One year in Ukraine

by Mathieu BOULEGUE on 11/28/2014

Exactly one year after the beginning of EuroMaidan, Ukraine is more than ever at a crossroads and the latest events will remain in national history as a cornerstone of the seemingly “new” Ukraine that arose from the Revolution and came out of the latest parliamentary elections. One year after, where does Ukraine exactly stand?


A coalition-based Rada

The new Rada (Parliament) and the subsequent political equilibrium entirely depends on the coalition between the 5 main pro-EU parties entering the Parliament. As such, President Petro Poroshenko and his Bloc proposed the day after the October 16 elections a draft coalition agreement to the “democratic forces” – understand the People’s Front, Samopomich, the BuYT, and the Radical party – and formed on a proportional basis. As a reminder of an expected but worrisome rivalry, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk presented his own draft agreement for the creation of a coalition, inviting the BoP to join in as well as the 3 other pro-EU parties. In order to defuse the tension, Poroshenko proposed that Yatseniuk remained Prime Minister, on the condition that he accepted the BoP’s coalition agreement. Discussions were complex but finally came through when both leaders agreed to each other’s political terms.

The coalition formation agreement was officially signed on November 21 between the 5 pro-UE factions, with the help of several independent MPs, managed to salvage 302 seats when the new Rada convened on November 27. This allows the European coalition to obtain just above the constitutional majority of 300 MPs. Genuine reforms will therefore be made possible, at least on paper. The new Rada consequently looks something like this:

rada 2014

One thing is clear: the Rada will never be the same and is now divided between the bulk of pro-EU, pro-reform parties pitted against a radical anti-reformists formation inherited from the PRU and Communists turned independents. Furthermore, during the first Rada session on November 27, Yatseniuk was reelected as Prime Minister and former Deputy Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman was elected Parliament Speaker. Negotiations on the formation of the new Cabinet of Ministers have also followed.


Donbass votes too

In parallel to the parliamentary elections, the Donbass region organized its own presidential and parliamentary elections on November 2. Without much surprise, incumbent Aleksandr Zakharchenko with the Donetsk Republic party was elected as leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic with 79 percent of the votes. His party gathered 68 percent of the votes at the regional Parliament, ensuring a strong majority. Incumbent Igor Plotnitsky, with the Peace for Lugansk Region party, won 63 percent of the ballots and was consequently elected head of Lugansk People’s Republic. His party also obtained the majority in the regional legislature. Despite calls from the international community to the contrary, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Moscow would “of course recognize the results”.

Denouncing a “farce at gunpoint”, President Poroshenko requested the abolishing of the special-status law agreed upon with separatist authorities under the September ceasefire agreement. The law granted a three-year limited self-rule for the Donbass region. Kyiv will now resume the creation of a buffer zone with the East and control militant activities at the border, therefore enforcing even more the Minsk protocol. The situation in the Donbass today remains a fait accompli for Russia, who will now have to deal with calls from both People’s Republics to reattach their territories to the Russian Federation. So much for a short-lived independence.


Troop movements in Donbass

The security situation in Eastern Ukraine worsened in early November when several sources confirmed that an important number of “unmarked” military vehicles and combat units were spotted moving to Donetsk and its surroundings from the Russian border with Ukraine. Moscow denied any involvement in the matter but Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak feared rebel forces were redeploying in preparation for a “possible offensive by pro-Russian separatists”. More than a genuine military build-up or the preparation for a new offensive, the latest troop movements can be understood, tactically speaking, as the opening of a phase of “state building” – namely territorial rationalization and border control – ahead of winter and the inevitable freeze of the conflict.

In this, separatists concentrate on the territorial positions they already hold while gathering up strength and solidifying their positions on strategic points on the front line. Small, local, territorial gains will allow separatists to get through winter in the best conditions possible – for instance by pushing towards the Shchastya power plant near Lugansk or stabilizing the situation at the Donetsk airport. Even though this still holds a huge potential for destabilization with the Ukrainian armed forces, the latest events are nothing more than the strengthening of what increasingly looks like a war of position. Moving across the front line to Eastern Ukraine will consequently become more difficult. Strategically speaking, fomenting increased instability in Eastern Ukraine can also be interpreted as a punitive reaction by the Kremlin against the revocation by Kyiv of the special status law for Eastern Ukraine and the troop reinforcements sent on the ATO border area. In this, Russia coercively tries to talk Kyiv into recognizing both the November 2 elections in Donbass and the “official” DPR and LPR authorities.

Separatist leaders subsequently called for the creation of a “new status” in the Donbass region in the context of the Minsk ceasefire agreements, thereby seeking to discuss bilaterally on an equal basis with Kyiv authorities – and therefore push for de facto recognition. As a reminder, separatists have already been present at the official negotiating table since the beginning of the Minsk process last June. Moscow further proposed to informally invite DPR and LPR representatives to the UN Security Council for discussions. A request to which Kyiv responded by arguing that there was “no point in holding new peace talks with separatists” until the ceasefire was genuinely respected. The unilateral demarcation of the border between territorial Ukraine and Russia will also become a new point of disagreement, and increased destabilization, between the belligerents.

In the meantime, the Anti-Terrorist Operations (ATO) led since June by the Ukrainian army have led nowhere and are now deeply bogged. Yet Kyiv acknowledging the complete failure of the ceasefire – which is in reality the case – is made impossible by the fact that President Poroshenko was elected partly due to his strong position on the all-out, all or nothing, ATO operations. Caving in right now would be his first political failure and a major one at that.

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This post was written by...

– author of 16 posts on 17_PersonNotFound.

A Sciences Po and King’s College London alumnus, Mathieu Boulègue is an analyst in the field of Russia/CIS security and geostrategic issues. He currently works as a project manager for a risk management consulting firm. He is also a founding member of Sogdiane, a strategic think-tank on Eurasian affairs.

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