Tag Archives: kiev

As Yatsenyuk throws in the towel, a grim future for Ukraine

If it weren’t possible to be more pessimistic about the future of Ukraine and its economy, Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s sudden resignation on Sunday is reason to be even more glum. (Facebook)

No one believes more in the possibility of a post-crisis and prosperous Ukraine than Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the country’s prime minister and, too often, its chief punching bag.Ukraine Flag Icon

Never beloved, even among the pro-European Ukrainians who live in the country’s western regions and who resent Russian interference within their borders, Yatsenyuk’s goal since the fall of former president Viktor Yanukovych, an ally of Russian president Vladimir Putin, has been rightsizing an economy that’s underperformed even by standards of the region, with growth rates dwarfed by authoritarian Belarus, a Russian ally that’s retained Soviet institutions.

Facing few good options, Yatsenyuk simply gave up, hoping that, perhaps, the resignation of Ukraine’s last ‘true believer’ might shake loose enough support for the economic reforms that Ukraine desperately needs to continue its financial lifeline from the International Monetary Fund. Ironically, though Yatsenyuk has personally advocated liberalizing reforms and anti-corruption measures for years, his government is now seen as incapable of delivering reforms and as incorrigibly corrupt.

Yatsenyuk must now know how former Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh surely felt after a decade in office (if not quite in power).

It’s not even the first time the pressured premier resigned. His resignation in July 2014 paved the way for fresh parliamentary elections in October 2014 that restored a majority for a pro-western, pro-European government that was ultimately headed by Yatsenyuk. Continue reading As Yatsenyuk throws in the towel, a grim future for Ukraine

Is Yatsenyuk’s resignation good or bad news for Poroshenko?


Another week, another crisis in Ukraine.Ukraine Flag Icon

Just days after the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, Ukraine’s prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered to resign after two parties left the five-month ruling coalition that formed in the wake of Viktor Yanukovych’s flight from office back in February.

Those five months have witnessed an incredible amount of activity in Ukraine: Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the rise of Russian-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine, the May election of Petro Poroshenko as the country’s new president, and the crash of Flight MH17.

Those two parties, the right-wing nationalist All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Всеукраїнське об’єднання «Свобода») and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR, Український демократичний альянс за реформи) of newly elected Kiev mayor and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko, ostensibly left the government over the onerous conditions that Yatsenyuk was trying to enact into law pursuant to the $17 billion loan package provided by the International Monetary Fund, which contemplates that Ukraine will bring its budgets closer into balance. It’s understandable that lawmakers aren’t keen to introduce austerity measures with an ongoing insurgency in eastern Ukraine and with the economy still in shambles — it could contract by as much as 6.5% this year, and the Ukrainian hryvnia has lost nearly 30% of its value so far in 2014.

But Svoboda and UDAR, which joined the pro-Western government alongside Yatsenyuk’s own  ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Batkivshchyna, Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина), knew the strings attached to the IMF loan from the outset.

Why now?  Continue reading Is Yatsenyuk’s resignation good or bad news for Poroshenko?

Exit polls show Poroshenko will easily win Ukraine’s presidency

No surprises here, but Petro Poroshenko is set to win Ukraine’s presidency in a first-round victory after exit polls gave him over 50% of the national vote in today’s election.Ukraine Flag Icon

Poroshenko (pictured above) was winning between 56% and 58% of the vote, according to two national exit polls. Far behind in second place was former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko with around 13%. Oleg Lyashko was winning around 8% to 9%.

When the official results come in, however, I’ll be interested to see the turnout in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists may have dampened and hindered turnout. I’d also like to see whether Poroshenko won over 50% in the east, especially in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts — and if any candidate, such as Lyashko, who campaigned in eastern Ukraine, managed to break way with any significant support. Those numbers won’t tell us so much, though, because the anti-Poroshenko voters are likely not to have participated at all in what they believe is an invalid election.

The result hasn’t been in any incredible doubt since March, when pro-Western political leader Vitali Klitschko dropped out of the race and backed Poroshenko — instead, Klitschko decided to run for mayor of Kiev, and exit polls show that he, too, has overwhelmingly won his election.

