The threat of a pro-Russian revenge taking place in the 2019 elections – as in 1994, 2004, and 2010 – will not happen. Even if the former Party of Regions (Opposition Bloc) had a united candidate he would have come third and thereby not entered the second round. There are three pro-Russian candidates and the most popular of the three Yuriy Boyko can only hope for fourth place.
The pro-Russian camp has been damaged by three developments.
Firstly, political. The Party of Regions – Ukraine’s only political machine – is gone while the Communist Party (KPU) is illegal. Secondly, voters. Sixteen percent of Ukrainian voters and 27 election districts are under Russian occupation in the Crimea and Donbas. Over ninety percent of them voted for Viktor Yanukovych in 2010 and the Party of Regions and KPU in 2012.
Thirdly, splits. In November 2018 the Opposition Bloc split and expelled the gas lobby which had shared power with the Donetsk clan in the Party of Regions/OppBloc since 2006. The strength of the Party of Regions machine was its monolithic unity which is gone.
Although Russian soft power is very weak in Ukraine, Moscow will use four potential threats to intervene in Ukraine’s domestic affairs, hoping to generate discontent and a return to power of pro-Moscow forces.
Firstly, return to Orange political instability and chaos. Nearly all presidential candidates are saying and acting as though they believe Ukraine is a presidential system; but it is not. Similarly, voters blame the president for everything rather than the government. Tymoshenko has said she will resign after 100 days (that is by the end of July) if she as president had not been successful in fighting oligarchs. But, how with only 20 deputies would she be able to do anything in the transition period between the presidential and parliamentary elections? Batkivshchina are not members of the parliamentary coalition and in opposition to the government which would continue to remain until the autumn.
Ukraine’s hybrid parliamentary system requires co-habitation between the president and a parliamentary coalition which creates a government. Of the leading candidates only Petro Poroshenko has a sizeable parliamentary force which together with Arseniy Yatseniuk’s NF have 210 deputies; Yulia Tymoshenko, Oleh Lyashko and Andriy Sadovyy have only 20 or so deputies each and the OppBloc 38. Grytsenko, Zelenskyj (and Vakarchuk if he had stood) never had parliamentary forces.
The parliamentary constitution has existed twice after the Orange and Euromaidan Revolutions but with very different results. Orange Ukraine was marred by political instability, chaos and public squabbling between President Viktor Yushchenko and Tymoshenko and Yanukovych and backroom deals between Tymoshenko and Yanukovych. Five years were wasted with no progress on reforms or fighting corruption anda lost opportunity to join a NATO MAP and ending in counter-revolution.
Since 2014 there has been political stability (despite Russian military aggression) and good relations between the president-parliament-government. This has provided the foundation for the most productive period of reforms and progress in European integration since 1991.
The leading candidate is Tymoshenko and therefore she could be president. As we know from the personalities of all populists (for example, US President Trump!) and Tymoshenko’s own personality it is very difficult to work with them. Would Tymoshenko for example seek compromise with parliament or dictate demands? Would she work with a prime minister not from Batkivshchina?
A return to Orange instability and chaos would open the way for Russian intervention into Ukrainian affairs – as in 2010.
Secondly, Ukraine fatigue in the EU and IMF. Batkivshchina and Tymoshenko have provided weak support for reforms in the last five years. Batkivshchina are ranked by Vox Ukraine as the lowest supporters of reforms of the five ostensible “pro-European” factions. Tymoshenko is herself ranked a low 330 out of 423 deputies for her poor voting for reforms. In addition, Tymoshenko has espoused radical populist rhetoric attacking the IMF similar to that coming from the Radical Party and OppBloc.
Based on the last five years, a Tymoshenko presidency would not therefore guarantee the continuation of Ukraine’s reforms and thereby of European integration. Tymoshenko has threatened to tear up IMF deals which in turn would undermine Ukraine’s relations with the EU and European governments. A weakening of Ukraine’s relations with Europe will open the door to a return to unclear multi-vector foreign policies that Russia and pro-Russian forces will use to their advantage.
This would lead to a revival of the Ukraine fatigue that arose in the second half of Yushchenko’s presidency coupled with the stagnation of relations with the EU.
Thirdly, negotiation of a bad “peace deal” with Russia. Nearly a third of Ukrainian voters do not trust Tymoshenko on Russian questions because of her refusal to condemn Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia and unwillingness to explain her bad gas deal in 2009. In the elections nearly all of the candidates play on anti-war populism without anybody providing any concrete details of their “peace plans.”
Typically, Tymoshenko’s “peace plan” is one of the vaguest and her Budapest-Plus proposal was not received positively in Washington. In particular, the Trump administration does not support her ill thought out proposal to include China in peace negotiations as the US is confronting China on a range of issues. In the UN, China votes with Russia or abstains when there are votes on Ukraine.
A bad “peace deal” with Russia would lead to political and even violent instability by veterans (who like soldiers don’t trust Tymoshenko) and nationalists – similar to the riots in autumn 2015 next to parliament. Such confusion and instability would be used by Russia to interfere in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Fourthly, US-Ukraine strategic partnership. This partnership is central to Ukrainian national security and has stabilised and expanded under President Poroshenko with the range of areas that the US and Ukraine now cooperate in growing since 2014. The US is sending and selling weapons to Ukraine and together with other countries expanding training and technical assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces.
If relations with the EU and NATO begin to stagnate under the next Ukrainian president this would undermine all of the work that has gone into the US-Ukraine strategic partnership. A weakening in Ukraine’s US vector will create a security vacuum that Russia will exploit to its advantage.
The main threats to Ukraine’s continued success in European integration and de-Russianisation lie in the country’s domestic affairs. Russian soft power hand pro-Russian political forces have been marginalised. Nevertheless, Russia would be given the opportunity to intervene in Ukrainian internal aff