Ukraine: A New Parliament for a New Country


Democratic Initiatives Foundation

Democratic Initiatives Foundation

nadiadiukThings do not seem to have changed much in Ukraine since the last time I was here in April, and yet everything has changed, the National Endowment for Democracy‘s Nadia Diuk (left) writes from Dnipropetrovsk.  

It was peaceful then, with the local population determined that their city and region would not give in to separatists and Russian-backed armed forces and that May’s presidential election would take place without incident.  And it remains peaceful now, having seen a successful and peaceful parliamentary vote.  But the country has changed in intangible ways and the new parliament—also with many new features and members—is about to be tested to see whether the new politics demanded by the Maidan protests last year and the demands of the war in the east, can become a reality.   

ukraine euromaidanThe Maidan protests were driven by the uprising against corruption within state bodies and top officials; yet public opinion polling this month, according to the International Republican Institute’s Pre-election Poll, shows that the overwhelming concern among Ukrainian voters is Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine (73 %), with corruption and unemployment running second and third (37% and 24%). 

The new parliament will include some old faces but also many new personalities.  As the vote count proceeds the day after the election, the exit polls (co-funded by NED’s support for the Democratic Initiatives Foundation) show that seven parties will most likely enter the parliament.  The two largest—the Poroshenko Bloc, named after the president, and the People’s Front, headed by the current Prime Minister—swept almost 45% of the proportional vote.  They have invited other pro-Maidan parties to join a coalition, The Samopomich Party, the Svoboda Party and Yulia Tymoshenko’s Bat’kishchyna (Fatherland) Party, will be approached.  The Opposition Bloc, made up of former Party of Regions members, will continue to be a voice for officials from the former Yanukovych regime.   The Radical Party, that surged early, headed up by the fiery Oleh Lyashko came in at 6.4% in the exit poll.   

ukr hopkoThe big losers are the Party of Regions and the Communists, who will not be in the parliament for the first time in two decades.  Support for established parties Svoboda and Bat’kivshchyna, which may barely scrape through the 5% barrier, has also gone down.  The other newcomer Samopomich, whose party list is headed by well-known civic activist Hanna Hopko (left) did better than expected, gaining 13.2% in the exit poll.   

The new faces in the parliament will, for the first time, include civic activists and members from a group that has traditionally avoided elected office—investigative journalists.  The decision to enter politics was not an easy one for this group.  Having entered the struggle on the Maidan in full force, many of the activists were determined that the new wave of volunteerism and new spirit of dignity and responsibility should not allow politicians to squander the public’s support and lead to political gridlock and disappointment as happened after the 2004 Orange Revolution.  In the past few months, they have pushed the effort to pressure parliament and government to take up reforms to its limit with the Reanimation Reforms Package initiative, which generated an agenda for politicians and government officials.  Investigative journalists have continued their relentless exposure of corruption among the ruling elite.  Having reached the maximum limit of what they felt they could do as civic actors, the next logical step was to work for change within politics using political means.   

ukrainesolidarnoscBut the decision to jump from civic activism to politics was not an easy one in Ukraine, where politics is considered a dirty business and politicians generally have had a bad reputation.  Nonetheless, a group of activists and journalists, including Mustafa Nayyem, who helped to launch the Maidan last year, announced a month ago that they would join various parties.  For Nayyem, as well of for many of the others, this was a decision not take lightly and after much soul searching about their own role in the future of their country.  

Another group new to politics will be the group of commanders and soldiers who have taken part in fighting in the east.  Some like Semen Semenchenko, Andriy Teterchuk, and Yuriy Bereza will enter the parliament on party lists, others such as Andriy Biletsky, the leader of the Azov Battalion, and the Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh ran in single mandate districts.  How their experiences of fighting a war with shortages of equipment and training will affect their activities in the parliament remains to be seen.  Their focus will undoubtedly be on the military effort, but some such as Biletsky and Yarosh, come with a distinct right-wing ideology.   

The new parliament will be overwhelmingly pro-European and pro-reform with no excuses to delay a vigorous legislative agenda for reform.  The country has also shifted in a distinctly pro-European direction: support for joining the European Union grew to 59% in September according to IRI polling.  The same polling also shows that Ukrainians overwhelmingly want to remain a unitary state (75%) and levels of pride in being a Ukrainian citizen are rising.    

Voters in Dnipropetrovsk expressed a desire above all “for peace” and expressed interest and connection to Ukrainian language and culture that was not so overt in years in the past.  The number of fences and walls painted in blue and yellow, and the amount of heartfelt patriotic graffiti certainly reveals a trend that was not evident here before.  Dnipropetrovsk was once the heart of the Soviet missile production and the part of the airport that looks as if it served that enterprise now has military aircraft parked on its tarmac.   

