As the immediate threat recedes, the oligarchs who once personally financed Ukraine’s defence seem to be trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

In holding Russia’s military behemoth to a stalemate in President Vladimir Putin’s undeclared war on Ukraine, Kiev has won an improbable victory. After a year of intensive shelling during a poorly observed truce in the Donbas, the big guns went silent there on 1 September 2015 and have stayed silent ever since.

Yet as the immediate existential threat recedes, the oligarchs who once personally financed the country’s defence seem to be trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They have forgotten their original shock at Moscow’s lightning annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and are reverting to their cozy personal exploitation of Ukraine’s patrimony. This is precisely the kind of dysfunction that Putin is now counting on to make Kiev implode, even as he eases outside pressure by accepting military deadlock in eastern Ukraine.

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Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

December 2015–January 2016

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