Tag Archives: poroshenko

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

Saakashvili makes a political return — to Odessa

poroshenko saakashvili

The last we’d heard of former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, he was enjoying a hipster lifestyle in Williamsburg. Georgia Flag IconUkraine Flag Icon

Increasingly, though, Saakashvili has become a persona non grata in Georgia, where he held power between 2004 and 2013, ushering in liberal reforms to a country sorely in need of liberalization. When an umbrella coalition of opponents, led and financed by Bidzina Ivanishvili defeated his ruling party in late 2013, Saakashvili recognized the loss and facilitated the ensuing political transition, which coincided with the constitutional change from a strong presidential system to a parliamentary system.

So it was quite a surprise to see Saakashvili emerge last weekend in Saturday as the newly minted governor of the Odessa region.

We live in an era where Stanley Fischer can obtain Israeli citizenship, lead its central bank and then return to the United States to become vice chair of the Federal Reserve — or where Mark Carney can switch roles from heading the Bank of Canada to the Bank of England. So why shouldn’t a well-regarded former president be permitted, especially at the young age of 47, to take on a politically difficult role in a nearby country — especially when the struggles facing Georgia and Ukraine are so similar?

In order to assume the role as Odessa’s new governor, Saakashvili was obligated to give up his Georgian citizenship and accept from Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko an offer of Ukrainian citizenship. Saakashvili previously refused to do so when Poroshenko earlier offered him a position as deputy prime minister.

A post-presidential exile from Georgia

As Saakashvili himself has noted, however, Georgian citizenship entitles him to little more than six square meters in prison. That’s because the current government has charged Saakashvili with multiple offenses, all of which seem precariously motivated by politics, not the rule of law. Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev called the announcement a ‘circus,’ but the reaction from Georgia’s current leadership was even more incendiary. Tina Khidasheli, the country’s defense minister, attached Saakashvili for treason, and the country’s president, Giorgi Margvelashvili, called the move an ‘insult’ to Georgia and its government.

The step could complicate Saakashvili’s plans to lead the opposition in the 2016 parliamentary elections in Georgia or compete for the presidency in 2018.

As president, there’s no doubt that Saakashvili reduced corruption and improved the underlying Georgian economy and, in stepping down with grace, established a strong precedent for democratic transition and the rule of law. His largest miscalculation came in 2007 and 2008, when he escalated military and diplomatic tensions with Russia. With high hopes for NATO and European Union membership, and believing Western forces would ultimately come to his aid, Saakashvili’s clash with the Russian military led to the quasi-annexation of two breakaway republics — Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Many of the current government’s criminal charges against Saakashvili today spring from the debacle. Continue reading Saakashvili makes a political return — to Odessa

Ukraine election results: Unsurprising win for pro-Western parties


Since most of the pro-Russian parts of Ukraine are still engaged in a low-grade revolt against Kiev’s pro-Western government, it’s not a surprise that the results of October 26’s snap parliamentary elections were good news for pro-Western parties.Ukraine Flag Icon

The message of the parliamentary election isn’t quite as awful as ‘Ukraine is doomed,’ but it’s hard to take away a lot of comfort that the troubled country is on the right path to political unity and economic progress.

With turnout across eastern Ukraine depressed, most acutely in Donetsk and Luhansk, it makes sense that Ukraine’s new president emerged with the largest number of projected seats in Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, after Sunday’s elections.

Verkhovna Rada

The Petro Poroshenko Bloc (Блок Петра Порошенка) formalizes the electoral alliance that Poroshenko made prior to the May 25 presidential election with heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who was elected Kiev’s mayor earlier this year.

But the new government of Ukraine will invariably look much like the old one — a coalition between Poroshenko and former prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, whose resignation triggered the snap elections earlier this summer.  Then, as now, it’s something of a mystery why new elections were so pressing when Kiev is still struggling to regain control of the eastern regions from pro-Russian separatists.

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

RELATED: Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

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Yatsenyuk’s bloc, the People’s Front (Народний фронт), won more absolute votes, according to preliminary results, and another new bloc, Self Reliance (Самопоміч, ‘Samopomich‘), the vehicle of Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi emerged as the surprisingly strong third-place winner.