And when the steward on the airplane from Dnipropetrovsk to Kyiv ends the routine announcement “make sure to take all of your personal belongings” with the phrase “Slava Ukraini!” (Glory to Ukraine) you know you are in a different country… 

Nadia Diuk, is Vice President for Programs, Africa, Central Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean at the National Endowment for Democracy and was a delegate for the International Republican Institute’s observer mission in Ukraine for the parliamentary elections.  


Russia’s ‘halfway house’ on governance

russia governanceRussia is a halfway house, says Maxim Trudolyubov, the opinion page editor of the business newspaper Vedomosti. It has private companies, markets and all kinds of consumer wares, but it lacks crucial institutions that help us enjoy all those material goods. There are no such things as impartial courts, honest law enforcement or respect for the rules, he writes for the New York Times:

The lack of political clout from businesspeople and civil rights groups has allowed the Kremlin to respond quickly to isolated cases of resistance while staving off comprehensive reforms of the judiciary, the police and most public services. The pressure has been low because, paradoxically, Russia’s business community has never really championed private property rights in any substantial way. Most businesses have long been registered in offshore jurisdictions, most entrepreneurs have long ago acquired foreign residency permits, and their money has been safely parked abroad. The elite have learned to use the education and healthcare systems of other nations while ignoring the deterioration of those services at home.

“The people who are the most likely to be upset by the poor quality of governance in Russia are the very same people who are the most ready and able to exit Russia,” the political scientist Ivan Krastev warned in the Journal of Democracy back in 2011. “For them, leaving the country in which they live is easier than reforming it. Why try to turn Russia into Germany, when there is no guarantee that a lifetime is long enough for that mission, and when Germany is but a short trip away?”

Relative ease of access to Western jurisdictions has prevented pressure within the Russian political system from growing. But this safety valve may soon malfunction, according to  Trudolyubo, a Wilson Center fellow in Washington, and the author of a forthcoming book on power and property in Russia:

Given the half-built state of the institutional system, isolation will make whatever legal protections Russians still possess an even more scarce resource. This, in turn, will lead to a heightened role for informal “guarantors” of property and safety — the Kremlin and the high-ranking security officials it relies on. These guarantees are always ambiguous. If Russia, helped by sanctions, closes its doors, the country will degenerate in wild infighting, the outcome of which it will be impossible to predict.


Russia’s information war in Europe (selective memory at home)

russia ukraine

Russia is adopting an aggressive new propaganda strategy to undermine relations between the world’s leading democracies, the Wall Street Journal’s Anton Troianovski reports:

A Russian official in Berlin briefed on the media plans for Germany said a significant portion of the German public was receptive to Russia’s message. They included people with antiwar, antiglobalization and general leftist views. Conservatives, including opponents of “homosexual propaganda,” were also targets, the official said. “One can do some pretty powerful work with this segment,” the Russian official said.

RT, launched by the Kremlin as Russia Today in 2005, is a news channel now available in English, Spanish and Arabic that positions itself as an alternative to Western international media such as CNN, the BBC and Germany’s Deutsche Welle. While viewership is relatively small, observers say that by airing increasingly shrill criticism of the West and comments from anti-American conspiracy theorists as well as far-right and far-left Western politicians, RT has sought to undermine the authority of Western media.

russua rep wsjIn the Ukraine crisis, for example, RT has accused Western media and politicians of hiding evidence opposing the view that pro-Russian separatists shot down the Malaysia jet. “The biggest success of the Russian propaganda is to create confusion about what is true or not,” said Marieluise Beck, a member of the opposition party Greens who is one of Mr. Putin’s most prominent critics in the German parliament.

On Thursday, Russian police upgraded from ”vandalism” to ”hooliganism” a recent stunt in which four activists raised a Ukrainian flag on a Moscow skyscraper (above), the Moscow Times reports:

Under this new charge, the four could be sentenced to as much as seven years in prison.

If they are convicted, it will certainly send a pointed message to all Russian activists. But fear of punishment, not punishment itself, may prove to be the greatest lid on dissent in Russia. A raft of recent legislation on the Internet, especially the so-called blogger law, encourages many to police themselves.

