Tag Archives: yatsenyuk

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

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

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?

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?

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

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

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 protesters in Ukraine and Thailand are getting wrong

thaiprotest ukraineprotest

The political crises in both Ukraine and Thailand took a turn for the severe last week, as government police forces clashed with protesters with even greater violence.  But what do the protesters want in each country — and can the protests, even if successful, bring stability?  Ukraine Flag Iconthailand

Amnesty: the root cause of the Thai protests

In Thailand, a country of 66.8 million people, anti-government protesters took to the streets in November (pictured above, top) after Thai president Yingluck Shinawatra tried to introduce an amnesty bill that would absolve both her supporters and opposition leaders from the worst charges, including murder, that spring from the political violence that’s engulfed Thailand sporadically throughout the last decade.  The bill died in the Ratthasapha (National Assembly of Thailand, รัฐสภา) after all sides turned against it.  Yingluck’s party, the dominant Pheu Thai Party (PTP, ‘For Thais’ Party, พรรคเพื่อไทย), the third iteration of the party Yingluck’s brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, founded in 2001 when he came to power, didn’t want to absolve the sins of their adversaries.  The opposition Phak Prachathipat (Democrat Party, พรรคประชาธิปัตย์) opposed the amnesty bill because they feared it would mean the return of Thaksin from seven years in self-exile.

Though Yingluck won the July 2011 parliamentary elections on a promise to de-escalate tensions in Thailand, the amnesty has brought the country back to the familiar standoff between the pro-Thaksin ‘red shirts’ and the anti-Thaksin ‘yellow shirts.’ 

EU relations: the root cause of the Ukrainian ‘Euromaidan’ protests

In Ukraine, a country of 45.5 million people, pro-European protesters also took their grievances to the streets in late November (pictured above, bottom) after president Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of an association agreement that would have engendered closer cooperation between the European Union and Ukraine.  Initially, the protests, centered on Maidan Square in the capital city of Kiev, assumed the form of the familiar political struggle between the Europe-oriented, Ukrainian-speaking west and the Russia-oriented, Russian-speaking east, which featured prominently in the 2004 ‘orange revolution’ against fraudulent elections that powered Viktor Yushchenko to power.

Yushchenko ended his presidential term massively unpopular, with his pro-Western allies fracturing into various camps, and in the February 2010 presidential race, the pendulum swung back to the pro-Russian Yanukovych, who defeated the EU-friendly former prime minister Yuila Tymoshenko (by 2010, a Yushchenko ally-turned-foe).  For much, much more background, here’s Max Fisher’s explainer today at The Washington Post.

In both cases, the protests have transcended their original rationales, and they now threaten to topple governments in both Kiev and Bangkok. What’s more, Yingluck and Yanukovych haven’t responded incredibly well to the protests. Continue reading What protesters in Ukraine and Thailand are getting wrong

More final thoughts on Ukraine’s election and Tymoshenko’s future

It’s been a busy week, but it’s worth taking a moment to explore the results from Ukraine’s parliamentary election on October 28 in greater detail.

We have a final set of preliminary numbers now, which lines up with what exit polls had forecasted after polls closed Sunday night — the governing pro-Russian party of president Viktor Yanukovych, the Party of Regions (Партія регіонів), won just 30.08% of the vote, but it will take 42% of the seats in the 450-member Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s unicameral parliament.  Indeed, Yanukovych and his allies quickly declared victory on Sunday night.

It was able to do so because of a change in the electoral law — in the previous election in 2007, all of the parliamentary seats were determined by proportional representation, but in 2012, half of the seats were elected through single-member districts, allowing Yanukovych’s united party to take advantage of a split opposition.

In this case, the opposition party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, the center-right ‘All Ukrainian Union — Fatherland’ party (Всеукраїнське об’єднання “Батьківщина, Batkivshchyna) wound up competing, to some degree, with the new reformist Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (Український демократичний альянс за реформи), formed by heavyweight boxing champion Vitaliy Klychko.

 On the proportional representation vote, Yanukovych’s Party of Regions won 73 seats, versus 61 for Batkivshchyna/Fatherland and 34 for UDAR.

In the constituencies, however, Yanukovych’s party won 114 to just 42 for Batkivshchyna/Fatherland and a mere six for UDAR.

The result will be a parliamentary majority that gives Yanukovych and his prime minister Mykola Azarov slightly greater control over government.

The somewhat fragmented results also show, however, an electorate that is none too pleased with Yanukovych’s increasingly authoritarian rule, his grip over Ukraine’s economy, the graft benefitting his friends and family, and the ongoing economic malaise, unemployment and stalled economic reform.  Despite his apparent gains last Sunday, it’s not clear that Ukrainians — especially members of Ukraine’s increasingly fragile business elite — will remain pliant in the face of policies that pull the country further from the goal of eventual integration into the European Union.

Indeed, the victory comes in an election that was far from free and fair — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe has a detailed report on the unfair advantages that Yanukovych brought to the election.

Tymoshenko, who served as prime minister in 2005 and then again from 2007 to 2010 under former reformist president (and ‘Orange Revolution’ leader) Viktor Yushchenko, narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovych.  Since then, she has been imprisoned on politically-motivated charges stemming from her negotiation of an energy deal with Russia following a 2009 crisis when Russia stopped the flow of natural gas to Ukraine and to the rest of Europe.  It’s puzzling, however, that the relatively more Russian-friendly Yanukovych would pursue those charges against the relatively more Europe-oriented Tymoshenko, and he certainly hasn’t bothered Moscow with a request to renegotiate the agreement.  Indeed, Moscow will be happy to see gains for the pro-Russian party, following a month of elections in former Soviet republics generally seen as wins for Russia’s attempt to restore its influence in what it calls the ‘near-abroad.’

Nonetheless, Tymoshenko’s support held up despite her imprisonment, with her party winning 25.47% of the vote.  That’s in no small part due to the capable leadership of Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who served as minister of the economy from 2005 to 2006, foreign minister in 2007 and chairman of the Verkhovna Rada from 2007 to 2008.  Although the party will have lost 53 seats since the last parliamentary election in 2007, they will retain the strongest opposition group in Ukraine’s parliament — by far.  It’s a tactical and political victory for Yatsenyuk, of course, who could well be the opposition presidential candidate in 2014, but it’s also a moral victory for Tymoshenko, whose imprisonment now remains the primary symbol of Ukraine’s legal, democratic and economic backslide under Yanukovych.

Although it was UDAR’s first elections in Ukraine, Klychko will have been disappointed to have won just 13.92% and 40 seats.  Surely, Klychko hoped that his campaign would install him as the major opposition figure in Ukraine and perhaps given him an opportunity for a knockout punch against Yanukovych as well.  That’s clearly not going to be the case, although Klychko has established himself as a key reformer in Ukraine, and I expect his bloc of reform-minded MPs will certainly work with Batkivshchyna/Fatherland to make the case for liberalization, other economic reforms, rule of law, and keeping Ukraine’s wider orientation toward eventual European Union membership.

But Klychko’s support was not much more than the other major parties in Ukraine — for example, the Soviet retro Communist Party (Комуністична партія України), which has allied with Yanukovych in the past, won 13.20% and 32 seats.

More troubling, the far-right nationalist All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Всеукраїнське об’єднання «Свобода») won 10.42% and 37 seats. Although Svoboda, like UDAR and Batkivshchyna/Fatherland, opposes making Russian a national language in Ukraine, the similarities stop there — think of Svoboda as closer to Greece’s Golden Dawn than to, say, a moderately nationalist Christian democratic party in Western Europe. Continue reading More final thoughts on Ukraine’s election and Tymoshenko’s future