What makes 2018 special for Ukraine is the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2019. In fact, the ruling elite have nothing to do but retain their grip on power.
2018 is a pre-election year and the Kiev “elites” will be pursuing one tactics - concentration of resources. The set of pre-election measures will include full control of mass media, accumulation of financial flows for the future campaign, creation of “technical” political projects and pressing of political rivals. Therefore, “the crackdown” process is very likely to intensify in 2018.
Petro Poroshenko’s promises of “new life” have not brought any real changes in pre-election social and political processes and even contributed to all kind of destructive trends in the Ukrainian political culture. In short, in 2018, the people will witness a rise of populism, a huge flow of a priori unfeasible promises, propaganda of “successful” threadbare reforms, extremely intensified fight for the shrinking (despite alleged economic growth) “pork barrel,” as well as other phenomena characteristic of pre-election period in Ukraine.
As to the resources needed to restore the sliding approval ratings of policy makers, it will not be easy to raise enough money to favor the key voters represented by pensioners, employees of government-run enterprises, the law-enforcement and security services. Further foreign financing depends on whether the ruling power will implement a set of requirements extremely unfavorable to it (anti-corruption court, rotation of CEC staff, cancellation of the moratorium on the export of round timber, opening of the agricultural lands market for private investors, another rise of gas rate).
Besides, in 2018, anti-social reforms in the healthcare, pension, judicial, education sectors hastily approved by the Supreme Rada will bring their first and extremely dire fruits. The government’s mere pittances to the above sections of the population have been rapidly spent with a new wave of price hikes, devaluation of the national currency, and consequently, inflation.
Besides, in 2018, Kiev will have to spend one-third of the budget revenues to redeem foreign and domestic (less critical) debts – over $10 billion. This amount does not include the payments in favor of Russia: $3 billion on Eurobonds dated December 2013 (the Supreme Court of the UK will make the final ruling on this debt by late January) and potential several billions in favor of Gazprom based on the ruling of the Stockholm Arbitration Tribunal (it is anticipated that the amount will be specified in March).
With no bread and circus in Ukraine everything is going to be alright. Firstly, as elections approach, the radical wing of the Kiev government will be pushing through new initiatives to distort historical memory of the people and break social and cultural ties with Russia. Among others, ultra-national ideology will not let Ukraine normalize the relations with its neighbor EU-countries, Hungary and Poland, in 2018.
Secondly, protests led by Mikheil Saakashvili are likely to resume soon. Although, last year’s protests became the key newsmaker of that period, they proved inefficient and no demands of the protesters were implemented. Despite this, the former president of Georgia deserves the title of the chief buffoon in the Ukrainian circus in 2017.
Thirdly, the spectacular but extremely inefficient “fight against corruption” will be continued as well. There will be enough unmasking, scandals, and allegations in 2018. In fact, no one fights corruption in Ukraine. Everyone just manages it for their own interests. Considering that Western forces taught Ukrainian elites corrupt schemes, their current anti-corruption requirements seem at least odd.
Fourthly, the so-called anti-corruption measures have resulted in de-oligarchization. Ihor Kolomoisky’s assets in many countries were arrested in December by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (at least for the period of hearing the claim of the earlier nationalized PrivatBank). In January, Rinat Ahmetov’s funds in the amount of $820 million were “frozen” in Cyprus. The issue of oligarch Dmytro Firtash’s possible extradition from Austria to U.S. is still pending. From all appearances, this year, the collective West will take even more efforts towards de-oligarchization in Ukraine. The people may rejoice, but the big capitals confiscated from the local tycoons will not be returned to the state budget.
As to the conflict in Donbass, the status quo - “neither war, nor peace” situation - will not change there in 2018 either. Note that the National Bank of Ukraine speaks about 0.5 billion loss for Ukraine’s economy from the blockade of the uncontrolled region for the current year. Meantime, in January, the parliament will start discussing the Bill No.7163 “On state policy to ensure state sovereignty of Ukraine over temporarily occupied territories in Donetsk and Lugansk regions” (“On reintegration/de-occupation of Donbass”), where Russia is called an “aggressor-state” and Donbass - “an occupied territory.” If the bill is passed, Kiev will unilaterally leave the Minsk Process. Durable ceasefire and exchange of POWs is what may be achieved in Donbass at best.
In short, 2018 will be another year of survival for the people of Ukraine. However, 2019 is around the corner and things may change dramatically.
Denis Gayevsky, Kiev