It is customary at the start of every new year for newspapers and magazines to try and predict what will happen in the ensuing twelve months. I too am guilty of this little effrontery despite the fact, that as my cousin Hryts would say, I have trouble predicting tomorrow, never mind the next year. Nonetheless I will share my thoughts on this while qualifying them as not quite predictions, but simply speculations based on what my sometimes analytical mind has concluded.
I must of course start off with Ukraine, and the ongoing quagmire of undeclared war, continuing corruption and increasing discontent. Putin, as we all know, is riding on a bit of a high, having witnessed his fellow traveler Donald Trump do what was thought impossible and become President of the United States. Trump has made it clear he admires Putin and will seek to “normalize” relations with Russia. What this will of course do is embolden Putin to raise the stakes in Ukraine and we will quite likely see an escalation of the conflict as Putin tries to secure and expand his territorial gains. He will test the patience of Trump and the Americans to see how much he can get away with. It will be an even more difficult year for Ukraine now that Putin thinks he has a freer hand.
On Ukraine’s domestic front, the population is getting increasingly more discontented and frustrated with the Poroshenko government. I talked to a lot of my relatives and contacts in Ukraine over the holidays, and there is almost universal pessimism and dislike for the current Ukrainian authorities. The oligarchs are as powerful and corrupt as ever, true reformers are being frustrated, blocked and purged at every turn, and the promise of the Maidan is rapidly disappearing. While there has been some improvement in certain areas, it is nowhere near meeting the hopes and expectations of the majority of disgruntled and restive Ukrainians. Poroshenko will be lucky to survive his term, with no chance of being re-elected. I think we will see increasing unrest and demonstrations against the current political establishment as the year wears on. There will be a continuous game of musical chairs in the Ukrainian cabinet as Poroshenko seeks to deflect blame on designated scapegoats, with little hope of real change. Sadly, there are few obvious leaders that people can trust and mobilize around waiting in the wings to replace him.
As Canadians, we will obviously be looking south at what a Trump presidency will mean to Canada. Trump will of course be both unpredictable and ineffective. His policies are a simplistic mish mash of slogans and implausible black and white proscriptions with little depth to them. His cabinet picks are mostly unqualified and reactionary oligarchs who will seek to reverse a century of social and democratic progress and try to return America to some mythological “greatness” that never existed except in his own mind. He will succeed only in impoverishing the poor in America even further, alienating friends and allies, and driving the U.S. into another deep recession by throwing monkey wrenches into the global system of free trade which has ironically made the U.S. the economic superpower that it is. Rather than bring jobs back to the U.S., his trade barrier policies will only see a further erosion of employment as America becomes increasingly insular and unpopular with the world community.
This will obviously have a negative spillover effect on Canada which is the U.S.’s primary trade partner. The one hope is that his rashness, temper, paranoia and lack of understanding of how the American constitution and system of government works, will inevitably lead to mistakes and errors that will see him impeached or forced to resign. As unlikely as that may seem to some, I would hazard a guess that the chances of him finishing his term are no better than fifty-fifty.
And of course, I can’t end this prognostic discourse without commenting on the political situation in Canada. Since the NDP and the Conservative parties are taking their own sweet time in selecting credible leaders and putting forth effective alternative policies, Prime Minister Trudeau will continue to enjoy a respectable degree of popularity with the Canadian electorate. While he did stumble a few times in 2016, overall there were sufficient successes and relative stability that his approval ratings will remain fairly solid. As for his opposition, the NDP have all but disappeared from the public discourse, while the Conservatives seem to spend most of their time in continuing negative Trudeau and Liberal bashing, rather than formulating and presenting any substantial alternative policies and programs. That kind of approach may have worked for Trump in the U.S., but I firmly believe that most Canadians are too smart to fall for that kind of populist and insubstantial rhetoric.
Lastly, with regards to the Ukrainian community in Canada, I regret to say, that after two years of dedicated and heroic efforts aimed at raising funds and support for Ukraine, a little donor fatigue is beginning to set in. Of course, we will continue to help and stand by Ukraine, but many of us are becoming more than a little impatient with why the Ukrainian government continues to drag its feet in getting its house in order. Why is it that the billionaire oligarchs are getting richer at government expense, while the government has to rely on the Ukrainian diaspora to provide basic necessities and medical aid to the soldiers fighting in the Donbas?