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Though some sort of Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk coalition seems the likeliest outcome, the two rivals are already sniping over which bloc should lead the coalition talks.  Continue reading Ukraine election results: Unsurprising win for pro-Western parties

The idea of a nuclear war with Russia is absolutely crazy


As if timed to coincide with this week’s NATO summit in Wales, which could mark the most important gathering of Western allies since the end of the Cold War, US-based commentary this week took a huge leap forward in its assessment of the Russian threat — though not necessarily in a way that’s incredible rational.Russia Flag Icon

Call it the ‘underpants gnome’ theory of understanding Russia today:

Russian aggression in Ukraine + ????? = World War III!

But even as a ceasefire takes effect today between the Ukrainian military and the Russian-backed separatists based in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, based on a plan put forward earlier this week by none other than Russian president Vladimir Putin and brokered by talks hosted by increasingly nervous officials in Belarus, US writers are nevertheless openly contemplating the audacious notion of a potential Russian nuclear strike. Continue reading The idea of a nuclear war with Russia is absolutely crazy

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?

Malaysia Flight 17 will hasten Ukraine-Russia cooperation


If you’re like me, you won’t be able to erase the mental image of seeing a dead woman’s corpse on Thursday.Russia Flag IconUkraine Flag Icon

Like it or not, that will be, for me and for many millions more, the indelible image of the tragic and horrific attack on Malaysia Airlines 17 on Thursday, her black skirt, her bare feet, the corpse of a man in a green short-sleeved shirt lying beside her. It’s a moment when anyone who has ever flown internationally felt a sinking feeling in his or her gut. It reminded me of my first trip to Latin America, which took us through Cuban airspace, something I found inordinately odd, given the absolute lack of cooperation between the U.S. and Cuban governments otherwise.

The world is now holding its collective judgment over the issue of whether Ukraine, Ukrainian dissidents or Russian officials share more blame for the attack on Malaysia Airlines 17. (Plenty of us have our guesses, and the Kremlin’s defensiveness in the hours following the attack speaks volumes). But in many ways, it doesn’t matter. If Russia is at fault, you can be sure Vladimir Putin will stonewall the investigation as much as possible. That doesn’t change the fundamentals that Putin must now make the peace.

Putin has, for some time, realized that he needs to be working with, and not against, Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, to bring eastern Ukraine to peace. That doesn’t mean that Putin will end his campaign of political dirty tricks in Ukraine. But since mid-May, when Putin distanced himself from the Donetsk and Luhansk referenda, thereby refusing to envelop eastern Ukraine in the same way as Crimea, the Kremlin has increasingly avowed responsibility for the separatist campaign that it tacitly encouraged in March and April. Putin further recognized Poroshenko’s election and, while Ukrainian-Russian relations might still be strained, they’re less tense than they were before May 25. We don’t know, and we might never know, whether the separatists gained anti-aircraft missiles from Moscow or simply took them over from eastern Ukraine army installations, but Putin now has an imperative to shut down the separatists and work with Poroshenko to secure eastern Ukraine. It does Putin no favors to have civilian aircraft shot out of the sky a spit’s throw away from the Russian border.

We still don’t know how many U.S. citizens were aboard the flight, but there are estimates of 25 or so. When was the last time that 25 American citizens died in a terrorist attack? Who, before Thursday, thought that it could happen over eastern Ukraine’s skies, for all of the FAA warnings? The Middle East, east Africa maybe, but not Europe.

As has been true since former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych ordered fire on civilian protesters in Kiev in February, a European country is going through more lethal conflict than at any time since Yugoslavia’s brutal civil war.

Accordingly, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 could bring Poroshenko and Putin, finally, on the same page. If 25 U.S. citizens were indeed on board, Putin is going to face hell from US president Barack Obama, and probably from the rest of the United Nations Security Council, including the typically ambivalent China. But certainly, the dozens of dead Dutch citizens will also anger prime minister Mark Rutte, an ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel. As angry as the Obama administration must be, Thursday’s civil aviation disaster is now a direct threat to European civilian security, a game-changer in Brussels, Berlin and Amsterdam.

