons have provided critical humanitarian and financial support during the war, those who amassed enormous wealth in the immediate post-Soviet period have for the most part played an unhealthy and outsize role in Ukrainian politics. For the last three decades, they have fueled corruption, undermined the rule of law, and held back both democratic progress and economic development.

International partners may be tempted to push Kyiv to attempt to sideline the oligarchs entirely in the postwar era. But to pursue this ideal would be to deny reality. The inconvenient truth is that Ukrainian oligarchs have the power to thwart reforms and undermine progress. As such, they must be enlisted in the reconstruction efforts. This may require a willingness to offer them moral (if not legal) amnesty for their past corruption or shady dealings and to make clear that there will not be mass asset seizures. In exchange for keeping their wealth, these oligarchs should commit their collective support for a new and less corrupt system. It will take a clever combination of carrots and sticks to dissuade them from the practices they have engaged in for the last 30 years at the expense of the people of Ukraine. International partners can provide positive and negative inducements to help the oligarchs make the right choice, but it must be the Ukrainians who set expectations in public statements and private negotiations.


The final test for Ukrainian democracy involves the country’s much-vaunted president. Zelensky has demonstrated undeniable courage. He has helped people around the world see Ukraine’s fight as their own. He has offered encouragement, sympathy, and righteous anger to his people in the right measures and at the right moments. For all these reasons, the Ukrainian president has become the object of global admiration.

But the biggest challenge for Zelensky will come when the war subsides. In response to the Russian invasion, he has claimed emergency powers, earning him political capital and leading to a de facto domestic political truce. With politics mostly sidelined for now, the president and his team can call the shots with little resistance or constraint. The 2019 presidential election transformed Zelensky from an actor into a president. Russia’s war has turned him into a general. To secure Ukraine’s sovereign and democratic future, he must be prepared to return to being a democratically elected leader. Moreover, he must be prepared to accept the possibility that the country’s grief will manifest itself in anger, recrimination, and complaints about its leader. However fair or unfair Zelensky may perceive those complaints, he will have to relinquish some of his wartime powers and may need to exit the political stage after the next election in 2024 to demonstrate the endurance of Ukrainian democracy and to secure his own legacy.

Zelensky will need to show leadership in the face of rising public criticism rather than near-unanimous popular support. Doing so will sting. There will be many voices around him offering rationalizations for antidemocratic behavior, such as limiting freedom of expression, exerting control over the courts, or asserting executive privilege in the name of security, or attempting to install a hand-picked successor. There will be plenty of facially good reasons for tightening control, but none of them will be as legitimate as the need to defer to democracy, however capricious its whims may feel.

Few leaders, especially those who have led their countries in war, have found it easy to give up power or office. George Washington’s example remains anomalous in American history and was strong enough to set a precedent that lasted a century and a half until another wartime president—Franklin Roosevelt—broke it. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill is admired for his courage in standing up for a valiant cause in the face of an evil adversary, but he was dealt an electoral defeat just two months after World War II ended in Europe (and a month before Japan’s surrender). At the time, according to the historian Roy Jenkins, Churchill’s wife, Clementine, suggested that his party’s defeat might be a blessing in disguise, to which Winston replied with typical acerbic wit: “at the moment it seems very effectively disguised.”

Zelensky should remember Churchill’s example, and perhaps he, too, will return after an appropriate interval for a second stint as a national leader. The people of Ukraine need and deserve a democratic state that is both supported by and gives opportunity to a democratic society. Individual leaders can help build such as state, but they cannot become it.


These challenges will pinch no matter when they are felt. In a perfect world, Ukraine could deal with the war for as long as it takes and then deal with politics. That is not this world. As the war’s human toll mounts, as more civilians die in Russian rocket attacks, as rumors (well-founded or not) proliferate about troops on the frontlines not getting the supplies they need because of poor planning or corruption, as soldiers return home in caskets and wheelchairs, the pressure will mount. The public support that Zelensky now enjoys will fray under the strain of so many of his compatriots’ funerals.

