Political developments in Ukraine raise risk of instability

Political developments in Ukraine raise risk of instability

Recent developments do not bode well for Ukraine’s political stability and conflict resolution efforts.

Following an ease of violence lasting several months, fighting has once again shot up in eastern Ukraine. Fatal incidents involving landmine explosions, most recently one that ripped a minivan to shreds and killed all four of its occupants, are cause for concern that security challenges will likely escalate again. Unicef released a report calling attention to the more than 500,000 children affected by the conflict, including 200,000 displaced, and one out of every five schools being damaged or destroyed in areas subject to the violence.

Ukraine’s political instability continues to precipitate as pledges to combat corruption remain unfulfilled. Prosecutor General Shokin stepped down when faced with criticism over his failure to battle corruption. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk controversially survived a no-confidence motion by a razor-thin margin shortly after President Poroshenko called for the PM’s resignation.

Ukraine’s governing coalition then crumbled when both the Samopomich and Tymoshenko’s Fatherland parties withdrew following the failed no-confidence vote they had supported. The ruling coalition lost its majority status as a result and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk has only one month to rebuild a new parliamentary alliance or else early elections will be in order.

As Poroshenko has expressed, snap polls will very likely cause further security volatility. Even if Yatsenyuk does manage to pull in allies and form a new coalition, it is very unlikely that he will ever garner the support of the Ukrainian people given his exceedingly low approval ratings and polls that suggest almost three quarters of Ukrainians want a new government.

Ukraine’s economy has been in recession for 18 months and its currency has suffered a 10 percent loss this year. The intensifying political and security conditions are interlinked with Ukraine’s economic survival as it is desperate for financial assistance, but Western donors and the IMF have put funding on hold until the government commits to carrying out comprehensive reforms.

Amid these political and security developments, tension between Russia and Ukraine is manifesting itself not just on the battlefield, but in court.

Russia has filed a lawsuit against Ukraine in the London High Court over a $3 billion debt. Whether or not a restructuring program should be used is highly contested between the two parties, but since the IMF maintains that such a loan should not be treated as commercial, it is likely that the ruling will lean in Russia’s favor.

Interestingly, it is common for Russia’s companies and even its federal agencies to opt for European courts in favor of those located in ex-USSR nations to address commercial legal disputes, despite Russia’s antagonistic sentiment toward the West.

Both NATO and the United States are implementing plans to harden their posture toward Russia and protect Ukraine among other countries in the region. NATO defense ministers unanimously agreed to expand military presence in Central and Eastern Europe as part of its strategy to deter Russia. This includes enhancing existing infrastructure as well as commissioning rotational forces to conduct exercises.

The United States also intends to strengthen its presence in Eastern Europe through a boost in training and pre-positioned military equipment. 2017’s budget proposal includes quadrupling spending in Eastern Europe, an aggressive fiscal commitment unparalleled since the end of the Cold War.

Deeper and broader interaction between Western states and several geopolitically strategic Eastern European nations is anticipated. One of those nations is Latvia, which elected a new Prime Minister earlier this month and symbolically shipped aid to Ukraine. Much like Ukraine, Latvia has a sizable ethnic Russian population, but the majority of Latvians consider Ukraine to have been victimized by Russia.

Western efforts to counterbalance Russia through its nearby states such as Latvia will no doubt be provocative, but it is uncertain whether Putin will retaliate directly or whether he will focus on setting up bases in the Arctic.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Eileen Filmus

Eileen has worked in the US Congress, conducted research on terrorism and human rights, worked in the private sector and at NGOs. She specialises in the relationship between technology and geopolitical threat management. She has a Masters degree from University of Chicago, where she focused on security, politics, and diplomacy.