Though he can avoid culpability, Putin certainly can’t ignore this. Poroshenko, literally days after signing an association agreement with the European Union, can’t either. Though the next few days will almost certainly involve a lot of diplomatic smoke, the macabre, silver lining of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is that it may hasten more stability in eastern Ukraine, uniting Poroshenko and Putin in the cause of avoiding another similar horror.

A closer look at Ukraine’s election results

Though business tycoon and pro-Western opposition figure Petro Poroshenko easily won election as Ukraine’s next president in last Sunday’s election, the final numbers suggest that he’ll take the helm of a divided country.Ukraine Flag Icon

Here’s a map of turnout nation-wide:


What’s immediately apparent is that turnout was extremely low in the eastern oblasts that have been the scene of several pro-Russian separatist movements. Notably, many parts of Donetsk oblast didn’t even participate in the election.

Though Poroshenko won 54.70% of the vote, with other candidates barely winning more than single digits, he’ll be hard pressed to argue that he has a mandate from the eastern Ukrainians who now feel so alienated from Kiev’s central government and the rest of the country.

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RELATED: In-depth: Ukraine’s elections

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It’s a far cry from the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections, which saw voting highly polarized, also on west-east lines. But compare the map of turnout in the 2014 election to the following map showing the relative support of Viktor Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych in 2004 and the relative support of Yulia Tymoshenko and Yanukovych in 2010:

ukraine2010 ukraine2004

There’s an obvious link between the support for Yanukovych in 2004 and 2010 and regions with depressed turnout in 2014.

It’s same Ukrainian divide that’s only become more pronounced over the past decade. Accordingly, the lesson of the 2014 election isn’t so much that Poroshenko has magically and suddenly united Ukraine, it’s that eastern Ukrainians have been effectively disenfranchised.

Note, also, that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March has removed another bloc of voters that, in 2004 and 2010, opposed  Ukraine’s pro-Western presidential candidates.

Since the election, Poroshenko has indicated that he’ll take a hard line against eastern separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, and, if anything, fighting between Ukrainian forces and the separatists has escalated since May 25, with a particularly deadly clash over the Donetsk airport.  Continue reading A closer look at Ukraine’s election results

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.

The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter


I can’t remember a time when there have been so many crucial world elections taking place at such a frenetic pace.

The spring voting blitz began with a five-day period in early April that saw Afghanistan’s presidential election, Indonesia’s legislative elections, the beginning of India’s nine-phase, five-week parliamentary elections, Costa Rica’s presidential runoff and Québec’s provincial elections.

Since then, India’s finished its voting and elected a new government led by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. Macedonia, Algeria, Iraq, Panama, South Africa, and Malawi have held elections, too, over the past seven weeks.

It all comes to a climax with five elections today — and another election that will take place over two days of voting on Monday and Tuesday.

Here’s a short look at each election — and why it matters to global policy. Continue reading The six world elections taking place this weekend — and why they matter

Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

Петро Порошенко

Earlier this year, the two undisputed leaders of the pro-Western camp were Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister who had been jailed by the government of then-president Viktor Yanukovych, and Vitali Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing champion who emerged in the 2012 parliamentary elections as the leader of a new reform-minded political party.Ukraine Flag Icon

Moreover, other capable leaders in anti-Yanukovych movement, including other officials within Tymoshenko’s center-right ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина, Batkivshchyna), such as Oleksandr Turchynov, who ultimately became Ukraine’s acting president, and former foreign minister and economy minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who ultimately became Ukraine’s interim prime minister.

So how did a chocolate tycoon with no obvious prior presidential ambitions find his way not only to the top of the polls in Ukraine’s troubled presidential election on May 25, but gather such an overwhelming lead that he could win the race in the first round with over 50% of the vote?

Petro Poroshenko is campaigning on a platform of greater economic ties to the European Union and a pledge to create more jobs. He’s promised to enact the EU association agreement that Yanukovych  refused to sign, a decision that led to the anti-Yanukovych protests in Kiev’s Maidan square late last year. He’s also promised to bring an end to the separatist protests in eastern Ukraine, by force if necessary.

