ANALYSIS – New Ukrainian Parliament, same paradigms

Mehmet Çağatay Güler   | 12.09.2019
ANALYSIS – New Ukrainian Parliament, same paradigms

By Mehmet Cagatay Guler 

The writer is an analyst on Eurasian affairs and holds an MSc degree from the Middle Eastern Technical University (METU) 


The ninth convocation of the Ukrainian Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) began working on 29 August. On the first day, the deputies not only formed a new leadership of the parliament, but also voted for the candidacy of the prime minister as well as adopted a number of bills in the first reading. The presidential party feared that its political strength might fall apart by the time parliamentary works started, therefore, it tried to push through most of the bills prepared beforehand. Despite the expectations of Ukrainians, it seems that neither the new Parliament, nor the new government or the president will be able to solve the country’s problems, which have been going on for years. So, the answer to the question of how Ukraine’s policy would change under the new parliament is very simple: the chronic problems ergo the paradigms of the country will remain unsolved despite a number of new initiatives and endeavors. Some of these problems are the annexation of Crimea, the ongoing shelling in Donbass and the economic deadlock.

On August 29, the first meeting of the new parliament was held in Kiev. The deputies who were elected in the early elections on July 21 took their oaths. Then, the leadership of the Rada, the speaker and vice speakers were elected. For the chairman post of the parliament, Dmytro Razumkov, the only candidate, was elected. The prime minister and cabinet members were also elected. Alexey Goncharuk was elected as the head of government. Hence, after the start of Verkhovna Rada, fundamental changes took place in the leadership. In the elections on July 21, 254 out of 450 deputies were elected from the Servant of the People party. As such, the Servant of the People has obtained the power to change the unfruitful policies of the past. The changes, proposed through bills, include hundreds of different topics from economy to foreign policy. In this regard, it is said that the ruling partly tried its best to pass as many bills as possible due to fear of fraction in the ruling party, as Igor Kolomoisky, the head of the Servant of the People party, said before. This fraction could cause another deadlock, which in turn could lead to a new parliamentary election, as Russian sources predict.

The Zelensky government is considered as the most liberal one in Ukraine to date. Therefore, with the election of Vladimir Zelensky as president, people began to ratchet up their expectations for political and economic reforms, specifically those propelled by Western-oriented economic initiatives. To this end, Zelensky has plans for a possible amendment to the constitution next year. But despite the people’s desperation for change and Zelensky’s enthusiasm, it seems a truly daunting task to bring about any major change as long as the shelling continues in Donbass. Ukrainians expect a ceasefire in the Donbass region. In a recent poll, this expectation was voiced by 75 % of the people surveyed. In addition, almost half of the respondents expressed an urgent need for an increase in salaries, pensions, and living standards. 

With the coming to power of a majority government in the last elections, the country is at last able to discuss a series of economic reforms long in the making. These reforms envisage development mainly in the finance and agricultural sectors. The plan includes land reforms, privatization, and making local businesses more attractive to investors. Among them, foreign investments are of pivotal importance for any solid reforms to be implemented. The most recent G7 meetings, which President Zelensky also attended, demonstrate the importance of attracting foreign investment. Apart from that, such reforms strongly hinge on the country’s integration with the West as well as its institutions’ emulating Western methods of implementing the planned reforms, since, as The Financial Times recently put forward, there are several obstacles that preclude any concrete steps, such as the monopolies in key sectors, uncompetitive state-owned banks, old infrastructure conditions, and internal conflicts.

The conflict in Donbass started as pro-Russian protests following the Euromaidan revolution in 2014. Afterwards, the annexation of Crimea took place with a broader popular support, and the protests in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Donbass) turned into an armed conflict between the pro-Russian separatists and the government. With the Russian involvement, the conflict escalated and spiraled into a complex one that might take very long to subside. The Minsk Agreements have been signed in order to ensure peace in the region. However, it has been violated multiple times by the parties to the war. During his tenure as president, Petro Poroshenko did not adopt the laws stipulated by the Minsk Agreements on the amnesty of combatants in the east of the country and the special status of Donbass. Kolomoisky also spoke on this topic and said that Zelensky should refuse to comply with the provisions regarding the amendments to the Constitution enjoined by the Minsk Agreements. The Russian side expects Kiev to comply with the Minsk provisions whereas Ukraine does not accept the presence of Russian troops in the region, or the peace provisions that it sees as unobtainable. 

In short, no concrete steps have been taken to stop the shelling in Donbass, which is getting worse. Despite their willingness, there are no signs that the Ukrainian authorities are ready to take the necessary steps towards normalizing relations with the self-proclaimed Republic of Donbass.

The status of Crimea remains unchanged. In the aftermath of its annexation by Russia in 2014, the Russian military intervention occurred. A referendum regarding the status of Crimea took place in the same year. As a result of that referendum, Crimea declared its independence. However, its status has not been recognized by the international community. In response, the EU and the U.S. imposed severe sanctions on Russia. Moscow, however, seems to have achieved its goal of blockading Ukraine’s path to Westernization and its membership to Western institutions. Indeed, President Zelensky’s ties with the West and his ambition to cooperate more strongly with Western countries aggravate the situation in Crimea. Therefore, current endeavors to solve the crisis so as to cooperate with Western institutions in line with popular expectations may prove ineffectual. 

In short, since there are a number of external forces not interested in the eradication of these problems, the war in the Donbass region will most likely become a frozen conflict that may continue for decades, like the ones in South Caucasus. In addition, despite the majority government, and hence the power, in the new parliament, the conjuncture and political situation in the country do not favor the much sought-after changes. Unless solid, effective and lasting support is given by the international community and unity is achieved among the citizens, the current paradigms will remain the same. 

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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