Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Political Science


Mark Ungar

Committee Members

Julie George

Jillian Schwedler

Subject Categories

Comparative Politics


Ukraine, Police, Transition, Crime, Security, Corruption


Why does reform of law enforcement remain so elusive in post-communist countries like Ukraine, despite political upheaval, a public mandate for reform and substantial international assistance? Which components contribute to the success and sustainability of a police reform and which factors produce political will from political leaders to implement the difficulties of police reform? This dissertation argues that in addition to massive corruption and the politics of insecurity, the greatest challenges to reform of Ukraine’s law enforcement system is political competition, resulting in the politicization of law enforcement institutions and law enforcement policy. Political competition is based in Ukraine’s fractured political system which has been unstable since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. This dissertation takes an inductive approach to studying the politics of police reform by providing a process-tracing narrative of previous and contemporary efforts to address ongoing issues of policing in Ukraine and demonstrates how reforms have been shaped by various political and social conditions over time. The narrative of this dissertation is that while the problems plaguing Ukraine’s police are systemic and long standing, partial police reform become possible under certain conditions. While pluralism and political competition are often necessary to pressure political leaders to enact costly reforms of the police, an excess of political competition or political instability (as in the case of Ukraine) will typically disincentivize political leaders from supporting police reform by increasing uncertainty about the future political order, public fears of disorder, and will prompt more intense political competition over control of law enforcement. This is because in hybrid regimes like Ukraine, the police play an essential role in determining the political balance through extra-democratic power politics such as arresting regime opponents or determining which protests will be permitted. Hence the police’s support of the regime is critical to maintaining political power and since police are opposed to any reforms which will strip them of resources, powers or autonomy, enacting comprehensive police reform becomes a costly decision for political elites, undertaken only reluctantly in the face of intense pressure from civil society and international partners in the wake of a scandal which raises policing on the political agenda. This means that the status quo towards policing policy is political inaction by decision makers and even in the event of a catalyst such as a police scandal political pressure for police reform is often difficult to sustain under the inevitable resistance from entrenched elite.

This dissertation argues that in the case of Ukraine the keys to a successful and sustainable police reform in certain parts of the police have been: first, insulation of new police institutions from politicization and patrimonial staffing to ensure their independence and impartiality; and second, institutional design which mandates transparency mechanisms, accountability procedures and civilian oversight in the staffing, promotion and activity reporting of police. In other words, this dissertation argues that the types of police reforms most likely to be successful and sustainable are those with large and effective coalitions including civil society, western support, and most importantly institutional design which allows for political insulation and mechanisms that allow for public participation, transparency and oversight. In the absence of these components, reforms that lack a unified and stable reform coalition to produce continued political pressure will likely be abandoned shortly after the public attention moves on from a given police scandal. Nearly four years after the Euromaidan revolution, events in mid- 2018 provides a colorful montage of the various challenges to reform of law enforcement in Ukraine at a critical juncture. Ukraine’s success in navigating these and the other challenges described in this dissertation will determine the future of its law enforcement institutions, the rule of law, and the political system in Ukraine in its fourth republic.