Ukraine: The election is over, the economic and hybrid war with Russia is not

Sergiy Gerasimchuk, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism"

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The April election in Ukraine overshadowed many important events. The parliament adopted a law regulating the status and the use of the Ukrainian language, while the risk of abolishing the nationalization of PrivatBank could hit the economy. Russia was not inactive either as it impeded the shipments of Russian oil products; left the issue of Russian gas transit open; and announced illegal issuance of Russian passports in the Donbas — these are the challenges the president-elect will face in the near future.  

Domestic policy

Poroshenko’s “language legacy” and the “passport challenge” for the sixth president

The second round of the presidential election was the top event in April. On April 21 showman Volodymyr Zelenskyi won by a landslide in a race with the current President Petro Poroshenko. Zelenskyi will become Ukraine’s sixth president. After the Central Election Commission processed 100% of electronic protocols, it announced the results: 73.22% for candidate Zelensky and 24.45% for Poroshenko.

Ukraine’s parliament did not sit idly amidst the election turbulence: the Verkhovna Rada spent April considering the Law on Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language, one of the most important laws, and controversial, according to some opinions. The draft law was submitted to parliament in June 2017, with over 2,500 amendments following between the first and the second readings. MPs spent the whole April looking at the amendments. As a result, the law got voted in by 278 MPs in the second reading and as a whole. Despite the positive results of the vote, four resolutions were submitted to abolish the vote by April 26. Speaker Andriy Parubiy said that all necessary procedures for the Language Law would be complied with so that nobody could later appeal against it in the Constitutional Court.

The long-suffering Language Law faced opposition both internally in parliament (all Opposition Bloc MPs voted against it), and externally. Hungarian officials assailed it with criticism shortly after it was passed. Hungary’s Foreign Affairs Minister Péter Szijjártó called the law adopted on April 25 unacceptable. The top Hungarian diplomat pointed out that the new law violates the rights of the Hungarian minority and reflects the vision of President Poroshenko, who had been promoting an anti-Hungarian policy, according to Szijjártó. At the same time, MP Mykola Kniazhytskyi guaranteed that the Venice Commission-recommended amendments were preserved in the law.

Another extraordinary development came on April 24 when the Russian President signed the decree to simplify the procedure for granting Russian citizenship to the residents of the occupied regions in Eastern Ukraine (“DNR” and “LNR”). Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented on the decree on the same day. As the guarantor of the Constitution, the President of Ukraine strongly condemned such criminal acts. In turn, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on the international community to increase pressure on the Russian Federation. An emergency meeting of the UN Security Council was convened. All civilized countries and international organizations have already condemned Russia’s provocative step.


Russia, oil and PrivatBank

The National Bank reduced discount rate to 17.5% per annum on April 26, 2019. This decision was enabled by the slowdown of inflation in Ukraine and the favorable situation in the financial market. The situation may change, however, given the significant challenges Ukraine’s economy faced in April.

Russia is a source of risks on the one hand. According to Russia’s Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev, Russian oil, coal and oil products could be imported to Ukraine only with special permits starting from June 1. Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroysman said that the ban of exports of Russian oil and oil products to Ukraine is part of the economic war and pledged to take measures to minimize the negative impact of the Russian ban. The situation in gas transit is challenging as well. European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčović has said that the trilateral gas talks between Ukraine, Russia and the EU would be held over the coming weeks.

On the other hand, the April 18 decision of the Kyiv District Administrative Court to recognize the nationalization of PrivatBank illegal in favor of the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky is a source of a challenge for the economy. The National Bank has already announced an appeal against that verdict. The European Union supports the National Bank in this issue. Moody’s announced that the return of PrivatBank to a private owner would significantly damage Ukraine’s credit profile.

Foreign policy

The West supports, the Kremlin “abstains”

As before, Ukraine remains a focus of international policy. When he spoke at the US Congress, NATO Secretary General said that the Alliance increased its support to Georgia and Ukraine after the occupation of Crimea. He added that “sovereign nations have the sovereign right to choose their own path”. In addition, diplomats called on Russia to release the detained Ukrainian sailors and once again did not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula during the meeting of G7 foreign ministers in early April.

The end of April was equally visible as the world leaders congratulated the president-elect Volodymyr Zelenskyi. US President Donald Trump was among the first ones. Ambassadors of the G7 countries congratulated the youngest president of Ukraine as well. The Kremlin refrained from congratulating Zelenskyi. Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov called them premature.