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Ukraine is being pulled into Normandy

Updated: Sep 28, 2019


Yevhen Mahda is a Ukrainian political analyst and the Executive Director of the Institute of World Policy, a think-tank based in Kyiv.


1. How would you assess the first four months of the presidency of Zelensky?


Zelensky's presidency looks dynamic right now. Notably, he has managed to maintain a high public confidence rating (over 70%). In domestic politics, his apparent success is the dissolution of the Ukrainian Parliament and the patronage over the victory of the Servant of the People party, which created a parliamentary majority by its parliamentary faction. So far, his main mistake has been the rejection of the military parade in honor of Ukrainian Independence Day which created a slight divide as to the celebration of the main holiday of Ukraine. Zelensky seems to be a hostage to his promise to end the war as soon as possible. That's why the exchange of prisoners with Russia virtually took place according to Kremlin's scenario. Unfortunately, the search for ways to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine is also underway in the absence of Zelensky team's understanding of the strategic challenges facing Ukraine.


2. What do you think about Zelensky's recent initiatives on economic and other reforms?


A high-ranking and presidential-oriented parliamentary majority is a key to economic reform in Ukraine. Nevertheless, there is no promised offensive against oligarchs among the recent initiatives of the Servant of the People and the presidential office. Instead, they strengthen the powers of law enforcement and anti-corruption bodies. Some actions of the ruling party have provoked outrage from small and medium-sized businesses. The government promises to open the agricultural land market in the autumn of 2020, but the initiative may meet the resistance of peasants and owners of large agricultural holdings.


3. What obstacles can prevent effective implementation of reforms with the newly created government in Ukraine?


Oleksiy Goncharuk's government appears to have been hastily formed. However, Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky mentioned his name even before that. Also, keeping Arsen Avakov as Interior Minister in the Ukrainian government seems counterproductive. Additionally, I am concerned about the noticeable influence of Mr. Kolomoisky, who has been increasingly vocal about the need for compensation for his lost control over Privatbank. Also, I am alarmed that the prime minister lacks even a minimal managerial experience. I suppose that Ukraine may be visited by a "Black Swan" in the coming months (could be either separate event or an element of the global crisis), which will raise many questions that will have to be tackled properly.


4. How do you see Ukraine's relations with the EU developing in the next couple of years? Do you think Ukraine is likely to receive a formal promise of future accession when the relevant conditions are fulfilled?


Ukraine is implementing the Association Agreement with the EU, but neither the current state of its implementation nor the political environment within the European Union allows us to hope for encouraging signals. However, in my opinion, Ukraine has no alternative but to change for the better, moving forward with European integration as quickly as possible.


5. What do you think about the latest developments in the Donbas conflict? Is there a way forward or not?


Activation of the dialogue on the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas is not Ukrainian initiative. In my opinion, this is the result of Russia's desire to return ORDLO (Separate Raions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts) to Ukraine, by turning Donbas into a brake on positive transformations. Also, this is the result of a part of the Western European establishment being interested in warming relations with Russia. In this context, the Old World is waiting for a signal to start a settlement in the Donbas region. And let's not forget that conflicts are usually resolved at the expense of the weaker party. In this regard, the change of government in Ukraine is perceived as an excellent opportunity for that. Paradoxically, the concentration of power in the hands of Zelensky within the country deprives him of the ability to maneuver in foreign relations.


6. What do you think about Ukraine's current official position on Crimea? What should additional steps be taken to ensure its gradual return to Ukraine?


In my opinion, the Ukrainian authorities do not speak enough about Crimea and do not pay enough attention to this problem. Ukraine needs a strategy of reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories, which will be understood not only by representatives of the authorities and experts but also by the maximum number of indifferent citizens. Its implementation should be combined with the creation of a favorable investment climate in the Black Sea oblasts of Ukraine, cooperation with the Majlis of the Crimean Tatar people, and intensification of dialogue with our foreign partners.


7. Do you think Ukraine is successfully fighting the hybrid military methods of Russia? What else can our country do to combat them?


The primary weapon of hybrid warfare is to create a feeling of despair in a victim. I think, at times, we do not fully realize what a significant success it was that Ukraine withstood Russia's incursion in 2014. Our task should be to mobilize society and focus on achieving a victory. By the way, hybrid war is undeclared, and victory could also be hybrid. In our case, this is Ukraine's accession to NATO, and many post-socialist countries have taken this path, also taking into account the potential accession to the EU.