Ukraine: Blockade, sanctions and political instability

Sergiy Gerasymchuk, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism " (Ukraine, Kyiv)

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The Ukrainian developments in March confirm the ongoing reforms and fight against the corruption, yet the inertia of the system puts some obstacles in their way. The decisions made by the government are not always supported by the Ukrainian society, as well as by the country’s foreign partners. Meanwhile, Russian threats are still pressing

Domestic Policy: Fight against corruption and its side effects

On March 3, the Head of the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine Roman Nasirov was handed a corruption suspicion notice. It became one of the first high-profile cases for the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption and the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine. The situation caused unrest in the society. The decision  to arrest Nasirov, followed by him being released on bail of 100 million hryvnas ($3,7 mln), were under public scrutiny, and there is still a lot of interest to the “Nasirov’s case” in the society.

To some extent the “Nasirov’s case” stole the attention from the decision made by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine on the blockade of the Non-Government Controlled Areas (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Until recently there were attempts to blockade those territories by activists and members of the opposition parties, who claimed that the trade relations with the occupied regions meant corruption and smuggling. On March 15, the NSDC announced the official blockade .

There is a feeling  that both the Nasirov’s arrest and the blockade of the NGCA territories are used to increase the popularity of the president and the government, and deescalate raising tensions in the society in order to avoid early parliamentary elections. The risks of such elections in the current situation are high, with the Russian aggression still present and the Western partners demanding to keep the country stable. Therefore, President Poroshenko will do his best to obviate this scenario.

Yet there are developments that heat tensions in the society and undermine the stability of the country. For example, on March 23, two public accidents happened. First, there was a sabotage at an ammunition depot in the town of Balakliya (Kharkiv region), when a fire on the territory of the military arsenal of the Ministry of Defense led to munitions blasts. Second, the murder of Voronenkov, a former member of the Russian State Duma, who fled to Ukraine. He was one of the main witnesses of Russia starting its aggression towards Ukraine, as well as of Viktor Yanukovich’s participation in Russia sending troops to Ukraine. Both cases are interconnected, and, according to the Security Service of Ukraine, Moscow is behind both of them.

Fighting against the corruption will remain in trend in the current political season

Another development, less headline-making but extremely important for those representing the civil society, was a law issued the same day, March 23, that adopted some changes to the electronic declaration system. These changes  obliged not only the government officials but also the anti-corruption NGOs activists to submit electronic declarations. Such a decision of the Parliament may wreck the anti-corruption progress in Ukraine. This was already declared by the British  and the USA  Embassies, while the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn noted  that changes to the law on e-declarations are a step back and should be reconsidered.

It is likely that the processes of fighting against the corruption and the attempts to stabilize the situation in the country will remain in trend in the current political season.

Economy: Sanctions on Russian banks and blockade aftermath

In terms of economy, the most significant event of the month was the decision of the National Security and Defense Council to impose sanctions against five Russian banks : PJSC Sberbank (Ukraine), PJSC VS Bank, Joint Stock Commercial Industrial and Investment Bank (PSC Prominvestbank“) PJSC VTB Bank“, and BM Bank LLC. This decision was a logical policy tightening in response to the Russian actions in the East of Ukraine, and it was made at the same time with the official blockade imposing.

The possible aftermath of these decisions became a subject for the IMF research  Meanwhile, the National Bank of Ukraine revised its previous economic growth forecast  and downgraded it from 2.6% to 1.9%.

Foreign Policy. Ukraine on U. S. and German agendas

As for the foreign policy, there are some positive developments in this sphere. For example, the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavel Klimkin met the new American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on March 7, to enlist his support  in the issues of the Russia’s obligations under the Minsk agreements.

Ukraine was also on the agenda of the American President Donald Trump and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel meeting on March 17. The USA and Germany acknowledged  the necessity of an unconditional and peaceful solution of the Ukrainian problem and demanded from Russia to make some substantial steps towards its commitments under the Minsk agreements.

However, these developments may became doubtful if Ukraine steps backwards from its anti-corruption reforms and lowers the level of the political stability.