Whether because of rising discontent with the burdens of war, military setbacks and cracks in morale, or a deal with Russia that will inevitably feel meager in comparison with the sacrifices made by the people of Ukraine, anger and discontent are likely to return to Kyiv before the postwar period arrives. And when they do, backstabbing and political infighting will follow. The oligarchs will buy power through backroom deals and use their money to make political inconveniences vanish. For as long as Zelensky is riding high, he doesn’t need the oligarchs to secure his standing. But as politics creeps back in, these figures will once again offer their services, and old mutual dependencies between officialdom and the oligarchs will reemerge.

Zelensky the war hero is bound to become a more complicated moral figure before the war ends. The looming return of politics in Kyiv also creates a special challenge for Ukraine’s international partners, who need to be clear and disciplined in their messaging both to Ukraine and to their own publics. Ukraine has always struggled with the scourge of official corruption, and war shouldn’t create a free pass. But Ukraine’s partners need to be mindful that Moscow will both feed and benefit from focused discussions on Ukraine’s shortcomings. More important, they must consider how such discussions might corrode Western unity and domestic political support for rejecting Russia’s violation of the basic rules of the international system. Ukraine’s cause is pure; its internal politics is not. The latter shouldn’t undermine the West’s commitment to the former, even if it presents practical complications.

Even as Kyiv’s political forces remain suspended, political pressures in many Western countries are intensifying because of inflation and energy shocks driven by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war. Western leaders still claim that Ukraine is the frontline for freedom and that the Ukrainians are waging a war not just for their own country but for the free world. But too few of these leaders seem to believe what they say. To show that they do, they should ramp up military and financial support for Ukraine to help it achieve the best possible outcomes in the war and, inevitably, in the settlement that will follow. They should also prepare to help the people of Ukraine midwife their democracy once again. Doing so matters, not only for them but for the long struggle for human dignity to which all democrats must be committed.

On my way home from Ukraine, I stopped in Poland to meet an old friend. He was relieved to hear my impressions of the current climate of unity in Kyiv. “That’s a relief; they always fall victim to their politics,” he said of the Ukrainians. The months ahead are likely to be more difficult. Ukrainians must overcome not only Russian aggression but also the temptation to turn against each other.

  • DANIEL BAER is Senior Vice President for Policy Research at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served in the Obama administration as U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and as a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State.
  • More By Daniel Baer

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Opinion | Your Blue State Won’t Save You: Why State Politics Is National Politics – The New York Times



Last week, Kansans voted in overwhelming numbers to protect abortion rights in their State Constitution — the first instance since the overruling of Roe v. Wade in which voters have been able to weigh in on the issue directly. But local battles aren’t just limited to abortion. There’s guns. There’s school curriculums. Most crucially, there’s voting rights. As national politics becomes increasingly polarized, how we live is going to be decided by local legislation. It’s time we step into the state houses and see what’s happening there.

[You can listen to this episode of “The Argument” on Apple, Spotify, Amazon Music, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.]

So on today’s episode, guests Zack Beauchamp and Nicole Hemmer help Jane Coaston understand what these state-level legislative battles mean for national politics. Beauchamp covers the Republican Party for Vox, and Hemmer is a historian of conservative media and an associate professor at Vanderbilt University. Both share the belief that state governments have become powerful machines in influencing the U.S. constitutional system, but to what extent that influence is helpful or harmful to American democracy depends. “This idea of the states as the laboratories of democracy, being able to try out different policies and different programs and see how they work in the state — that’s great,” Hemmer says. “But they’ve become these laboratories of illiberalism in recent years. And that’s something that we have to reckon with.”

(A full transcript of the episode will be available midday on the Times website.)

Evert Nelson/The Topeka Capital-Journal, via Associated Press

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“The Argument” is produced by Phoebe Lett and Vishakha Darbha. Edited by Alison Bruzek and Anabel Bacon. With original music by Isaac Jones and Pat McCusker. Mixing by Pat McCusker. Fact-checking by Kate Sinclair, Michelle Harris and Mary Marge Locker. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta, with editorial support from Kristina Samulewski.

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Tech, global politics make CHIPS and Science Act necessary – Daily Leader – Dailyleader



Mississippi Republican U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith are in near-lockstep on their votes — skewing conservative on fiscal and social issues and reflecting the views of their conservative Mississippi constituencies.

But on the matter of the CHIPS and Science Act, Wicker and Hyde-Smith found themselves on opposite sides of the legislation. Wicker voted in favor of it. Hyde-Smith voted against it.