Rossiya Segodnya now says it will employ hundreds of journalists around the world to produce local-language news reports, radio shows and social-media content, the Journal’s Troianovski adds:

According to a Rossiya Segodnya brochure that provides an overview of the organization for the German public, the organization planned to build up hubs in about a dozen cities, with a goal of participating “in shaping public opinion and the news agenda.” Mr. Kiselyov said financing for the expansion was still being worked out. ……

“The U.S. was always the symbol of the good, democracy, freedom, alliance, defense, while Russia generally represented the opposite,” Mr. Tulchinskiy, the Rossiya Segodnya bureau chief in Berlin, said. “It turns out the first statement isn’t so true, so it’s logical to think that the second statement isn’t so true.”


Credit: Moscow Times

One of the most important moments of the perestroika era was when the secret additional protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact were made public, notes analyst Ivan Sukhov:

These secret additions assigned the Baltic states to the Soviet Union and divided up Poland into German and Soviet spheres of influence. These protocols were a real shock to a country that had been proclaiming itself the defeater of fascism since 1945.

That uncomfortable moment of closeness between the Soviet leadership and the Nazis explained, for example, much about the way in which the Baltic republics left the Soviet Union. That is, it was an explanation for those who wanted to understand, but those people were and still are few and far between in Russia.

Even today, the leaders of the ministries of culture and education are seriously discussing ridding the school curriculum of the paragraphs about the secret protocols. This part of history too obviously contradicts the official propaganda on the war with Hitler, which, as we know, is so significant in today’s manipulation of public opinion.


Seeking utopia in Ukraine: Western liberals play into Putin’s hands?

ukrainesolidarnoscFearing abduction at the hands of separatists, thousands of residents have fled Donetsk, an eastern province where separatists have declared independence from Ukraine’s new, pro-Western government, AP reports:

Accounts also abound of militia profiting from abductions by demanding ransoms. Human Rights Watch researcher Tanya Lokshina wrote this week about seeing a woman in a Luhansk village whose son had been taken captive.

“She said the insurgents demanded $5,000 for his release but the family had no money,” she wrote, without identifying the woman or her son. “He called her recently from his captors’ phone, crying and saying he’d be killed unless the ransom is paid promptly.”

Television reports from independent Ukrainian channels make clear that the population—earlier portrayed as pro-separatist by Russian and other media—is not hostile to Ukraine, notes Adrian Karatnycky, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council and co-director of its Ukraine in Europe program.

“A poll taken last week by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology showed that in the Donbas, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko now enjoys more trust than either Russia’s President Vladimir Putin or the insurgents,” he writes for the Wall Street Journal:

Russian media have also changed their tone markedly since the Ukrainian counteroffensive began to make major progress in mid-June. There has been a sharp decline in the use of terms like “fascist junta” to describe Ukraine’s government. Some Russian media outlets have even reported on the humanitarian relief efforts by Ukraine’s forces…..Russian public opinion appears to have shifted accordingly. A survey released this week by VTsIOM, a Kremlin-friendly polling group, showed that 66% of Russians now oppose military intervention in Ukraine, while in March a poll by the Levada Center found that 65% of Russians said Russia has the right to militarily intervene in both Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.

Three months after since Vladimir Putin’s triumphalist speech to the duma following his military seizure of Crimea, Putin faces three basic choices, amid continuing uncertainty regarding Russo-Ukrainian relations and growing international costs for Russia, notes Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser from 1977 to 1981:

1. He could pursue an accommodation with Ukraine by terminating the assault on its sovereignty and economic well-being. … Such an accommodation should involve the termination of Russian efforts to destabilize Ukraine from within, ending any threat of a larger invasion, and some sort of East-West understanding that entails Russia’s tacit acceptance of Ukraine’s prolonged journey toward eventual European Union membership.

2. Putin could continue to sponsor a thinly veiled military intervention designed to disrupt life in portions of Ukraine. Should Russia continue on this course, obviously the West would have to undertake a prolonged and truly punishing application of sanctions designed to convey to Russia the painful consequences of its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty. This unfortunate outcome would likely yield two basket cases in Eastern Europe: Ukraine, because of destructive Russian actions, and Russia itself.

3. Putin could invade Ukraine, exploiting Russia’s much larger military potential. Such an action, however, would not only prompt retaliation by the West but also could provoke Ukrainian resistance. …..

“The issue of Crimea will remain unresolved for now, but it will serve as an enduring reminder that chauvinistic fanaticism is not the best point of departure for resolving complex issues,” Brzezinski writes for the Washington Post.

Seeking utopia in Ukraine?

“The idea of Ukraine as a place where you can glimpse the dream of a post-national, pan-European utopia, where people were prepared to die under the EU flag while standing up to Moscow, is perhaps most popular among certain Western intellectuals,”  argues Peter Pomerantsev, the author of Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible, a forthcoming book about Putin’s postmodern dictatorship.