Despite this threat, the Kremlin is signaling that Poroshenko is a Ukrainian leader with which Russia can work:

With the country still roiled by separatist violence in the east, the growing air of inevitability around Mr. Poroshenko, who has deep business interests in Russia, has redrawn the Ukraine conflict. It has presented the Kremlin with the prospect of a clear negotiating partner, apparently contributing, officials and analysts say, to a softening in the stance of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

After weeks of threatening an invasion, Mr. Putin now seems to have closed off the possibility of a Crimea-style land grab in the east, and even issued guarded support for the election to go forward.

Still, Putin has argued that Ukraine should draft a new constitution that provides for greater federalism before holding new elections. In recent days, he’s urged calm in eastern Ukraine and he even tried to convince separatists to delay the referenda held earlier this month on independence in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. But there’s no guarantee that Putin, who in mid-April referred to Ukraine as ‘Novorossiya,’ or ‘New Russia,’ will recognize the election’s outcome.

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RELATED: How the eastern Ukraine referenda
relate to the May 25 election

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With no serious contenders, and no real national debate during the election campaign, Poroshenko, who has dodged between both pro-Western and pro-Russian governments for the past two decades, and who has ties to some of the country’s most notoriously corrupt oligarchs, seems to be promising everything to everyone — and polls show he’s going to succeed. He pledges to restore ties with Russia, even while enhancing Ukraine’s economic links with Europe. He will somehow reverse what’s been a near-comical bungling effort by the Ukrainian military to subdue a separatist movement that shows no signs of receding. While doing all this, he will create jobs amid an economic crisis that will require more than $15 billion to $20 billion or more in financial assistance from groups like the International Monetary Fund, which will almost certainly demand in exchange tough budget cuts, tax restructuring, the privatization of many  state-owned assets and the liberalization of Ukraine’s economy otherwise, steps that will almost certainly inhibit immediate economic growth that could bring about new jobs in the short-term.  All of this in a country that, among the former Soviet nations, has the absolute worst post-Soviet GDP growth rate.

In short, Poroshenko is arguing that he can do what none of Ukraine’s leaders have been able to do for the past two decades at a time when the country is more divided than ever.

Continue reading Can Poroshenko deliver his fairy-tale promises to Ukraine?

The Symonenko debacle undermines Ukraine’s electoral legitimacy


If you were one of the few voters left in Donetsk prepared to cast a vote in Sunday’s Ukrainian presidential election, the chances are fair that you were considering a vote for Petro Symonenko.

Ukraine Flag Icon

But Symonenko, a Donetsk native and the candidate of Ukraine’s Communist Party (Комуністична партія України) announced his withdrawal from the election on Friday, after an escalating war of words with Ukraine’s acting president Oleksandr Turchynov who, last week, directed an inquiry into the Communist Party’s activities with an eye toward its possible disqualification:

Turchynov said on May 18 that he had sent the request to the Justice Ministry and that he believed “a Ukrainian court will put an end to this matter.” According to the presidential website, the country’s security service has documented the party’s role in the separatist movements in the east and determined that several party members have acted “to the detriment” of Ukraine’s interests.

Ukraine’s Communist Party is an unreconstructed Soviet-style party, which draws support from the south and the east of the country, where ethnic Russians are predominant and where rebels are now giving the Ukrainian central government so much trouble.

The Communists win votes by appealing to nostalgia, especially among older voters, for the more predictable days of the Soviet Union. As you might imagine, it’s a party that has generally won a decreasing share of the vote in Ukrainian elections as fewer and fewer Ukrainians from the Soviet era are still around to vote for it, not unlike Gennady Zyuganov’s  Communist Party in Russia.

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RELATED: How eastern Ukraine referenda relate to the May 25 election

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Though Symonenko (pictured above) made it to the runoff in 1999 against former president Leonid Kuchma and won 38.8% of the vote, he won just 4.97% in the 2004 election and otherwise overshadowed by the Orange Revolution, and he won just 3.54% in the 2010 election. In the most recent 2012 parliamentary elections, the Communists won 32 seats the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament, and they allied with former president Viktor Yanukovych, then the leader of the eastern-based Party of Regions (Партія регіонів).