The biggest question now is how Russian president Vladimir Putin responds to Poroshenko’s election. There were some signs as the election approached that Putin would respect the results, amid other signals that the Kremlin believes it can work with Poroshenko.

If Poroshenko can stabilize relations with Russia, he will then have to turn to mending bridges with eastern Ukrainians, extinguishing the anarchy of separatist control in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and reforming Ukraine’s lackluster economy. It’s a tall order.

You can follow much, much more about the election and its background at Suffragio‘s in-depth Ukraine page.

Photo credit to AFP / Sergei Supinsky.

All you wanted to know about Ukraine’s Donbass region


For the second time in as many months, Ukraine’s crisis threatens to spiral out of control, with the Ukrainian military now trying (mostly in vain) to secure several cities in the Russian-speaking east from a band of pro-Russian separatists. Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Icon

Just over a month ago, Russia annexed Crimea, the peninsula region in the south of Ukraine with an overwhelmingly large Russian ethnic population. For all the bluster between Washington and Moscow, you’d have thought that Crimea was as important to the international world order in 2014 as Cuba was in 1963 or Hungary was in 1956.

But the world largely seemed to accept Russia’s annexation of a region that was, after all, part of Russia until 1954. Yesterday in Geneva, after as the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the European Union reached a somewhat thin agreement to reduce the current tension in eastern Ukraine, US secretary of state John Kerry tersely declared, ‘we didn’t come here to talk about Crimea.’

So what’s so different now? Will the latest framework, agreed just on Thursday, succeed? Was Crimea just a warmup act for a larger Russian annexation?

* * * * *

RELATED: Why more protests won’t solve Ukraine’s political crisis — and why the Orange Revolution didn’t either
RELATED: What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster

* * * * *

Not to worry. Here’s everything (and more) you probably ever wanted to know about the Donbass, the eastern-most region of Ukraine that’s now center-stage in the latest round of the fake Cold War.

What is the Donbass?


The Donbass — or the Donbas (It’s Донбас in Ukrainian, Донбасс in Russian, and if we’ve learned anything about linguocultural conflict, it that language matters a lot) gets its name from the Donets Basin, which is the coal-mining, heavy-industry heart of eastern Ukraine. As a formal matter, the Donbass includes just the northern and center of Donetsk oblast (an oblast is Ukraine’s version of a state), the south of Luhansk oblast, and a very small eastern part of Dnipropetrovsk oblast.  Continue reading All you wanted to know about Ukraine’s Donbass region

Crimea prepares to ‘vote’ in status referendum


The billboard above announces Sunday’s hastily coordinated referendum, presenting the choice for Crimea as between joining the Russian federation or a future of, apparently, Nazism run amok.Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Iconcrimea

The March 16 vote comes barely three weeks after Russian troops essentially took control of the peninsula.

The Crimean crisis, and the wider Ukrainian crisis, have been widely discussed throughout the international media, so there aren’t too many original points I can make about Sunday’s vote.

The most obvious, perhaps, is that no one expects Crimea’s election to be either free or fair, in any normal sense of those words.  Though self-determination is one element from which nation-states today derive legitimacy, consider the context of the Crimean referendum with the context of September’s referendum on Scottish independence — the referendum date was settled more than a year in advance, the terms agreed by both UK prime minister David Cameron and Scottish first minister Alex Salmond, the debate focusing on the economic and other policy implications of independence.

It’s also important to remember that Crimea, ultimately, remains a sideshow.  The more compelling story about Ukraine today is that its acting government is working, largely with success, to bring calm to the rest of the country.  US and European financial support is likely to shore up Kiev’s shaky finances, preventing Ukraine’s pending sovereign default, and a May 25 presidential election could restore some semblance of political stability after the fall of corrupt president Viktor Yanukovych on February 22 (though that won’t end the cultural and economic imbalances that have caused such a strong east-west divide in Ukraine).

A phony choice?


Crimea’s referendum will be a slapdash affair meant to rubber-stamp the newly constituted Crimean parliament’s decision to seek Russian annexation.  That’s clear from the tilted nature of the referendum’s wording.  Crimeans will choose between two options, worded in Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar:

1.  Do you support Crimea joining the Russian Federation as a federal subject?

2.  Do you support restoration of the 1992 Crimean constitution and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?

