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Is Ukraine a democracy?

A key component of western support for Ukraine is its democratic values that have been put under immense pressure since the 2014 revolution.

Protest in support of Ukraine, in Barcelona
Nacho DoceReuters

Fighting is raging throughout Ukraine as the Russians have advanced in a four pronged attack from the Crimea, Transnistria, Belarus and Russia proper.

Support for Ukraine has been a call to defend democracy from authoritarian aggression. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the attack, 'a war against Ukraine, against the whole democratic world.'

Ukraine has been making major steps toward being a fully democratic country in recent years, especially since 2014. But it is not fully there yet, and the invasion will being a huge block in achieving this aim.

How can we quantify how democratic a nation is?

The Economist produces a scale every year on the progress of democracy around the world. It uses more than 60 indicators to determine the rankings: the electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, functioning of government, political participation and political culture. Each rating is from 0 to 10, and given a label from four types of regime.

The rating for Ukraine slipped from 5.81 in 2020 to 5.57 in 2021. This means the report labelled it as a 'hybrid regime'. It is tied with Mexico as the 86th most democratic country in the world, and the 17th highest in Eastern Europe.

For comparison, Russia's score was a lowly 3.24, marking it as an 'authoritarian regime'. The United States was ranked as a 'flawed democracy' with a score of 7.85. The highest ranked country in the world is Norway with a score of 9.75.

In another report, named Freedom in the World, Ukraine has a score of 60 out of 100. Not a bad score, but there is certainly some way to go.

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How does Ukraine have this score?

The low score is mostly down to the military pressure the country was under in, The Economist report concedes

'Government functioning under a direct military threat usually restricts democratic processes in favour of the centralisation of power in the hands of the executive and the security or military apparatus with the aim of guaranteeing public safety', the report states.

'In Ukraine, the military played a more prominent role in 2021 and exerted more influence over political decision-making; goverment policy also became less transparent.'