Resilient Ukraine: safeguarding society from Russian aggression

This latest report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at how to strengthen Ukraine in the face of aggression from Russia.

Despite military conflict and an increasingly adversarial relationship with Russia, Ukraine has largely maintained its democratic reforms thanks to its resilience and determination to decide its own future. The country is gradually developing the capacity of its state institutions and civil society to address the political and social consequences of Russian aggression. Russia’s three main levers of influence in Ukraine include the ongoing armed conflict, corruption, and the poor quality of the political sphere. The Kremlin seeks to exploit these vulnerabilities to promote polarization and encourage a clash between Ukraine’s citizens and its governing elite by taking military action, manipulating the corruption narrative, supporting pro-Russia parties, and fuelling religious tensions through the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC). The ramifications of the military operation in Donbas reverberate strongly across the country and domestic politics. The most prominent spillover effects include the circulation of firearms and the weakened capacity of authorities to reintegrate internally displaced people (IDPs) and war veterans. With no clear way to end the armed conflict, there is a growing risk of societal polarization. This could have negative consequences for any prospective peace agreement. Conflict resolution particularly requires engagement with Ukrainians in the non-government-controlled areas (NGCA). Safe and inclusive reintegration of Donbas into Ukraine is about more than just territory, it is about people. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demonstrated a genuine willingness to achieve peace and has applied a human-centric approach to managing the conflict. However, his strategy is constrained by a lack of clear actionable steps, an absence of effective coordination between various agencies, and reluctance to engage civil society in decision-making. Societal cohesion is a necessary element of resilience. Currently, weak civic agency is challenging this cohesion, with just 10 per cent of the population regularly participating in civil society and few opportunities for the public to take part in decision-making at the local level. This is particularly the case in the southeast and is reflected by low levels of trust in authorities. This paper presents four case studies from the civil society sector that showcase effective responses to disruptions caused by Russian actions and negative influence. They illustrate how civil society in partnership with the authorities is creating resilience dividends. Resilience-building offers a viable pathway for strengthening Ukraine in the face of aggression. Furthermore, boosting the quality of human capital, regenerating mono-industrial towns in the east and more inclusive regional development could create resilience dividends. Areas of focus could include promoting the resilience approach, supporting independent media, strengthening cognitive resilience and prioritizing social cohesion.

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