snapshots

Ukraine: Elections Could Raise Tensions With Russia

3 MINS READJul 19, 2019 | 18:32 GMT
The Big Picture

Ukraine's parliamentary elections on July 21 are likely to solidify new President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's power base in the Ukrainian legislature, consolidating the first major political shift in the country since the Euromaidan uprising in 2014. However, Zelenskiy's efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine will remain elusive as tensions between Kiev and Moscow are only likely to grow.

What Happened 

First Ukraine's comedian-turned-politician captured the presidency; now he's getting ready to grab a sizable hold of the Ukrainian parliament. In the last poll taken ahead of the country's July 21 parliamentary elections, recently elected President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party leads with 49.5 percent support. The number puts his party well ahead of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform — For Life party at 10.5 percent, former President Petro Poroshenko's European Solidarity at 7.7 percent, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's Batkivshchyna at 6.9 percent and singer Svyatoslav Vakarchuk's Golos (Voice) at 5.9 percent.

Why It Matters 

The election looks all but certain to allow Zelenskiy, who won the presidency in April, to consolidate his power in parliament. At present, Servant of the People doesn't have any representation in parliament (it only came into being just before the presidential elections), which Poroshenko's European Solidarity party has led for the past five years. Thus, barring a major upset, the July 21 elections will complete the first power shift since the 2014 Euromaidan uprising, which catapulted Poroshenko to power — and triggered a broader standoff between Russia and the West.

The election is likely to give Zelenskiy a strong mandate to tackle his key initiatives, which include pushing through anti-corruption measures at home and ending the conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine. The latter, however, will prove much more challenging than the former, as tensions with Russia have risen in recent months. Russian President Vladimir Putin, for instance, signed a decree on April 24 — just after Zelenskiy's presidential victory — making it easier for residents of the separatist areas of Donetsk and Luhansk to obtain Russian passports and citizenship. On July 17, Moscow expanded the offer to all residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, including those under the control of the government in Kiev.

The passport issue is likely to increase the bad blood between Kiev and Moscow after the elections.

These moves by Moscow fit into Russia's hybrid strategy to undermine the pro-Western government in Ukraine, facilitate connections to Russia and give a boost to the Opposition Platform ahead of the July 21 vote. Responding to Putin's decree, Zelenskiy called on July 18 for a simplification of the procedure to grant Ukrainian citizenship "to people who suffer from violations of rights and freedoms in their countries" — which would certainly include ethnic Ukrainians in Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. The issue is likely to increase the bad blood between Kiev and Moscow after the elections.

Background

Zelenskiy defeated Poroshenko in an April 20 runoff with 73 percent of the vote. Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for Oct. 27, but Zelenskiy dissolved the legislature following his landslide victory, prompting electoral authorities to move the polls up to July.

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