Ukraine on the Brink of New Political Season

Sergey Gerasymchuk, Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism”

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Local elections are to take place in Ukraine this fall. Even though the official campaign is yet to be launched, its preparation already promises a hot political season. August showed that political battles are accompanied by scandalous resignations, discussing elections on all levels including the Minsk format and, of course, promises of reforms and better lives. 


Domestic Policy

Fighting Corruption Is Not a Priority, Lockdown Is Not an Obstacle for Elections 

High-profile August resignations raised the issue of efficiency when it comes to fighting corruption in Ukraine. In late August Iryna Venediktova, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, signed the resignation form for Nazar Kholodnitsky, the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) – an institution specifically created to fight corruption in top echelons of power. Nazar Kholodnitsky was dismissed at his own request. 

Following this high-profile resignation a decision was made by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine regarding the unconstitutionality of appointing A.Sytnik for the position of the Head of NABU (National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine) in spring 2015. NABU is an institution, which, along with SAP, is supposed to fight corruption at the highest levels and which was created from scratch with the support coming from the West. The Constitutional Court of Ukraine addressed the issue on the request from over 50 MPs of Verkhovna Rada (mostly from the ruling pro-presidential party “Servant of the People” and openly pro-Russian “Opposition Party for Life”). 

The Constitutional Court came to a conclusion that the fifth president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko, according to his own powers, did not have the right to sign the decree on appointing. Such a decree is unconstitutional as the Basic Law contains the full lists of positions that can be appointed by the president, however, this list does not contain the director of NABU.  The decision ruled by the Constitutional court is final and is not subject to appeal. A. Sytnik, the director of NABU himself, explained the attempts to make him resign from this position as the revenge of I.Kolomoisky (a tycoon who returned to Ukraine during Zelensky presidency) for “Privatbank” and “Ukrnafta” cases investigated by NABU.  

Against the backdrop of anti-corruption battles some developments remained practically unnoticed. In about 24 hours several crucial decisions were made, one in the parliament of the country, the other one in the Cabinet of Ministers. At the special session that took place on August 25, the MPs adopted amendments to the “Law on 2020 State Budget”, that increased minimal wages in Ukraine up to UAH 5000 (≈183 $) starting on September 1, 2020. Such a step of the ruling pro-presidential mono-majority and its satellites can be explained by the upcoming local elections that are supposed to take place at the end of October. The Central Election Commission of Ukraine launched the electoral campaign for local councils. According to the Central Election Commission, the official campaign is starting on September 5.  

Executive authorities, namely the Cabinet of Ministers, against the backdrop of threatening statistics and looming numbers of infected people, decided to prolong the adaptive lockdown for two months until October 31, while foreign citizens are prohibited to enter the country during one month. The exception is made, however, for the citizens of Belarus, who, taking into consideration complicated political environment, will undergo a simplified entrance regime suggested by the President of Ukraine.

Lockdown limitations, in fact, will not influence the electoral process. The issue of local elections was one of the hottest issues on the agenda of the so-called Minsk format Trilateral Contact Group. In particular, Russia insists on suspending the Verkhovna Rada resolution on the impossibility of holding local elections on the occupied territories. In order to unblock the negotiations Leonid Kravchuk, the head of the Ukrainian delegation in Trilateral Contact Group, promised to call on the Verkhovna Rada to review the above-mentioned resolution. However, the position of Ukrainian authorities remained unchanged. The elections can take place in ORDLO (certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions) after the withdrawal of foreign troops, disarmament, demilitarization, withdrawal of all illegal armed groups and after constitutional order is established. 



“The Prosecutor General of Ukraine, signed the resignation form for Nazar Kholodnitsky, the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office”




Looking for New Income Sources 

Against the backdrop of recent economic turbulence as well as the risk of post-lockdown economic recession both the government and the president of Ukraine seek opportunities to attract additional financial resources into the country. Among other things, the president insists on tax reform and amnesty of capital (while it is not unlikely that this initiative too is more of an attempt to get electoral points in the upcoming local elections and compensate reputational losses in the anti-corruption sphere). 

Moreover, according to Centre for Economic Strategy, local budgets could get approximately UAH 11 bn in case of privatization of communal enterprises. In cooperation with the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development preliminary technical and economic rationale has been prepared regarding the transfer of several parts of roads and three Ukrainian airports in concession. 


Foreign Policy

Ukraine’s continued support on the international arena?

August did not see the abundance of developments on the international arena, except for the visits paid by the German minister of foreign affairs Heiko Maas and US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.

The head of the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited Ukraine on August 24, Ukraine’s Independence Day. The federal minister had a series of top-level meetings and snatched an opportunity to state that Germany remains Ukraine’s reliable ally both on the political front and on the front of economic transformations. What is more, Heiko Maas agreed with the necessity to continue EU sanction policy towards Russia until the issues leading to introducing such sanctions are resolved, namely, the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and war in Donbas region. 

It is worth noting that already on August 26 Ukraine and Germany came to an agreement on energy partnership, in particular, on integrating energy markets within the ENTSO-E frames, increasing the level of energy security, decarbonizing the economy and exchange in innovations in energy technologies. 

Moreover, the US Deputy Secretary of State in the course of his working visit to Ukraine on August 26 reassured Ukrainian authorities of continued support in counteracting the Russian aggression as well as in implementing reforms in Ukraine. The situation on the territories temporarily occupied by Russia in the Crimea and in Donbas were separately reviewed. The parties also discussed the current situation in Belarus in the context of regional security.


Photo: Heads of major anticorruprion institutions fired – Nazar Kholodnytkiy (left) and Artem Sytnyk (right).