Ukraine: Obstacle driving

Sergiy Gerasimchuk, Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism"

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In September Ukraine’s movement away from Moscow accelerated noticeably. The bilateral Friendship Treaty between the two countries is terminated, there is a prospect of defining the European vector of foreign policy in the Constitution of Ukraine, and the power of Moscow patriarchate is getting weaker. In some respect the launch of unofficial electoral campaign acted as a trigger for these processes. However, Ukraine has to face certain difficulties when moving forward: the IMF conclusions regarding Ukrainian reforms are ambiguous, and there is yet another crisis in relations between Ukraine and Hungary.

Domestic Policy. Start of new political season

This fall gave a new start to domestic political process. Even though the nearest elections are to come in six months, the unofficial electoral campaign has already started. As one of its components in early September President Poroshenko submitted constitutional amendments to the Parliament on securing Ukraine’s aspirations to join the European Union and NATO. In mid-September 321 MPs voted for the draft amendments in the first reading and sent them to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, according to the corresponding procedure. Among other things, the authorities are trying to mobilize pro-European and pro-NATO electorate, while minimizing the attempts for a return move of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. It is also significant that the president of Ukraine signed a decree on non-extension of “Treaty on Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership between Ukraine and the Russian Federation”. The agreement is about to be terminated and there are no provisions for friendship in the near future.

Another sign of the unofficial electoral campaign start is the fact that MPs finally chose new members of Central Election Commission, as according to the legislation, it had to be done already in summer 2014. Appointing new Central Election Commission members was welcomed by G7 ambassadors.

Economy. State Budget and IMF Mission (impossible?)

The state of Ukrainian finances, unfortunately, leaves much to be desired. Therefore, the country will face a lot of challenges without cheap Western loans. It is especially important as next year Ukraine will be at the peak of paying off foreign debts from last years. Against this backdrop the country needs further cooperation with the IMF and new financing.

The IMF mission’s visit to Kyiv lasted two weeks. There are still no final results following the negotiations, however, some vital issues were addressed in a positive way by the Mission Head, in particular, the pension reform. As for the sensitive “gas” issue, Ukrainian government is still undecided. The IMF requires to increase gas tariffs, but a year before the elections it is a very sensitive issue. The only state institution that somehow tries to clarify the gas issue for the population of the country is the National Bank, and it is only a forecast.

Against the background of complex results following the IMF work in Ukraine, signing another Memorandum between Ukraine and the EU in order for Ukraine to get macro-financial assistance was a comforting development.

As for the draft bill on Ukraine’s state budget, it was presented in the Parliament on September, 15 as promised by the country’s government. In particular, the draft provides for 3% economy growth with GDP deficit making up 2.3%. It also allows for minimal wages increase up to UAH4125 (approximately $150). As for the needs of national defense and security, in particular army needs, the prime minister Vladimir Groysman suggested allocating over UAH200 bn (around $7 bn).

Foreign Policy. Religious Progress

As for the country’s foreign policy, the start of the new political season in Ukraine was marked by a high-profile diplomatic scandal with Hungary following rather tense relations between the two countries after Ukraine adopted its “Law on Education” last year. The mass media provided evidence that Hungarian Consulate in the town of Berehove (Zakarpattya region in Ukraine) holds ceremonies granting Hungarian citizenship to the citizens of Ukraine, with consulate staff strongly recommending the recipients of Hungarians passports to keep the fact of their dual citizenship secret from Ukrainian authorities.

The Head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated in his video address that the Hungarian consul will be sent home after such an unfriendly act, further attempts to resolve the situation made by the heads of foreign policy institutions Pavlo Klimkin and Peter Szijjarto were unsuccessful. Instead the Hungarian side threatened yet again to slow down Ukraine’s European aspirations to the maximum extent.

Regardless of the tense relations between Ukraine and Hungary, other Western partners, even at the level of local authorities, support Ukraine. In particular, Paris City Hall continues to put pressure on Russia which illegally holds captive Ukrainian political prisoner Oleg Sentsov. On September 24, local City Hall members unanimously granted Kremlin’s prisoner the title of the honorary citizen of the city of Paris.

Significant developments of international importance take place on the religious arena. It is well-known that the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople launched the procedure of granting autocephaly to Ukrainian Orthodox Church and therefore appointed two exarchs (representatives). The prospect of autocephaly is significant for all Christians in Ukraine and is supported both inside and outside of the country. In particular, the president of Ukraine had a meeting with US ambassador-at-large of international religious freedom Samuel Brownback. The latter ensured the Ukrainian leader that Ukraine has the full support of the United States of America in its right for a single Ukrainian Autocephalic Orthodox Church.  Moreover, the Orthodox Church of Cyprus also supported granting autocephaly to Ukrainian  Orthodox Church.