The fast-changing events in Ukraine evoke once more the question of how to understand the Ukrainian state.
Instead of following concepts that depict Ukraine as “weak”, “captured”, or “incomplete”, I propose to analyse the Ukrainian state as “a social relation”. Applying this Poulantzian understanding enables us to link the state in a narrow sense with society and thus permits analysis of its transformation. Approaches focusing on the shortcomings of the state dominate analyses of contemporary Ukraine, but fail to take into account the conflicts within the state. They consider the specific regional legacies purely in negative terms and presume the superiority of an idealised Western state model while denying its historical origins. A Poulantzian approach allows us to see the Ukrainian state in the context of the international political economy by understanding the Ukrainian oligarchs as a transnational internal bourgeoisie and mapping international influence via the category of interiorisation. The national discourse, whilst an important element of establishing hegemony, needs to be overcome.
Distinguishing between the “good” West (the EU and the USA) and the “bad” East (Russia) contributes to obscuring socio-economic problems in Ukraine.