So while it’s clear that though Symonenko may have picked up some votes in the May 25 presidential election from those areas that are currently under complete or partial control of pro-Russian separatists, there’s little chance that he would have won the election, especially with polls pointing to a first-round victory by Petro Poroshenko, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune selling chocolate, over former pro-Western prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Continue reading The Symonenko debacle undermines Ukraine’s electoral legitimacy

How the eastern Ukraine referenda relate to the May 25 election


It’s hard to know, especially from afar, how to interpret the weekend’s referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts in eastern Ukraine.Ukraine Flag Icon

According to the pro-Russian organizers, 89.07% of voters in Donetsk voted for ‘self-rule,’ on the basis of 74.87% turnout. In Luhansk, fully 96% of the electorate voted for ‘the declaration of state independence’ on the basis of a reorted 75% turnout. Those numbers are all disputed by Ukraine’s central government. 

Adding to the lack of clarity, the referendum questions themselves are vaguely worded, so no one knows exactly what the region’s voters elected to do.

In Donetsk, voters were asked, “Do you support the declaration of state independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic?” In Luhansk, voters were asked, “Do you support the declaration of state independence of the Luhansk People’s Republic?” The Russian word used for ‘state independence,’ samostoyatel’nost‘, means ‘standing by oneself,’ so no one really knows what the voters were actually asked to choose — it could mean anything from greater autonomy to full independence to, possibly, Russian annexation.

Interim Ukrainian president Oleksandr Turchynov declared the votes a ‘farce,’ and Western observers, including European leaders, have dismissed the referendum as illegitimate in its conception and fraudulent in its execution. Continue reading How the eastern Ukraine referenda relate to the May 25 election

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?

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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

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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

Ukraine (Crimea and Sevastopol) fact of the day

Ukraine's new PM Tymoshenko greets opposition leader and former PM Yanukovich before meeting in Kiev

If you re-run the results of the 2010 presidential election without Crimea and Sevastopol, you reduce the margin of the winning candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, against his opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko (pictured above with Yanukovych), by about half.Ukraine Flag Icon

The final result of the runoff election?

Yanukovych: 48.95%
Tymoshenko: 45.47%
Against all: 4.36%

Now look what happens when you simply remove the votes from Crimea and Sevastopol, where Yanukovych racked up some of his largest margins against Tymoshenko:

Yanukovych: 47.03%
Tymoshenko: 45.11%
Against all / Crimea / Sevastopol: 7.86%

It doesn’t mean that, without his support in Crimea and Sevastopol, Yanukovych would have lost the 2010 presidential race, which everyone at the time considered a relatively free and fair vote.  But it would have made a clear win much messier, perhaps giving Tymoshenko a case to rally against potential election fraud.

That’s something to keep in mind for the future of Ukrainian politics if, as expected, Crimeans vote on March 16 in favor of annexation by Russia (in what will almost certainly not be a free and fair vote).

It probably will have little effect on the scheduled May 25 presidential election, which will almost certainly be won by either Petro Poroshenko, a businessman who supported the anti-Yanukovych protests, or by Vitaliy Klychko, the heavyweight boxing champion and opposition political leader.  But as the old east-west tensions that have become the hallmark of Ukrainian politics reemerge (as they invariably will) for, say, the 2019 presidential election, it will be that much more difficult in a Crimea-less Ukraine for an eastern leader, sympathetic to Russia, to win the Ukrainian presidency in the future.

It’s also worth noting that in the 2012 parliamentary elections, Yanukovych’s eastern, pro-Russian Party of Regions (Партія регіонів) won 11 of 12 single-member districts within Crimea and Sevastopol. (The 12th went to Union, a local pro-Russian party).  In the 2012 elections, Yanukovych changed electoral law to provide that 225 of the 450 seats in Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, would be determined on a first-past-the-post basis in single-member districts — the idea being that the Party of Regions would win more seats by splitting the opposition, a strategy that largely succeeded for Yanukovych in 2012.  Under the previous 2004 constitution, which has now been reinstated by Ukraine’s parliament in the wake of Yanukovych’s ouster, all 450 seats are determined on the basis of proportional representation through national party vote.