The split vote of Mississippi’s U.S. Senate delegation becomes even more interesting when one considers that a year earlier, Wicker and Hyde-Smith were united as signatories on a bipartisan letter calling on President Joe Biden to increase U.S. semiconductor production in reaction to the global computer chip shortage after the COVID pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the tenuous global semiconductor supply chain.

The original legislation under U.S. Senate consideration was a measure that would have provided $52 billion in subsidies/incentives to encourage chipmakers to open U.S. semiconductors production/fabrication plants. The bill that passed the Senate, the House and went to Biden’s desk was a much larger, more expansive legislation that analysts put in the $280 billion range to supercharge research and development for America’s domestic semiconductor industry and to fuel direct competition with China in these economic sectors.

Fleishmann Hilliard senior vice president Matthew Caldecutt — in guiding communications professionals to be able to discuss the complex, 1,000-page plus legislation, wrote on August 1: “The CHIPS and Science Act is primarily a way to directly pay semiconductor companies for setting up semiconductor fabrication plants — or “fabs” — and making future investments in the U.S. It sets aside around $50 billion for semiconductor companies with $39 billion to build, expand or modernize domestic facilities, and $11 billion for research and development. Another $2 billion will help fund other areas of the semiconductor industry — education, defense and future innovation.”

But that definition misses the mark of the full scope of the CHIPS and Science Act — in which Congress authorizes but has not finally appropriated some $81 billion for National Science Foundation research over five years, another $11 billion for U.S. Commerce Dept. Technology Hubs, and $9 billion for National Institute for Standards and Technology. In short, the NSF authorization could be the largest — if they are indeed finally appropriated — funding increase since the agency’s 1950 inception.

So, Hyde-Smith’s immediate concerns over the bill’s deficit spending and national debt impact have a basis. But what then of Wicker’s vote supporting the CHIPS Act? Wicker’s gutsy vote took the long and globally strategic view that the U.S. must not be dependent on our adversaries.

The Semiconductor Industry Association defines semiconductors as the brains of modern electronics, “enabling advances in medical devices and health care, communications, computing, defense, transportation, clean energy, and technologies of the future such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and advanced wireless networks.”

While the U.S. semiconductor industry remains a worldwide leader with $258 billion in sales (2020) and over 250,000 employees, competition from Taiwan, China and South Korea is substantial and growing. As it was in shipbuilding after World War II, America has seen the substantial offshoring of semiconductor fabrication and that trend is growing exponentially.

The U.S. has the most powerful Navy in the world — yet no less than a Pentagon report verifies that the Peoples’ Republic of China has the largest navy in the world, with an overall battle force of approximately 350 ships and submarines. In comparison, the U.S. Navy’s battle force was approximately 293 ships as of early 2020.

In June, the Center for Strategic and International Studies offered this bipartisan assessment: “All major U.S. defense systems and platforms rely on semiconductors for their performance. Consequently, the erosion of U.S. capabilities in microelectronics is a direct threat to the United States’ ability to defend itself and its allies.

“Moreover, the U.S. civilian economy is deeply dependent on semiconductor-based platforms for its daily operations. Ensuring U.S. leadership in semiconductor technology and securing the integrity of the value chains that design, manufacture, package, and distribute these chips are perhaps the preeminent economic and national security concerns of the modern era,” the CSIS concluded.

Doubt it? The average new automobile in the U.S. has over 1,000 computer chips. Now think about military planes, ships, tanks, or NORAD monitoring. Technology and global politics make growth in high-end semiconductor fabrication and research a matter of national security.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at

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The Politics of Searching a Former President’s Home – The New York Times



Experts on high-wire investigations say that the Justice Department would have carefully weighed the decision to poke around Mar-a-Lago — and that it might want to tell the public why it was necessary.

The F.B.I. does not take a decision like searching the private home of a former president lightly.

As Garrett Graff, the author of a biography of James Comey — the F.B.I. director who oversaw the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server, then went on to run the Russia inquiry before Donald Trump fired him in 2017 — put it, “This was presumably the highest burden of proof that the Justice Department has ever required for a search warrant.”

As a matter of political sensitivity, he said, the Mar-a-Lago search ranked with the subpoena of Richard Nixon’s secret Oval Office tapes and the decision to sample the DNA on Monica Lewinsky’s infamous blue dress to see if it belonged to President Bill Clinton.

