Ukraine politics

When it comes to containing Vladimir Putin’s aggressive posture in Eastern Europe, the conventional wisdom advises strengthening NATO, diversifying Europe’s energy sources, and combating the Kremlin’s propaganda.

There is nothing wrong with any of these recommendations. Yet few things would be as effective in weakening Mr Putin as positive examples of countries in Russia’s immediate neighborhood that have liberated themselves from the shackles of domestic oligarchy and the Kremlin’s influence, and become a success story.

At the moment, only one country has the potential to do that: Ukraine. That is why its economic and political success is not just a matter of a “far-away country” and “people of whom we know nothing,” as Neville Chamberlain used to say about Czechoslovakia. Instead, Ukraine’s success is in the West’s immediate interest. Read more

Last month’s release of Ukrainian air force pilot Nadia Savchenko after 709 days in illegal Russian captivity came on the same day a group of us were returning from the front line of Ukraine’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) to Kiev. During the longer than usual train journey we compared notes about why Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken this step, what he hoped to achieve and how Savchenko would impact upon Ukrainian domestic politics.

Putin was not showing mercy. The day after Savchenko was released, a Russian court sentenced Ukrainians Mykola Karpyuk and Stanislav Klykhto to 22 and a half and 20 years respectively on bogus charges of fighting alongside Chechen separatists. And this by a country that has been arming separatists in eastern Ukraine for three years. Another 28 Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar political prisoners are incarcerated in Russian jails.

Instead, Putin had two goals in releasing Savchenko. Read more

The collapse of Ukraine’s governing coalition could not have been better timed, in what was a week of theatre led by President Petro Poroshenko.

Samopomych (Self Reliance), the ruling coalition’s most pro-reform faction, with Andriy Sadovyy, mayor of Lviv, at its centre, withdrew from the government on February 18, exactly two years after the massacre of the Euromaidan’s unarmed protesters. Read more

By Alex Clackson, Global Political Insight

The peace agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, last week regarding eastern Ukraine is undoubtedly welcome. Though fragile, the ceasefire provides some longed-for relief for the population of Donbass. A moment of relative tranquility on its territory is certainly something Ukraine needed desperately for two main reasons. The conflict was a huge drain on the Ukrainian economy. The currency is collapsing and inflation is growing rapidly. Secondly, President Petro Poroshenko’s popularity is diminishing.

According to a survey conducted by Kiev-based R&B Group, Poroshenko’s approval rating has fallen below 50 per cent for the first time. But despite the ceasefire, the Ukrainian leader will be left less satisfied with the final agreement than his Russian counterpart, President Vladimir Putin. Read more

Fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev’s military units in south-eastern Ukraine has inflicted a painful blow upon Ukraine’s steel industry, which contributed about 15 per cent of economic output in the pre-crisis period.

Many factories in the Donbas, the industrial heartland of the country, have been closed or have been running with diminished production capacity. China’s aggressive export policy and Russia’s measures to defend its steel producers have exacerbated the disappointment for Ukraine’s steelmakers. Read more

Two foreign-born investment fund managers and a reform-minded former official from the Caucasus republic of Georgia were on Tuesday appointed to top ministerial posts in Ukraine’s newly-formed, pro-EU integration coalition government.

The three “foreigners” were swiftly granted Ukrainian citizenship on Tuesday hours before being approved as ministers by lawmakers.

Their unorthodox appointment is seen as a desperate attempt by the war-torn and recession-battered country to jumpstart reforms, crack corruption and avert default by unlocking billions of dollars in bailout funds from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Read more

By Mohammad Zahoor of Istil Group and the Kyiv Post

I have been investing and doing business in Ukraine since its independence in 1991. I first arrived, aged 19, from Karachi on a scholarship to study metallurgy at Donetsk Technical University and after the break up of the Soviet Union stayed on and eventually invested $150m in Istil Ukraine, creating the most technically advanced steel facility in the CIS. I left the steel business in 2008, and today Istil Group is a Ukrainian conglomerate operating in many areas including real estate, media, manufacturing and coal enrichment.

Now, like many entrepreneurs in Ukraine I find myself depressed by the conflict, which potentially will cut GDP by 7 per cent this year and continues to cost lives every day. However, as an entrepreneur I am also excited by the investment opportunities in Ukraine. But for these opportunities to be fully realised it is essential that the pro-western parties who dominated last week’s parliamentary elections address the long-running issue of corruption. Read more

Ukraine’s new parliament will be pro-western, according to the preliminary results of Sunday’s vote. But those results also show that the Kiev-controlled eastern regions of the country supported parties that strongly oppose president Petro Poroshenko and his likely allies in a ruling coalition. Authorities in Kiev will have their work cut out to build bridges with local elites and the general population in the east of the country. Read more

The results of Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Ukraine give president Petro Poroshenko and the potential members of a future pro-Western ruling coalition a rare chance to start economic reforms and launch an effective fight against corruption. However, some experts are not concealing their incredulity.

