December was a success in improving economic performance and cooperating with international financial institutions. It brought Ukraine a long-expected unification of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine, showing that Kyiv can count on the international partners.
Meanwhile, there was no progress on the Russian issue. The conflict continues and is highly likely to intensify in 2019.
Church, land, and “friendship” with Russia
The uncontested top event of December and of 2018 was the Unification Sobor or Assembly of the Orthodox Churches of Ukraine. Following the lengthy negotiations at St. Sophia’s Cathedral on December 15, the representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate and the Autocephalous Orthodox Church reached the historical agreement to establish the Unified Orthodox Church of Ukraine. They elected Metropolitan Epiphanius as the new primate of the Church and adopted the Charter of the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Simeon, Bishop of Vinnytsia and Bar, and Olexandr, Bishop of Prereiaslav-Khmelnytsky and Vyshneve, both from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, joined the Sobor of Ukrainian Churches. Importantly, this extraordinary event in the country’s spiritual life did not go unnoticed by the representatives of other religious communities. On behalf of muslims of Ukraine, Mufti Sheikh Said Ismagilov sent greetings to Orthodox Christians on establishing the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
The “battles” around the newly established Orthodox Church of Ukraine continued when the Parliament passed bill No.5309 on December 20, obliging the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate to rename itself as the Russian Orthodox Church. The bill faced extremely negative reaction from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate which called on President Poroshenko to veto the law. The President did not follow the clergy’s demands and signed the document on December 22.
In addition to the Church Law, the Parliament churned out other decisions crucial for the country and the international community one after another. One was law No.0206 terminating the Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. It was adopted in early December and signed by the President.
As 2018 drew to an end, Ukrainian legislators yet again extended the moratorium on the sale of agricultural land until January 2020. They also obliged the Cabinet of Ministers to draft and submit a bill on transactions with agricultural land by March 1, 2019.
The rising numbers
The IMF’s decision of December 18 confirming the $3.9bln stand-by program for Ukraine was the most significant and expected event in December. The Ukraine-IMF cooperation program of 14 months focuses on the continuation of reforms to ensure the country’s macroeconomic stability. The important aspect of the program is that the inflation targets set by the National Bank of Ukraine were included as the targets of the IMF program for the first time in Ukraine’s history.
On December 18, the World Bank confirmed its $750mln guarantee to Ukraine to support the country’s policy aimed at facilitating reforms in the banking sector, fighting corruption, ensuring pensions, subsidies and the funding of health care.
The decisions of Ukraine’s international financial partners enabled the growth of foreign-exchange reserves to over $20bln for the first time since 2014 and significantly helped strengthen hryvnia exchange rate to US dollar and euro.
The echo of the Kerch Crisis
Russia’s aggressive actions in the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea keep Ukraine in the spotlight of the international agenda.
The House of Representatives in the US has thus introduced a bipartisan resolution on Russia’s aggression in the Kerch Strait. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that there was no justification for Russia’s actions and called on it to release imprisoned Ukrainian sailors and the vessels captured by Russia at the end of November. Heiko Maas, Foreign Affairs Minister in Germany, echoed NATO Secretary General and called for the diplomatic resolution of the conflict.
The UN General Assembly requested Russia to end the occupation of Crimea and the militarization of the Black Sea-Azov region.
Notably, Lithuania — the friendliest country to Ukraine by many accounts — went even further, becoming the first EU member-state to launch a procedure of sanctioning Russia for its marine aggression against Ukraine and for its violation of international law.