Russia Set to Gain Ground in Ukrainian Elections

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By Andrea Snyder

Russia will likely gain political ground in Ukraine regardless of the outcome of the upcoming 2019 Ukrainian Presidential and Parliamentary Elections scheduled respectively for March 31 and October 27. The majority of the leading presidential candidates are amenable in some degree to the Kremlin. Current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is the candidate most aligned with the West but his popular support has slipped due to his inability to deliver on key anti-corruption reforms as well as a sustained disinformation campaign by Russia. If Poroshenko wins the election, it will likely only be by a slim margin and his political bloc still stands to lose seats in the subsequent parliamentary elections. His opponents, by contrast, are populists willing to offer concessions to the Kremlin or politicians openly favorable towards Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia thus stands to advance its core strategic objectives in Ukraine – namely, reasserting political control over the Government of Ukraine and preventing its integration with the West. Russia must also extort or otherwise gain access to a supply of freshwater for the occupied Crimean Peninsula. Many of the presidential and parliamentary candidates are likely willing to support these types of concessions in exchange for limited economic or military deals with the Kremlin. Russia has deliberately cultivated these relationships with a wide range of politicians, shifting away from its prior tactics of investing in one major candidate or political party in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Western-oriented political reformists are active and still have a chance to make progress in the 2019 Ukrainian Parliamentary Election. The U.S. should engage with and support these reformists, who are facing pressures in advance of both elections, in order to counter Russia. Preserving reformers within the Government of Ukraine – particularly the Ukrainian Parliament – will be critical to Ukraine’s ability to withstand subversion by Russia and defend its pursuit of closer ties with the EU and NATO.

[1] [“Electoral Orientation of Ukraine’s Population: The Last Week of February 2019,”] Social Monitoring Center, March 4, 2019, https://smc.org(.)ua/news/elektoralni-oriyentatsiyi-naselennya-ukrayiny-ostannya-dekada-lyutogo-2019-roku/;

[“Monitoring Electoral Mood of Ukrainians: February 2019,”] Rating Group Ukraine, March 4, 2019, http://ratinggroup(.)ua/research/ukraine/monitoring_elektoralnyh_nastroeniy_ukraincev_fevral_2019.html; [“Electoral Orientations and Protest Structures of Ukrainians in the Active Phase of the Election Campaign,”] Institute for Analysis and Forecasting, March 4, 2019, http://www.iap.org(.)ua/?p=976; [“Electoral Orientation of Ukrainian Citizens (March 2019),”] Sofia Center for Social Studies, March 2019, https://www.sofia-sociology.com(.)ua/elektoralni-oriyentaciyi-lutij-2019; [“Public-Political Mood of the Population of Ukraine: February 2019, No. 2,”] Blue Dawn Monitoring, February 22, 2019, https://www.slideshare(.)net/UkrN/blue-dawn-monitoring-2019-2; [“Four Leaders of the Presidential Race Have Been Identified,”] Advanced Legal Initiatives, February 16, 2019, http://ppi.org(.)ua/news/khto_bude_u_drugomu_turi_zmagatisja_z_zelenskim/2019-02-18-345.

[2] [“Biography of Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, February 7, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=295&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: [“Official Portrait of Petro Poroshenko,”] Digital Image, March 15, 2014, Accessed on Presidency of Ukraine, https://www.president.gov(.)ua/photos/official-photos.

[3] “Ukraine’s Poroshenko: Billionaire Candy Man, Veteran Politician,” Voice of America, May 25, 2014, https://www.voanews.com/a/ukraines-poroshenko-billionaire-candy-man-veteran-politician/1922373.html.

[4] Agata Wierzbowska-Miazga and Tadeusz Olszanski, “Poroshenko, President of Ukraine,” Centre for Eastern Studies, May 28, 2014, https://www.osw.waw(.)pl/en/publikacje/analyses/2014-05-28/poroshenko-president-ukraine.

[5] [“Biography of Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 25, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=225&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: Thomas Barthelet, “Tymoshenko 2010,” Digital Image, November 17, 2009, Accessed on Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/tommybart2000/4308117555/.

[6] [“Biography of Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko,”] Civil Movement Chesno, February 25, 2019, https://www.chesno(.)org/politician/26674/.

[7] “Russia and Ukraine Agree Gas Deal,” The Guardian, January 18, 2009, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/18/russia-ukraine-gas-deal.

[8] Taras Kuzio, “Ukraine’s Populists Push Through Anti-IMF Yet Pro-EU Message,” Kyiv Post, November 8, 2018, https://www.kyivpost.com/article/opinion/op-ed/taras-kuzio-ukraines-populists-push-through-their-contradictory-anti-imf-yet-pro-eu-message.html.

[9] [“Election Program of Yulia Volodymyrivna Tymoshenko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, February 25, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP009?PT021F01=225&PT001F01=719.

[10] Ariana Gic, “Yulia Tymoshenko is a Threat to Pro-EU Reforms in Ukraine,” Emerging Europe, February 1, 2019, https://emerging-europe.com/voices/yulia-tymoshenko-is-a-threat-to-pro-eu-reforms-in-ukraine/.

[11] [“Biography of Volodymyr Olekcandrovich Zelensky,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 30, 2019. http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=233&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: Kvartal95 Official, [“Volodymyr Zelensky 2018,”] Digital Image, July 24, 2016, Accessed on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%92%D0%BB%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BC%D0%B8%D1%80_%D0%97%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BD%D1%81%D0%BA%D0%B8%D0%B9_2018_(1).jpg.