Last week, Poroshenko signed a package of anti-corruption bills which had been approved earlier this month by the old parliament. These documents include, in particular, a law on a new bureau to investigate corruption among Ukraine’s elites. One of the first goals of the new parliament is to approve financing for the newly-created body. Read more

By Taras Kuzio, University of Alberta

Ukraine’s political map was recast on Sunday as the country elected its first pro-European parliament. The new political geography took shape after support for pro-Russian parties was decimated following the kleptocracy of ex-President Viktor Yanukovich and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military incursions.

The pro-EU political forces that won 63 per cent of seats in parliament were those of President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk, Lviv Mayor Andriy Sadovyy and Yulia Timoshenko’s Fatherland party. There is little doubt that Yatseniuk will remain head of government after his hastily created new Popular Front received only two per cent less than the Poroshenko bloc. Read more

By Taras Kuzio of the University of Alberta

Ukraine’s pre-term parliamentary election on October 26 will elect a new parliament that will be undoubtedly pro-European but the jury is still out if it will lead to long overdue reforms and a strong fight against corruption. Three factors will influence the election results. Read more

By Taras Kuzio of the University of Alberta

Ukraine is set to hold its sixth presidential election on Sunday with chocolate magnate Petro Poroshenko riding high ahead of his two rivals: Yulia Timoshenko, a former prime minister and a political prisoner under the recently deposed regime; and Serhiy Tihipko, a defector from the regime’s ruling Party of Regions. In presidential elections held four years ago Timoshenko and Tihipko came second and third, respectively. Read more

While the government in Kiev tries in vain to pacify the pro-Russian military uprising in the eastern regions of Ukraine, new challenges are arising in the far west of the country. The 150,000-strong Hungarian minority of Transcarpathia region is demanding more rights – including greater autonomy and dual citizenship – and Budapest is supporting them against Kiev.

On Friday, Viktor Orban, the Hungarian prime minister, said that ethnic Hungarians in neighbouring Ukraine should be given political autonomy. “Ukraine can be neither stable nor democratic if it does not give its minorities, including Hungarians, their due. That is, dual citizenship, collective rights and autonomy,” Orban said. Read more

Welcome to Ukraine. You’re running a rickety business, mainly cash-in-hand, that has a big gas bill and is losing money. Your shady Uncle Vlad says he will give you cheaper gas, lend you money on suspiciously favourable terms, and perhaps see his way to giving your workers an extra something in their pay packets. In return, all you have to do is back him up in family disputes in perpetuity. Meanwhile Christine, your steely-eyed bank manager, wants you to turn down the thermostat in your offices, lay off half your staff and stop fiddling the books.

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Ievgen Vorobiov, Polish Institute of International Affairs.

The four hour Q&A session of Vladimir Putin televised on April 17 was dominated by his vision for Ukraine. He cheerfully accepted congratulations on the “victory” in Crimea from a political opponent and benevolently corrected “hawkish” appeals of an ardent supporter. But the informal talk with Russian citizens, in my view, sent a direct message to the West: you either accept the way we deal with Ukraine or watch us wreak a much bigger havoc in the country. To make that message more palatable to the West, Putin alluded to Moscow’s involvement in the region as showing a “responsibility to protect”. Read more

A wave of patriotism is sweeping Russia following the annexation of Crimea. But will the euphoria last long enough to have Russians invest in the Black Sea peninsula and support the local economy by holidaying there? Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s prime minister, chaired a government meeting on Monday to discuss how to make Crimea a going concern.

It sounds like a daunting task. The Kremlin took a huge risk when it redrew the map of Ukraine last week and took possession of Crimea. Western powers have condemned the move as a land grab and are threatening Russia with painful sanctions and decades of international isolation. Read more

Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest oligarch, claimed to the Financial Times on Monday that he pleaded with Viktor Yanukovich to resign when he last saw him on February 22, two days after nearly 100 anti-government protestors in Kiev were killed amid sniper fire and clashes with riot police. Read more

The authorities in Kiev are not only in danger of losing control of the political and military situation in the Crimea; they may also lose the major state-owned companies based on the peninsula.

On Wednesday, Rustam Temirgaliyev, Crimean first deputy prime minister, told Interfax that the Crimean authorities were planning to take over state-owned giant, Chornomornaftogaz, which implements offshore oil and gas projects in the Black Sea and Azov Sea, “in the near future”. Read more

By Christopher Granville, Director of Russia Research, Trusted Sources

For investors exposed to Russia and the wider market fall-out from Russia’s military move in the Crimea, it may be helpful to recall the lessons of a previous shock that threatened to undermine the investment case for Russia. The analogy I have in mind is the Yukos affair.

Then, as now, President Putin perceived a paramount interest that he decided to pursue regardless of the high costs to business and financial market confidence. Read more

Ukraine’s parliament appointed in a near unanimous vote on Thursday afternoon Arseniy Yatseniuk, one of the country’s youngest but most experienced politicians, as prime minister to address a swiftly unfolding separatist threat in the autonomous republic of Crimea and a crumbling economy.

Addressing lawmakers nearly a week after Viktor Yanukovich was toppled from the presidency, the 39-year old political ally of recently released opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko said: “Today our country finds itself in one of its most difficult and historical moments.” Read more