The second option, as many scholars have written, is needlessly complicated, because there’s some doubt over which version of the 1992 Crimean constitution that the referendum option references.  The original version states that Crimea is an independent state; only later was the constitution revised for Crimea’s current status, an autonomous republic within Ukraine.  So there’s some suspicion that if Crimeans support the second option, it’s a vote for Crimean ‘independence’ from Ukraine that would, in essence, still bring Crimea under Russian control. Continue reading Crimea prepares to ‘vote’ in status referendum

Brussels trumps Washington and Moscow over Ukrainian crisis


Not with a whimper, not with a bang, but with $15 billion in financing. European_UnionUkraine Flag Icon

This is how the acute phase of Ukraine’s political crisis ends — it’s all about bringing the struggling country back on its feet in economic terms, not a  geopolitical fantasy in the minds of Cold Warriors in Washington and Moscow.

With the European Union’s decision earlier today to deploy €11 billion ($15 billion) in aid, Ukraine’s treasury will now pull back from the brink of sovereign default — a catastrophe that would, ironically, have harmed Russian banks far greater than European banks (Russian investors have a cumulative exposure of nearly $30 billion to Ukrainian debt).  That assistance was almost guaranteed from the moment former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled from office after his government unleashed lethal fire on anti-government protesters that had gathered for four months at Maidan Square in central Kiev.  Interim president Olexandr Turchinov and interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk (pictured above with Catherine Ashton, the EU high representative for foreign affairs) are firmly committed to economic reform and Ukraine’s turn toward Europe.

Accordingly, it’s the European Union — and not the United States and not Russia — that looks both most sensible and most productive in the aftermath of last week’s showdown. 

Throughout the entire Ukrainian crisis, American and Russian policymakers have routinely disregard the role of the European Union, including some very undiplomatic language from a top State Department official a month ago.

But stabilizing Europe’s expanding periphery is what the European Union does best — and why it won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.  The earliest iteration of the European Union sutured the wounds among Italy, France and Germany in the 1950s, midwifing the economic expansion of the 1960s.  It brought the United Kingdom more closely into  Europe in the 1970s, and catalyzed economic reform that transformed Ireland into a high-income country.  It smoothed the transitions of Spain, Portugal and Greece from dictatorship to democracy in the 1980s, and its embrace of the former Warsaw Pact states in 2004 anchors economic and political growth from Prague to Tallinn to Warsaw.  EU policymakers today are effectively dangling the carrot of EU membership to Serbia in order to bring enduring peace to the Balkans.

Jean Monnet would be overjoyed today to see the European role in ending Ukraine’s crisis, and the promise of extending peace and prosperity more widely beyond the boundaries of Europe’s core. Continue reading Brussels trumps Washington and Moscow over Ukrainian crisis

Let Russia take Crimea — the focus should be on Ukraine’s economy


Why is US president Barack Obama using so much bluster to warn Russian president Vladimir Putin against what appears to be a likely military action in Crimea?Russia Flag IconcrimeaUkraine Flag Icon

If your answer to the question involves broad references to ‘appeasement,’ the 1930s, American exceptionalism or to NATO, you should probably re-examine the premises of that answer.  In the debate over Ukraine — and now, Crimea — empty talk by US commentators about the vital US interests in Ukraine could do more harm than good.  If you’re using ‘national interest’ according to the standard, IR theory definition, it draws from the realist concept that a country acts in international affairs in accordance with its self-interest.

But what is the US interest in whether Crimea is administered from Russian or Ukrainian authority?  Ukraine itself lies an ocean and a continent away from the United States.  It’s on the periphery of the European Union, and though it may one day be an EU member-state, Russian interference in Ukraine barely ranks among European security threats, though EU leaders should for obvious reasons be much more engaged on developments in Ukraine than US policymakers.  European policymakers have a strong stake in Ukraine’s future success.

To argue that the United States has a vital interest in Crimea is to argue that Russia has a vital interest in Puerto Rico.

While there’s a role for the United States to respond to Russian aggression, it’s certainly no reason to start calling for a new Cold War or to start arguing that Obama is somehow powerless to rein in Putin.  It’s not a matter of whether US warships, for example, could halt Russian advances in Crimea, it’s a matter of whether it’s worth spending US dollars and risking US lives to do so.