[12] [“Zelensky Announced His Decision to Go to the Presidency (Video),”] UNIAN, January 1, 2019, https://www.unian(.)ua/elections/10396374-zelenskiy-zayaviv-pro-rishennya-yti-u-prezidenti-video.html.

[13] Mykola Vorobiov, “Oligarchs and Their Media Outlets Influence Ukrainian Presidential Elections,” Eurasia Daily Monitor Vol. 16, No. 19 (February 2019), https://jamestown.org/program/oligarchs-and-their-media-outlets-influence-ukrainian-presidential-elections/; “Rule by Oligarchs: Kiev Appoints Billionaires to Govern East,” Russia Today, March 4, 2014, https://www.rt(.)com/news/ukraine-oligarch-rule-governors-512/.

Bermet Talant, “Kolomoisky Rails Against Ukraine and Poroshenko,” Kyiv Post, November 23, 2018, https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/kolomoisky-rails-against-ukraine-and-poroshenko.html.

[14] [“Election Program of Volodymyr Olekcandrovich Zelensky,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, February 27, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP009?PT021F01=233&PT001F01=719.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Konstantin Skorkin, “How a Comedian Will Change Ukraine’s Election,” Carnegie Moscow Center, January 1, 2019, https://carnegie(.)ru/commentary/78218.

[18] [“Biography of Yuriy Anatolievich Boyko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 22, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=216&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: Vadim Chuprina, “Boiko Yurii Wiki,” Digital Image January 29, 2019, Accessed on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boiko_Yurii_Wiki_Vadim_Chuprina.jpg.

[20] Shaun Walker, “Ukrainian Businessman Dmytro Firtash Arrested After Extradition Ruling,” The Guardian, February 21, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/feb/21/austria-grants-us-request-to-extradite-ukrainian-mogul-dmytro-firtash; Vorobiov, “Oligarchs and Their Media Outlets,” https://jamestown.org/program/oligarchs-and-their-media-outlets-influence-ukrainian-presidential-elections/.

[22] [“Election Program of Yuriy Anatolievich Boyko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, February 27, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP009?PT021F01=216&PT001F01=719.

[23] Roman Kravets [“Odd-Man-Out: Why Lyovochkin and Medvedchuk Are Preparing for the Election Without Akhmetov,”] Pravda, November 20, 2018, https://www.pravda.com(.)ua/articles/2018/11/20/7198714/; [“Leader of the Ukrainian Party ‘Nashi’ Withdrew His Candidacy from the Elections,”] Radio Svoboda, March 7, 2019, https://www.svoboda(.)org/a/29809132.html.

[24] [“Biography of Oleksandr Yuriyovych Vilkul,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 25, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=224&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: Catrifle, [“Oleksandr Yuriyovych Vilkul 2017,”] Digital Image, January 31, 2018, Accessed on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%90%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%81%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B4%D1%80_%D0%AE%D1%80%D1%8C%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87_%D0%92%D0%B8%D0%BB%D0%BA%D1%83%D0%BB_2017%D0%B3.jpg.

[26] [“Leader of the Ukrainian Party ‘Nashi’ Withdrew His Candidacy from the Elections,”] https://www.svoboda(.)org/a/29809132.html.

[27] [“Biography of Oleh Valerievich Lyashko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 25, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=220&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: Vadim Chuprina, [“Lyashko, Oleg Valerievich,”] Digital Image, November 9, 2015, Accessed on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%D0%9B%D1%8F%D1%88%D0%BA%D0%BE,_%D0%9E%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%B3_%D0%92%D0%B0%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%80%D1%8C%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87_0076_%D0%A7%D1%83%D0%BF%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%BD%D0%B0_%D0%92%D0%B0%D0%B4%D0%B8%D0%BC_%D0%90_(cropped).jpg.

[28] [“Biography of Oleh Valerievich Lyashko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 25, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=220&PT001F01=719.

[29] Oleksiy Bratuschak, [“Lyashko Becomes a Mascot of Akhmetov,”] Pravda, May 9, 2018, https://blogs.pravda.com(.)ua/authors/bratushchak/5af3507e21111/.

[30] Andrew Wilson, “Ukrainian Elections: Poroshenko and Proliferating Populists,” European Council on Foreign Relations, May 23, 2018, https://www.ecfr(.)eu/article/commentary_ukrainian_elections_poroshenko_and_proliferating_populists.

[31] “Europe Is Divided by a Line of Blood,” EU Today, October 13, 2017, https://eutoday(.)net/news/politics/2017/europe-is-divided-by-a-line-of-blood.

[32] “‘There Will Be No EU in 5 Years, Only Ukraine’ – Radical Party MP,” Russia Today, March 4, 2016, https://www.rt(.)com/news/334573-lyashko-eu-schengen-dissolution/; Volodymyr Yermolenko, “Ukraine’s New Populists: Who They Are and Why They’re Dangerous,” Atlantic Council, May 17, 2018, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/ukraine-s-new-populists-who-they-are-and-why-they-re-dangerous.

[33] [“Biography of Anatoliy Stepanovich Hrytsenko,”] Ukrainian Central Election Commission, January 15, 2019, http://www.cvk.gov(.)ua/pls/vp2019/WP005?PT021F01=208&PT001F01=719; Photo Credit: Antje Wildgrube, “42nd Munich Security Conference 2006: Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Minister of Defense, Ukraine,” Digital Image, February 4, 2006, Accessed on Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Msc_2006-Saturday,_16.00_-_18.00-Grytsenko.jpg.