The end of 2016 was marked by a series of tendencies suggesting that the post-Maidan political cycle in Ukraine is ending. First, “a team of European professionals” in the government is “softly” isolating Ukraine from the West. With such limited subjectivity, Ukraine’s domestic policy is very sensitive to changes in the foreign environment, which may hurt Kiev’s regime painfully.
In 2017, the system of relations of Western capital cities and the Kiev authorities will be changed. The reason is evident i.e. Donald Trump’s Administration takes office and the power in the key countries in Europe has been changed. The negotiation format on Ukraine crisis will undergo certain changes – presence of Trump and François Fillon/Marine Le Pen (favorites to win power in France) will narrow the area for Petro Poroshenko to make domestic and foreign policy decisions. Another agent that may change the West’s attitude towards Ukraine’s authorities is investigation based on “Onishenko’s tapes” – publication of a new series of tapes is anticipated after Trump’s inauguration.
Kiev continues falling into the same diplomatic trap – Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry and Security Service have already urged declaring Marine Le Pen as persona non-grata in Ukraine for her statements concerning the legality of changing Crimea’s jurisdiction. To recall, earlier Ukraine’s establishment that hoped for victory of Hillary Clinton wedged themselves in the U.S. election process by legalizing the anti-Trump infomercial blaming Paul Manafort (Trump’s campaign chairman who had to resign) for taking money from the so-called “black cash” of the Party of Regions.
The fate of the Ukraine-EU Association Agreement remains uncertain. Although at the EU Summit in December, the AA underwent a series of amendments extremely unpleasant for Kiev (rejection of EU membership, restricted access to the EU funds, no military guarantees), the Dutch Parliament has not ratified it yet. Parliamentary elections in the Netherlands are scheduled for March and political forces skeptical about Ukraine (Freedom Party, Socialist Party) may come to power there and then fail ratification of the AA. This will undermine the ideological framework of the regime’s legitimacy in Ukraine.
Kiev should be ready for unfavorable verdicts of international courts. A ruling on the Russian loan of $3 billion, which Ukraine took at the end of 2013 (in 2015, the IMF Board of Directors recognized the official status of the loan), is anticipated in London as early as this month. In the first half of the year, the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce is to make a verdict on the dispute between Gazprom and Naftogaz of Ukraine (the sides claim $30-$35 billion each on the gas deals of 2009).
It is noteworthy that by the end of 2016 European courts made heavy verdicts for Ukraine. Particularly, the Court of Appeal of Paris compelled it to pay $112 million to Tatneft, one of Russia’s largest oil companies, and The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce ruled $250 million in favor of Dmytro Firtash (a Ukrainian oligarch under home arrest in Vienna).
The way things are going Ukraine may face bankruptcy, though Ukraine is a bankrupt anyway. It is managed by a fully corrupt political elite comprising pathological kleptomaniacs.
Danger is threatening the Kiev regime. In 2017, one of Kiev’s major fears may come true i.e. West’s support may be reduced to symbolical minimum and the sanctions against Russia may be softened. Poroshenko & Co. feel uncertain also because Big Powers may try to settle Ukraine’s crisis without participation of Ukraine’s authorities. In particular, Germany’s Bild newspaper says Henry Kissinger, the patriarch of Western diplomacy, may moderate the Russia-U.S. relations offering them a plan to settle the Ukrainian crisis.
2016 saw a real boom of political party building. Own political projects were established by Valentin Nalyvaychenko, the former head of Ukraine’s Security service, Mikheil Saakashvili, the ex-governor of Odessa region, Andrei Byletsky, an ultranationalist (National Corpus Party was established based on the notorious Azov). Nadezhda Savchenko represented RUNA civic platform, Yevgeny Murayev and Vadim Rabinovich, parliamentarians that left the Opposition Bloc, established For Life Party.
The above political forces coupled with growing popularity of Yulia Timoshenko’s Batkivshchyna Party and Opposition Bloc will be undermining the current fragile political balance to trigger snap parliamentary elections and, perhaps, even presidential one. They may take various measures to that end, for instance, block the parliament, incite protests, series of power changes at local councils, discredit the government on Western platforms etc.
An acute political crisis may break out in April when the yearlong immunity of Volodymyr Groysman’s government will expire (Groysman is Poroshenko’s closest ally). Then the political fight will intensify (since 2013 that fight in Ukraine has gone too far). Finally, spring is a traditional period of tensions both political and psychological ones. Suffice it to recall that coups in Moldova (2009) and Kyrgyzstan (2010) happened in April.
Actually, both external and internal actors seek power change in 2017. Realizing that the authorities take preventive measures to secure their parliamentary campaigns. First, a criminal case has been initiated against Mykhailo Okhendovsky, the head of Central Election Commission, though the Court has not deprived him of his post. Second, Poroshenko’s Administration has intensified political party building, creating such spoilers as Our Land, Agrarian Party, Revival parties. Strange as it is, in case of snap elections to the Supreme Rada, Poroshenko may get much more support in the parliament where the above political forces will come to replace “frenemies” from the People’s Front that has lost its voters but is still very influential (Avakov, Turchinov, Parubiy).
It is clear that between the key actors in the political field in Ukraine there are neither class nor ideological differences. That is why snap elections that will help the government defuse social discontent will change just masks of the corrupt authorities. With every election iteration, the political system will be rehabilitating, though insignificantly, since the most radical forces that emerged on the wave of the Maidan (captains, battalion commanders and other “activists”) will be ousted from the parliament. In general, 2017 will see a new political cycle with reshuffling of the key positions in Kiev.
Denis Gayevsky (Kiev) for EADaily