Crimea isn’t your everyday oblast.  It has always been a ‘special’ region straddling Russia and Ukraine with a unique history tied to both countries.  When Ukraine became an independent country in 1991, Crimea decided to proclaim itself an independent republic in 1992.  It ultimately chose to remain part of Ukraine as an ‘autonomous republic,’ with its own constitution and regional parliament, and it’s the only region of Ukraine where ethnic Russians constitute a majority of the local population, around 58% of Crimea’s total 2 million residents.  Last week’s anti-Kiev, pro-Moscow demonstrations weren’t the first time Crimeans have clashed with Ukraine’s central government, though. Continue reading Let Russia take Crimea — the focus should be on Ukraine’s economy

What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster?


There’s apparently a limit on what Ukraine’s president can get away with.Ukraine Flag Icon

He could preside over massive amounts of corruption, he could jail his chief political opponent on ridiculously politicized charges, he could swerve disastrously between a pro-Russian worldview and a pro-European worldview, and he could even brazenly change Ukraine’s election law to win more seats.

But when the government of Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych became responsible for the deaths of 88 protesters last week, even members within his own Party of Regions (Партія регіонів) were defecting from Yanukovych.  Arguably, until his police force unleashed lethal fire on hundreds of civilians, Yanukovych could point to a relatively legitimate electoral mandate in the previous 2010 presidential election (and, though it was flawed, the 2012 parliamentary elections).


Since Friday, when the European Union seemed to broker a deal between Yanukovych and Ukraine’s opposition leaders, events galloped at a dramatically rapid rate (though apparently not too fast for Ukraine’s leading oligarchs, Rinat Akhmetov and Dmitry Firtash), leaving Yanukovych in hiding in eastern Ukraine, under charges of mass murder.  The country’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, voted in quick succession to elect speaker Oleksander Turchinov (pictured above), an opposition, pro-European politician, as interim president.

It also elected to restore the 2004 constitution, which restores more power to Ukraine’s parliament and away from its president, and set a tentative May 25 date for new presidential elections.  The parliament also cleared the path to free Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a leader of the center-right ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина), who narrowly lost the 2010 presidential vote to Yanukovych.  Tymoshenko (pictured below) was jailed in late 2011 by Yanukovych’s government on charges related to her handling of the natural gas crisis in 2009 during her premiership.  That precedent, ironically, may be one of the reasons that Yanukovych remained so keen on holding onto power in Kiev — having established that he was willing to throw Tymoshenko in prison on politically motivated grounds, it’s Yanukovych who now faces imprisonment on the basis of far more serious charges.  Tymoshenko, who has ruled out leading Ukraine’s soon-to-be-announced interim government, will nonetheless be a leading candidate in the upcoming presidential ballot.  Though she’s been imprisoned throughout the current crisis, she’s also unsullied by having negotiated with Yanukovych, a group that includes another opposition favorite, heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko.


Russia, who had delivered $3 billion of a promised $15 billion bailout, is obviously dismayed.  Though Yanukovych was never quite the Russian puppet that some Western leaders believed him to be, it’s clear that his sympathies lied to the east more than to the west.

So what comes next for Ukraine?  Past experience demonstrates that the story won’t end with ‘happily ever after’ upon the appointment of this week’s new interim government.  As I wrote last December, the Maidan protests — even if they succeed — won’t by themselves end Ukraine’s political crisis.  Just a year after the ‘Orange Revolution’ of December 2004 and January 2005 that brought Viktor Yushchenko power, the pro-European government crumbled into infighting that lasted until Yushchenko left power, massively unpopular, in 2010.  Yanukovych took advantage of the ongoing disunity of the Ukrainian opposition in October 2012’s parliamentary elections, winning largely by dividing the supporters of Tymoshenko’s Fatherland and Klychko’s newly formed Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (Український демократичний альянс за реформи).


Almost on schedule, this morning brings news of serious counter-protests in Crimea, the peninsula that lies in the Black Sea on the southeastern coast, one of the 24 oblasts that comprise Ukraine.   Continue reading What comes next for Ukraine following Yanukovych’s ouster?