Ukraine: Heading into elections in the context of war

Sergiy Gerasimchuk, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism"

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Russian aggression in the Sea of Azov, martial law in parts of Ukraine’s territory and international response to yet another escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian war are the major developments of November that shaped Ukraine’s domestic and foreign policies that month.

Domestic politics

Martial law and budget on time

The Parliament of Ukraine was especially active in November. It set a record by passing the 2019 Budget Law on the night of November 23, and voted for a number of government appointments, including Oksana Markarova as the new Minister of Finance, and Iryna Fryz to lead the newly-established Ministry of Veterans which will start functioning in June 2019. Having the new Minister of Finance without the “acting” part in the title and passing the budget both have political and financial repercussions. They are important for Ukraine’s cooperation with the IMF whose loans, as well as cooperation with other international financial institutions are of critical importance to Ukraine.

On November 22, MPs supported amendments to the Constitution, consolidating Ukraine’s EU and NATO aspirations. 311 MPs supported the bill, which is more than the majority necessary to amend the Constitution. At least 300 MPs will have to support the amendments in the final vote at the next session.

President Poroshenko focused on a series of steps in early November to ensure support of the tomos, the certificate of autocephaly for the Ukrainian Church. He signed the Cooperation and Interaction Treaty between Ukraine and the Ecumenical Patriarchate during his official visit to Turkey. Poroshenko noted that the treaty “creates all preconditions for bringing the preparation for the Council to unite Ukrainian Churches and the procedure of granting the tomos is in line with the canons of the Orthodox Church”. The President’s efforts to finally get autocephaly for the Ukrainian Orthodox Church during his term in office will give him an extra electoral bonus in the run-up to the presidential election in March.  

The difficult decision to impose martial law for 30 days in 10 oblasts of Ukraine from November 28 can be listed as the major challenge in the work of the President and the Parliament. It was triggered by yet another act of Russia’s aggression as Russian border guard assaulted and seized two small Ukrainian navy artillery boats and a tugboat on their way from Odesa to Mariupol. The vote on the martial law was followed by scheduling the presidential election to take place on March 31, 2019.

See more analysis of Russia’s aggression in the Sea of Azov and its consequences for Ukraine and international relations in this issue.


Accomplishments, plans and investment-oriented reforms

November was a relatively fruitful month for Ukraine’s economy. The country is scheduled to receive the next IMF tranche in December. Even the martial law in 10 oblasts starting from November 26 will not interfere with Ukraine’s cooperation with the IMF, according to a statement by Gosta Ljungman, IMF Resident Representative in Ukraine. The World Bank has announced including the provision of US $750 mln financial guarantee to Ukraine in the agenda of the upcoming Board of Directors meeting on December 18.  

The Parliament of Ukraine has passed the 2019 budget. Security and defence, education and health care reforms and decentralization are the priority items. GDP is expected to grow by 3%.  

In early November, Ukraine was criticized by Johannes Hahn, the European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner. During his visit to Kyiv he noted with regret that Ukraine has failed to fulfill the conditions of the Reform Contract for Investment and lost EUR40 mln out of EUR50 mln envisaged by it as a result.

Foreign policy

In focus of international agenda again

The official visit of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Ukraine on November 1 confirmed the irreversible support of Ukraine from Berlin. Chancellor Merkel stated in Kyiv that the pseudo-elections in the self-proclaimed “DNR” and “LNR” should have been cancelled, while Minsk Treaty should be complied with by the Russian Federation, among others. Otherwise, the EU will extend its sanctions imposed on Russia.

The end of November put Ukraine in the spotlight as a result of Russia’s aggressive actions in the Sea of Azov. The EU and NATO member-states called on Russia to restore freedom of navigation in the Kerch Strait and return the vessels it seized to Ukraine. An emergency UN Security Council meeting did not adopt the agenda “on the violation of the Russian border by Ukraine” proposed by Russia. Seven countries, including the US and the UK, voted it down. The US, the UK, France, Poland and Sweden speakers expressed concern over the fact that 23 Ukrainian sailors were in detention in Russia.  

Romania, Poland, Lithuania, the US and the UK were the first countries to have made separate statements in support of Ukraine.