Wilson tackled questions such as why Putin stopped Yanukovych from signing the Association Agreement in November 2013. The offer from the West was a standard trade agreement, yet Putin chose to disrupt it because he sees Ukraine as part of a wider geopolitical project. The protest initially came from anger at the ‘failure’ of the European project, argued Wilson. However, they soon became demonstrations against the corruption and nature of Yanukovych’s government.

Denying that it was a coup d’etat that removed Yanukoych, Wilson stressed that the European-brokered agreement on February 21 remained intact, and was not rejected by the public. “Yanukovych left when he did simply because he’d finished packing”, he said, possibly because he initially planned to set up an alternative government in Kharkiv. Looking ahead, Wilson voiced the concern that the coalition lacks a sense of urgency, especially in the face of the collapsing economy. There was discussion about how much power the oligarchs still have in Ukrainian politics; “they bend with the wind when talking about Ukraine’s European destiny” he explained.

Wilson supported the claim that the invasion of Crimea was part of the Kremlin’s long-term strategy of aggrandising the Russian Federation, dating back to the war in Georgia in 2008. International, and particularly European, condemnation of Putin is now far more unified than it ever was during the Maidan, he argued. This is because of the MH17 tragedy, which galvanised international opinion and swayed many who had previously been sympathetic to Putin.

Russia’s next move in the region is uncertain, especially now that plans for the South Stream pipeline have been cancelled. Wilson predicted that Putin will continue to disrupt the infrastructure of Ukraine but, because any further invasion could no longer be done covertly using his ‘hybrid war’ model, the seizure of more land is unlikely. “Putin genuinely doesn’t believe that Ukraine is a real or viable state”, Wilson pointed out, and there is a humanitarian disaster looming in the separatist areas, for which the West will have to find a solution.

The discussion was moderated by Anne Applebaum, Director of the Legatum Institute's Transitions Forum.


The Transitions Forum examines the challenges and opportunities of radical political and economic change.

Further Reading

  • Looting Ukraine: How East and West Teamed Up to Steal a Country, by Oliver Bullough, July 2014 (View)