It is no wonder that Ukraine remains high on the global security agenda. Located in the very center of Europe, Ukraine is critical for the stability of the central Europe and Black Sea basin. Ukraine is facing numerous challenges, both external and internal, which is why it is so important to keep an eye on it.
Political stability has always been a troubling issue in Ukraine. Previous times of stability were merely temporary and not a result of political consensus, but rather a conservation of the existing system. The same is happening now: the presidential administration of Petro Poroshenko seems to be absolutely satisfied with the present status quo, which gives him a good chance of getting reelected in 2019.
What does the Ukrainian status quo look like? It is a preservation of the existing balance of power and not allowing early parliamentary elections to take place.
Ukrainian Political Players
Ukrainian political players can be divided into four groups: those forming the current coalition, the opposition party, situation partners, and aspiring forces. Parties and public figures that comprise the current coalition are probably the most divided group: this includes the Petro Poroshenko Bloc (PPB) and the People's Front Party of former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. There is also a group being formed around Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, who is trying hard to become an independent figure, taking decisive actions in the fields of health care reform, education, and infrastructure. Realizing that his political weight heavily depends on his deliverables, he firmly supports reforms in these areas.
The Narodnyi Front (NF) is a unique case. The party had the second biggest parliamentary faction in 2014, however now it only garners about two to three percent in national polls. This means that in the upcoming elections – either early or regular ones – NF has almost no chance of obtaining seats in parliament. This makes them very loyal coalition partners – as long as a coalition exists, NF holds political weight. This does not preclude NF from making surprise attempts to push their own agenda, but it does indicate that NF may be even more loyal to President Poroshenko than some members of his own party.
The presidential administration of Petro Poroshenko seems to be absolutely satisfied with the present status quo, which gives him a good chance of getting reelected in 2019.
Poroshenko’s own parliamentary faction, PPB, sometimes tends to be a troublemaker, especially when crucial votes are needed for laws. PPB consists of a very diverse group of constituents – oligarchs, volunteers, experienced politicians, war combatants, businessmen, and former activists. This internal reality makes PPB very hard to manage, which may compel Poroshenko to look for other partners if he cannot gather enough votes from his faction.
The main opposition parties are Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batjkivshchyna and the Opposition Bloc. According to polls, both parties are on the rise, with high chances of becoming the two biggest parliamentary factions if Ukraine holds early parliamentary elections.
Tymoshenko makes it very clear she will not stop until she gets more political power, and Batjlivshchyna seems to be building up quite successfully. However, the Opposition Bloc was said to be grappling with internal conflict in the first weeks of 2017. The party which was formed by previous members of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, represents everything and everyone the Euromaidan revolution fought against. It is a conglomerate of remaining oligarchs – Yuriy Boyko, Dymtro Firtash, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov. All of them have different interests and visions, as well as contrasting opinions on how to interact with authorities. The ongoing internal crisis was sparked by a shift in Akhmetov’s attitude, who is now discretely veering towards cooperating with Poroshenko and is not using his resources to destabilize the situation. This is very good news for Poroshenko – not only will an opposition party will be weakened, but Akhmetov, with his media outlets and support in the Donbas region, will remain neutral. What will the price be for that? Allowing Akhmetov to carry on with his business.
The aspiring political forces in Ukraine are Former President of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili’s party and the Democratic Alliance. Both political forces were negotiating for a long time to create a united force, but those plans fell through. Nevertheless, both parties are very active in the public space and strongly advocate holding early parliamentary elections. They both have high chances of making it into the new parliament.
Ukraine and the International Context
Knowledge of Ukraine’s complex domestic political landscape allows for a better understanding of the implications thereof for the country’s role on the international stage. Ever since the 2005 Orange Revolution, which failed to produce lasting results and sustainable reforms, Western leaders have been skeptical about whether Ukraine is able to overcome its internal problems and successfully embark on a reforms path. The Euromaidan Revolution has swept this question away. For the 93 days that the revolution lasted, Ukrainians proved that they were and are ready to fight till the end for a better future for their country. Appreciation of this attitude was one of the main reasons for the West’s strong support for Ukraine on the eve of the Russia-Ukraine war in 2014. Many say, especially in Brussels, that the lack of internal progress in Ukraine could be a main determinant to the continuation of the sanctions policy towards Russia. If Ukrainian reforms stall, sanctions might stall as well, despite the situation in Donbas. Internal developments in Ukraine can prompt us a lot on whether support of Western leaders will stay strong or will fade away.
With Trump’s still highly unpredictable policy towards Russia, American legislation is Ukraine’s only real hope. Ukrainian politicians, hopefully, are finally starting to understand that they must deliver, not just promise. At least this is what all Ukrainian analysts are pointing towards: no free riding anymore. Lack of internal developments and successes with reform will have a bigger influence on America’s decision to lift sanctions against Russia, more than the actions of Russia itself. The story is the same with European sanctions. International sanctions on Russia are a symbolical expression of the West’s support of Ukraine, meaning that if Ukraine ceases to show it is worth this support, it will lose it.
Ukrainian politicians, hopefully, are finally starting to understand that they must deliver on reform, not just promise.
There has been a general feeling that relations between Ukraine and the EU are losing its impetus, or rather, its vision for quite some time. With visa liberalization being positively decided upon and with the Association Agreement still uncertain after the April 2017 Dutch referendum, what is next? It seems that even Brussels does not know how to answer this question. Kyiv has been vocal about its vision for quite some time: Ukraine wants EU membership. Whether it is ready or not is an open question, yet one thing is clear: the EU does not have a long-term plan for its relations with Ukraine.
There are also no real signs that the war in Donbas will end any time soon. Yes, it costs Russia a lot, but it costs Ukraine even more. So far, it looks like a frozen conflict which is being warmed up from time to time, “accidentally” flaring up just before important discussions on Donbas take place. In the last couple of days, escalation has reached its highest level in many months. The cities of Avdiivka and Mariinka were shelled, water and heating supplies were disrupted, all with temperatures dropping to minus 17 degrees Celsius. 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed in action, and there were civilian casualties as well.
Russia is using war as a leverage over Ukraine and Europe, and the solution the former is pushing for is unacceptable. With the “elections first” method favored by Russia to end the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, one can easily imagine what such elections would look like under the supervision of Russian. As long as the border is exclusively under Russia’s control, any election can turn into a disaster capable of destabilizing Ukraine.
A disorganized and fragmented Ukraine is the last thing Europe and Black Sea basin needs.