But these paradigms play right into Putin’s hands, he writes for The

The Kremlin has desperately sought to transform the story of the Ukrainian revolution from an uprising against corruption and terrible governance—grievances that could apply to Putin’s rule too—into a muddled narrative about ‘Holy Russia’ versus ‘Euro-Sodom.’ The idea of Russia as a beacon of religious conservatism is specious—68 percent of Russians might identify as Orthodox Christian, but only 14 percent go to religious services once a month or more frequently, and 60 percent of Orthodox Russians don’t consider themselves religious. Western liberals risk being spun by Putin.

In the post-Soviet space, it’s the idea of utopia, almost any utopia, that is perhaps the most important thing. Cynicism is the great underlying ideology of Putinism, fostered by decades of late-Soviet and post-Soviet disillusion, and now reinforced by Kremlin media, with its recurring message that democracy everywhere is a sham, that the Maidan is a con, its ideals doomed.

“This dynamic isn’t confined to Eastern Europe. When was the last time a Western country had a revolution that brought with it the promise of everything beginning again? 1989?,” Pomerantsev adds.

There are two possible outcomes of the proxy war, according to Karatnycky:

First is the military track. With Ukraine’s use of air power, and with effective control of borders, the military will continue to make inroads, taking peripheral towns and smaller cities, and squeezing the insurgents to the main cities of the Donbas region. ….Rising factionalism and divisions among the insurgents seem likely. With Russian propagandists now signaling to their own population that Moscow will not directly invade Ukraine, many more fighters are likely to lay down their weapons or desert. ….

The second way out may be through negotiations. This is the strategy that Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has been pursuing. To that end, the Germans have been pressing Ukraine’s leaders to integrate Viktor Medvedchuk, the pro-Russian former chief of staff to ex-Ukraine President Leonid Kuchma, into a peace process. There is even talk that Mr. Medvedchuk (Mr. Putin is the godfather of his daughter) may emerge as an interim governor of Donetsk as part of a peace accord. ..

“But the reality is that no matter the outcome, President Putin’s Ukraine strategy is a shambles.”

Putin rides the tide (but lacks strategy)

mcfaulobamaRussian President Vladimir Putin himself doesn’t know his strategic objectives in Ukraine, says Stanford University’s Michael McFaul (left), the US ambassador to Russia from January 2012 to February of this year.

“I think that this was not some master plan that Putin’s been plotting for decades — annex Crimea and go in to take Novorossiya,” he told NPR:

This phrase “Novorossiya,” New Russia, which is [used] to describe these eastern Ukrainian regions — I think he used that for the first time just a couple of weeks ago. So that actually gives me hope, because that means it’s not some grand plan, master design that he feels he is now empowered to execute, but that this is more contingent. He’s making it up as he goes, and he’s calculating about the cost of direct military intervention and then occupation in Ukraine.

“Putin is a smart person. He’s not doing it a vacuum, and he, I think and I hope, he knows how costly that would be,” said McFaul, a former Reagan-Fascell fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.

Putin looks like he will continue to ride the tide he has set into motion for the time being, says Lilia Shevtsova, a senior associate at the Carnegie Moscow Center and member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum for Democratic Studies’ Research Council,

But amidst his tactical successes we can already see the signs of a looming strategic defeat, she writes for The American Interest, adding several “finer brushstrokes to bring the wider landscape into view.

The Kremlin’s efforts to root Russian identity and patriotism in shows of force and in seminal historical events like the victory in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) has prompted a continuous search for enemies. Russia has embarked on a path of perpetual war (or at least perpetual confrontation) with those who refuse to accept this identity—whether those enemies are to be found beyond Russia’s borders or within them. Cooperative gestures by other nations will not change this paradigm; it can only be undone when those who set it in motion relinquish power.

While the results of this “war/patriotic” consolidation of Russian society have been impressive thus far, the recent history of such efforts (the second Chechen War of 1999 and the Russia-Georgia war of 2008) suggests that this gambit will only work for a time. Eventually, the numbing effects of mass military psychosis begin to wear off. And if recent polls are any indication, they may be wearing off quickly this time: ……

The elites are still behind Putin. But the comprador segment of the elite, which is integrated into the West, is already unhappy. It is feeling the pinch of the sanctions and of the West’s growing hostility. Pragmatists within the ranks of the elite have begun to doubt whether Putin can successfully protect their interests. But the elites will voice their doubts and misgivings openly only if the people take to the streets……