Ukraine Votes for Unity and Reform

October 28, 2014

On Monday, the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) hosted a conference call on Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.  James Kirchick, an FPI Fellow, gave his on-the-ground perspective and analysis on the vote as an election observer for the International Republican Institute (IRI).

In addition to the full audio of the event, FPI believes the following quotes will be helpful for policymakers, lawmakers, and the general public to understand the significance of Ukraine’s election for its political transition.

Who Won Ukraine’s Parliamentary Elections?

“What we’ve seen is overwhelming support by those who voted for political parties that are reformist [and] have a pro-western orientation….I think this was a pretty resounding victory for those people in Ukraine who want national unity, reforms and a pro-Western, Atlanticist orientation. And I think it is up to the friends of Ukraine, and supporters of freedom and democracy in the West to extend back that hand of help.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

“The far right, which has been presented as a real boogey man by the Russians and their supporters in Europe and the West, received minimal support. The Svoboda Party, which was the more mainstream, nationalist right-wing part, is believed to receive just over 5%; just enough to get into Parliament itself.  Whereas the Right Sector, the more radical, nationalist militia may only have one seat in Parliament period.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

What Issues Drove Ukrainian Voters?

“I think we have a tendency among Western analysts to view events in Ukraine as being part of a broader geopolitical debate – is it going to be more pro-Western or more pro-Russian? For most Ukrainians, on a day to day basis, that is not what they are thinking about... They are thinking about corruption. They are thinking about the war in the east, and they are thinking about energy.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

“I would rank corruption as the leading issue because it affects so many things in this country, from the small daily humiliation of having to bribe a police officer to getting paperwork for opening up a business, to the larger issues of gas deals and the broader geopolitical macroeconomic issues are also affected by corruption.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

What Does the Election Mean for the Conflict in Ukraine?

“What you’re actually going to see now is a stronger support for a more resolute response by the central government because so many people in the East were not able to vote [because of the war], and the opposition bloc in parliament is significantly smaller than it might otherwise have been. The parties in the new government are much more supportive of a unified Ukraine and taking a harder line against the insurgents in the East.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

“While this election certainly has legal legitimacy, and I think it has legitimacy in the eyes of most Ukrainians, there will still be lingering questions about whether people in the east are fully represented in this new Parliament.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

“I think that the goal of the Russian government is basically to maintain Ukraine in some form of limbo. Obviously, we have Crimea being captured and annexed and there is no foreseeable situation in which that is reversed in the near future. And I think that what the Russians have in mind is basically a Transnistria-like type status for Eastern Ukraine; where for now these territories are in the hands of so called separatist troops, who are obviously directed and armed by the Russian government.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

What are Ukrainians’ Attitudes Toward the Conflict?

“IRI did extensive polling across the country before the elections that showed overwhelming support for national unity, even in the eastern part of the country. So in spite of the propaganda you might be hearing that this was a country split in half by a Pro-Russian East and a Pro-Western West, there is some truth to that but the larger truth is that most Ukrainians want a united Ukraine. They do not want to become annexed by Russia.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

“I regret to say that I think that a lot of people have lost hope in the United States in terms of supporting them militarily at least… I think people here naturally have good feelings towards the United States, but they feel let down. [T]hey hoped that the United States would have been more willing to help them in their time of need. And I think most of them now realize that they are pretty much in this alone.” – FPI Fellow James Kirchick

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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