Ukraine: In the Shadow of Disasters and Dark Forecasts

Sergey Gerasymchuk, Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”

Subscribe for Newsletter

Download PDF

For Ukraine, the first three months of 2020 were filled with extraordinary and sometimes tragic events, disasters, and the echo of past tragedies both on the domestic political front and in the international arena. The change of government, the new Prosecutor General, the risk of a diplomatic catastrophe at the Minsk talks are only a fraction of what shocked Ukraine in the first months of the year.

Domestic policy

Does the change of governments make any difference?

The key event in Ukraine’s internal policy was the resignation of A. Goncharuk government in early March and the appointment of a new Cabinet of Ministers headed by D. Shmygal. The Cabinet of Ministers headed by A. Goncharuk lasted six months, which is the shortest period in the history of governments in Ukraine. The key explanation for such a staff turnover is a drop in the rating of public confidence in the president and the government. New authorities contrary to voters’ expectations and despite the “turbo mode” could not fulfil V. Zelensky’s election promises in a half-year: the era of poverty did not end, as well as the war with Russia. A. Goncharuk and his ministers in this situation became a kind of a “lightning rod”. Moreover, the president’s team went beyond replacing the Ukrainian government, and already on March 5, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine R. Ryaboshapka was dismissed. As the non-public reason for the resignation they name the lack of arrests of the corrupt top officials promised by V. Zelensky during his election campaign.

In just two weeks, the new government faced new personnel changes again. The parliament dismissed two ministers with key roles in the crisis, negotiations with the IMF and the pandemic response, namely the Ministers of Finance and Healthcare. But the vote for their successors demonstrated a historic turn when the president lost the unique “mono-majority” in the parliament, as his party “Servant of the People” failed to give enough votes.  New appointments were supported only after V. Zelensky arrived at the Verkhovna Rada himself, and decision was only possible due to the voices of other factions. It was also a challenge to pass the laws necessary to conclude a new agreement with the International Monetary Fund, namely the laws on launching the land market and the inability to return bankrupt banks to their previous owners. Both laws are disadvantageous to the oligarch I. Kolomoisky, so the president started an open conflict.

At large, the events showed that the beautiful tale of quick reforms and transformations crashed on the rocks of incompetence, the shortage of professional personnel and the realities of wartime. The president decided to play all-in and restart the government and the Prosecutor General’s Office. Zelensky also has at hand an option of restarting the parliament (due to early elections). And if the long-awaited changes do not come, then more and more political players in the country will be inclined to “restart” the president himself.



If the long-awaited changes do not come, more and more political players in the country will be inclined to “restart” the president himself




Is the miracle delayed?

As for the economy, the negative trends of the end of the previous year only worsened in 2020. In general, back in December 2019, the IMF promised its support to Kyiv and agreed on a $5.5 billion financing program for Ukraine for three years.

However, at the same time, the Fund set certain conditions: rule of the law in the country, reducing the influence of the certain individual interests, protection of the achievements of cleaning the banking sector of Ukraine and returning taxpayers’ funds spent as a result of the banks’ bankruptcy, as well as reform of land legislation. Parliament passed the relevant laws only on March 31.

It is not surprising that taking into account such a delay and amid the coronavirus pandemic, forecasts for Ukraine’s economic growth for 2020 deteriorated by 7.6% of GDP, decreasing from previously expected growth of 3.7% to a decline of 3.9%.

Foreign policy

Downed Boeings and Minsk betrayal

The tragedy of the winter was the crash of a Ukrainian airline aircraft following the Tehran-Kyiv route in the sky above the Iranian capital on January 8. 176 people were killed. Later on January 11, the Iranian side admitted that the aircraft was shot down by their air defence system by mistake. The Ukrainian plane was hit by two Russian-made Tor-M1 air-to-air missiles.

Two months later, on March 9, in the Schiphol court complex in the Netherlands, the hearings began on another tragedy, the downed Boeing of Malaysian Airlines MH17 (on July 17, 2014, a plane heading from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was downed in the sky over the occupied Donbas from the Russian air defence system “Buk”, 298 people killed). Three Russian citizens are accused in this case: I. Girkin, S. Dubinsky, and O. Pulatov, as well as a citizen of Ukraine L. Kharchenko.  The international investigation team also found that flight MH17 was shot down by the “Buk” air defence system, which belongs to the 53rd Air Defence Brigade of the Russian Armed Forces, based in Kursk. None of the four suspects appeared at the hearing. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs called this trial “the first step to restore justice”.

While the MH17 disaster was being considered in the Netherlands, another catastrophe nearly happened in Belarusian capital on March 11 as part of the TCG (Trilateral Contact Group – Ukraine, OSCE, Russia, to resolve the military conflict in the Donbas region). This time a diplomatic one. The Group signed a “document”, which implies the creation of an “advisory council” with the participation of “representatives from certain regions of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine” (ORDLO). Among the participants in the negotiations and the signatories of the “draft document” were the head of the Office of the President of Ukraine A. Yermak and the deputy head of the Presidential Administration of Russia D. Kozak. According to the “document” logic, if the so-called “advisory council” is formed, Russia changes its status from a participant in an armed conflict for an observer status, like France and Germany, and the representatives of the ORDLO officially become the negotiators, which has not happened in the 6 years of the war. Such a somersault with the participation of the Ukrainian officials and “representatives” of the pseudo-republics caused a storm of indignation in the Ukrainian society and the political establishment. 

Not only members of parliament of the opposition parties, but also a significant part of the pro-government faction of the majority “Servant of the People”, demanded that the president oblige the negotiators from Ukraine to return to the framework of the law and prevent the creation of an “advisory council” in the proposed form. In addition to the appeal, a group of deputies registered a resolution to declare such “advisory council” as unlawful. An ambiguous decision remains at the level of the “draft”, with a signature not revoked.


Photo: Voting by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine for a new Cabinet of Ministersю

Photo credits: