Tuesday

26th Sep 2017

Ukraine: The other European election

  • People are still camped out in Kiev's Maidan square three months after Yanukovych fled (Photo: Marco Fieber)

Pro-Russia separatists killed 16 Ukrainian soldiers on Thursday (22 May), as the country prepares to elect the man or woman who will try to end de facto Russian rule.

The attack, near Volnovakha in eastern Ukraine, is the deadliest incident since clashes in Odessa, in the south, led to more than 40 deaths on 2 May.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

It augurs badly for Ukrainian and EU leaders who fear Russian President Vladimir Putin will try to derail Ukraine's presidential vote on Sunday despite EU threats to impose economic sanctions if he does.

As EU citizens elect MEPs the same day, the Ukraine vote is also about Europe.

It comes after the “Maidan” revolution in February overthrew ex-president Viktor Yanukovych because he abandoned EU integration in favour of closer ties with Russia.

It also comes after Putin in March annexed Crimea, shattering Europe’s post-WWII legal order, and creating the prospect of a new Cold War.

If all goes well, Ukraine’s next leader will get a big mandate in a free and fair vote.

In the worst case, Russian-backed violence could stop the vote from going ahead. Clashes with separatists could escalate, and Russia could invade Ukraine in line with Putin’s doctrine of protecting Russian-speakers abroad.

In a third option, events might yield a lame duck president who agrees to create a federal Ukraine unable to take pro-EU steps.

The man tipped to win by a landslide on Sunday is Petro Poroshenko.

He is polling at 45 to 48 percent, compared to seven to 13 percent by his nearest rivals: ex-PM Yulia Tymoshenko; Anatoliy Grytsenko, a pro-Western former defence minister; and Serhiy Tihipko, a former Yanukovych regime member who now backs closer EU ties.

Poroshenko, a 48-year old billionaire, owns Ukraine’s best-known chocolate brand, Roshen. He has served in past governments of all colours and has close ties with the country’s oligarchs.

People like him because he was the first big man to join the Maidan. They trust him to be pragmatic with Russia and to fix Ukraine’s economy. He got a bump when star boxer Vitali Klitschko quit the race to back him. According to Odihr, the European election-monitoring body, he has also bought 48 percent of all TV ads.

Campaigning, described as “subdued” by Odihr, ends on Saturday. Voting opens at 8am local time on Sunday. Exit polls are due after 8pm and preliminary results are due on Monday.

In a striking contrast with the EU election, where turnout could fall below 40 percent, 86 percent of Ukrainians say they will cast their ballot.

Ukraine has 36 million eligible voters. Some 1.8 million of them are in Russian-occupied Crimea and 4 million are in the restive Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Odihr expects few more than 1,000 Crimeans to travel to mainland voting booths. It notes there is no election campaign in Donetsk and Luhansk. But it says its monitors have good access and voting should take place outside rebel strongholds.

There are more than 20 presidential candidates.

But in another contrast with the EU vote, where far-right parties are set to do well, Ukrainian nationalists and ultra-nationalists, such as Oleh Tyahnybok and Dmytro Yarosh, are polling below 2 percent.

Cat and mouse

For his part, Putin is keeping the EU guessing.

On one hand, he endorsed a Swiss and German initiative for peace talks between Ukraine authorities and rebels. But on the other hand, he says the election is void because Yanukovych, who is in Russia, is still president and because Ukraine is on the brink of "civil war".

“In terms of legitimacy and objectivity of the results, this will raise big questions for us,” Putin said while in China on Wednesday (21 May).

EU diplomats are quick to call out his “hypocrisy”.

One source told this website: “How can you invade Crimea then question the legitimacy of the election on grounds that Ukraine is divided? It’s the world turned upside down.”

A second EU diplomat predicted trouble.

He said: “Putin’s goal is to undermine the legitimacy of the new president, so there will be attempts to disrupt the voting, provocations. The most vulnerable spots are regional stations, where ballots are sent and counted. But the FSB [Russian intelligence] has levers everywhere in Ukraine, so you can’t exclude anything, even in the capital or in the west of the country.”

Mouse

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has invited EU leaders to Brussels on Tuesday to “exchange views” on Ukraine, among other topics.

The European Commission in recent weeks drafted potential sanctions on Russia’s energy, banking, high-tech and arms industries. But if leaders opt to go ahead, they will be unable to implement them immediately because EU countries have not decided how far to go.

Maja Kocijancic, the EU foreign relations spokeswoman, told EUobserver the work is “ongoing.” A third EU diplomat noted: “We still have to negotiate the legal details … So the leaders could take a general decision, but this does not mean, of course, that on Wednesday the sanctions will be ready.”

The delay is due to an EU split, with the UK, Nordic countries, and ex-Iron Curtain states on the hawkish side, but with France, Germany, and southern EU countries keen to go back to business as usual.

“Instead of hard diplomacy, there’s an appetite to find a compromise with Russia at any cost in order to stop escalation. Putin sees this as fear, paralysis - the politics of the white flag. It’s a clear sign to him the West is weak and that he can expand his borders without a fight,” a diplomat from one of the hawkish EU states said.

Feature

Uneasy calm in Kiev on eve of Sunday elections

The EU has urged Putin to let Ukraine choose a new leader, but its diplomats and people on the streets of Kiev are wary of his promise to "respect" what happens on Sunday.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEU Finance Ministers Agreed to Develop New Digital Taxation Rules
  2. Mission of China to the EUGermany Stands Ready to Deepen Cooperation With China
  3. World VisionFirst Ever Young People Consultation to Discuss the Much Needed Peace in Europe
  4. European Jewish CongressGermany First Country to Adopt Working Definition of Antisemitism
  5. EU2017EEFour Tax Initiatives to Modernise the EU's Tax System
  6. Dialogue PlatformResponsibility in Practice: Gulen & Islamic Thought
  7. Counter BalanceHuman Rights Concerns Over EIB Loan to the Trans Anatolian Pipeline Project
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina Leads the Global Clean Energy Transition
  9. CES - Silicones EuropeFrom Baking Moulds to Oven Mitts, Silicones Are a Key Ingredient in Kitchens
  10. Martens CentreFor a New Europeanism: How to Put the Motto "Unity in Diversity" Into Practice
  11. Access MBAGet Ahead With an MBA Degree. Top MBA Event in Brussels
  12. Idealist QuarterlyIdealist Quarterly Event: Building Fearless Democracies With Gerald Hensel

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUPresident Xi Urges Bigger Global Role for Emerging Economies
  2. EU2017EEAre We Socially Insured in the Future of Work?
  3. European Jewish CongressFrench Authorities to Root Out "Societal Antisemitism" After Jewish Family Assaulted
  4. European Federation of Local Energy CompaniesClean Energy for All? On 10.10 Top-Level Speakers Present the Clean Energy Package
  5. UNICEFUp to Three Quarters of Children Face Abuse & Exploitation on Mediterranean Migration Routes
  6. Swedish EnterprisesEurope Under Challenge; Recipe for a Competitive EU
  7. European Public Health AllianceCall to International Action to Break Deadlock on Chronic Diseases Crisis
  8. CES - Silicones EuropePropelling the construction revolution with silicones
  9. EU2017EEEU 2018 Budget: A Case of Three Paradoxes
  10. ACCAUS 'Dash for Gas' Could Disrupt Global Gas Markets
  11. Swedish Enterprises“No Time to Lose” Film & Debate on How Business & Politics Can Fight Climate Change
  12. European Free AllianceSave The Date!! 26.09 - Coppieters Awards To... Carme Forcadell