Graff noted that the Justice Department’s “fumbling” of several aspects of its investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and the controversy over its handling of the Clinton email investigation would probably raise the bar for what might prompt such a high-profile step this time around.

Christopher Wray, the director of the F.B.I., Attorney General Merrick Garland and their top deputies would be well aware of the minefields involved — including the possibility, as Trump proved on Monday when he announced the search in a news release, that it would draw the department into the very sort of political maelstrom Garland has sought to avoid.

All of that suggests the investigation is both serious and fairly well advanced.

In May, Garland reissued the department’s traditional guidance on politically sensitive investigations — and he kept the language approved by his predecessor as attorney general, Bill Barr. That move led someone to leak the memo to Rachel Maddow of MSNBC, who criticized Garland for sticking with Barr’s policy.

Former Justice Department officials said the search fell into a gray area, as Trump is not officially a candidate for anything at the moment. The policy, moreover, applies only to the coming midterm elections, not to the 2024 presidential election.

But that’s just the technical, legal side of this move. Politics is another story.

There are a few hints that Trump thinks — with some justification — that the search will help him secure the Republican nomination in 2024. First, he announced it himself. Second, Republicans have already rallied to his side. Third, there’s no sign that any of his putative rivals in the shadow G.O.P. primary are ready to throw him overboard just yet, which suggests that they fear crossing him.

Consider Ted Cruz, who ran against Trump in 2016 and might do so again in 2024. On Tuesday afternoon, Cruz sent a text message to his supporters calling the search “a raw abuse of power.” He also accused the F.B.I. of becoming “the Democrat Party Police Force.” For good measure, he threw in a fund-raising link.

News of the search is probably not helpful to Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, either. She has a tough primary next Tuesday, which she is widely expected to lose. Given Cheney’s role as vice chairwoman of the Jan. 6 committee, it’s likely many G.O.P. base voters will associate her with the F.B.I. search.

As far as we know, however, that would be a mistaken impression; there’s no reason to think the bureau’s investigation has anything to do with Jan. 6, let alone with Cheney herself.

Cheney’s opponent, Harriet Hageman, isn’t worried about the nuances. She tweeted this morning, in a tone that could have been written by the 45th president himself:

If the FBI can treat a former President this way, imagine what they can do to the rest of us. It’s a 2-tiered justice system – one for elites & another for their political enemies. Like sending 87k IRS agents to harass citizens. Or the J6 committee. Political persecution!

Kenny Holston for The New York Times

In February 2021, when Garland testified before the Judiciary Committee ahead of his confirmation vote, he began his remarks by observing that “the president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer — not for any individual, but for the people of the United States.”

He added, in case anyone didn’t get the message, that he wanted to “reaffirm that the role of the attorney general is to serve the rule of law.”


Behind the Journalism


How Times reporters cover politics.
We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times staff members may vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or rallies in support of a movement or giving money to, or raising money for, any political candidate or election cause.

Liberals have complained more or less constantly since Garland took office that he has taken his hands-off approach to an extreme, emphasizing his independence and deliberative approach at the expense of moving with the alacrity many on the left would like to see in an investigation or investigations against Trump.

So there’s an alternate possibility, some former Justice Department officials speculated — that Garland is so concerned about demonstrating just how independent and by-the-book he is that he might have considered it imprudent to tell the F.B.I. not to execute the search just three months before the midterms, at a time when Trump is making noises about running for president a third time.

Then again, modern presidential campaigns never really begin or end, so it’s hard to say when an appropriate moment for such an aggressive investigative step might be.

Ironically, some said that Garland might want to be more transparent about why the search was necessary, to keep Trump from filling the vacuum with his own narrative.

That’s fraught territory, too.

After all, it was Comey’s effort to be transparent — in both announcing the investigation into Clinton during the heat of the 2016 campaign and in updating Congress when the bureau discovered a new trove of emails on Anthony Wiener’s laptop — that made the F.B.I. director such a lightning rod.

Comey, asked to offer his own thoughts on the F.B.I. search, replied in an email: “Thanks for asking but it’s not something I’m interested in talking about.”

Two news conferences, congressional testimony, leaked notes and a tell-all memoir later — now he tells us.

— Blake

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