On Oct. 26 Ukrainians voted for a new parliament. Russia Direct asked experts to share their views on how these elections will change the situation in the country and to what extent they might affect Ukraine’s relations with Russia.

Ukrainians voted on Sunday in an election that is likely to install a pro-Western parliament and strengthen Poroshenko's mandate to end separatist conflict in the east, but may fuel tension with Russia. Photo: Reuters

Last Sunday, Oct. 26, Ukraine held parliamentary elections. These elections were rightfully seen as a milestone for the country: These elections will define which path Ukraine is going to take in its development and which policies it is going to initiate to handle the most urgent issues. The new parliament has to find a way to initiate constructive legislation and make feasible moves towards settling the crisis in the country. Failure to do so means inter-parliamentary struggles could end the time of this new parliament quite soon.

Pro-European parties received the majority of the votes, although there was no obvious winner. This leaves a certain risk that there will be a political struggle between the winners. The three frontrunners of the elections are the People’s Front (headed by the current Ukrainian Prime Minister), the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko (headed by the president) and Samopomich (“Self-Help,” a reform-minded party).

To sort out the results of the Ukrainian parliamentary elections and make sense of possible changes ahead, Russia Direct interviewed experts to discuss the outcome of the elections and how they affect Ukrainian political life. Most importantly, these experts explain how the new parliament might be able to act successfully, thereby avoiding a parliamentary crisis and addressing the desires of the Ukrainian people.

Alexander Mikhailenko, Professor, Department of Russian Foreign Policy in the National Security Faculty at RANEPA (Russian Academy of National Economy and Public Administration), Doctor of Political Sciences.

Dramatic changes have occurred in the composition of the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine. Parliament will now be ruled according to the interests of the population of Western Ukraine. A significant part of the Ukrainian electorate remains unrepresented – the political left and the Russian-speaking population, the advocates for development of closer relations with Russia. The parliamentary corps will be much more radical. Entering parliament unexpectedly, the Samopomich (“Self-Help”) Party of Andriy Sadovyi, indicates that the public wants to see new faces in politics.

These election results suggest that even more radical proposals will be made for changing the domestic and foreign policies of the country. We can expect to see a competition between factions trying to implement the most radical approaches. Almost certainly, the neutral status of Ukraine will be cancelled. Steps will be taken towards the strengthening of cooperation with NATO. The absence of a strong and real opposition (the current “Opposition Bloc” does not count) will negatively affect future lawmaking.

At the beginning of its work, parliament will attempt to form a “democratic pro-European” coalition. After that, due to a struggle for government portfolios and during the exacerbation of other contradictions, quarrels will erupt, which will then develop into a hidden struggle between the parties of Poroshenko, the People’s Front and other factions. After some time, this hidden struggle will move out into the open.

The politics of Kiev in this parliament will be decidedly more anti-Russian. Poroshenko has already said that the main current event in Ukraine is the Patriotic War of 2014, and this time it allegedly did not come from the West, but from the East. Statements made by Yatsenyuk and other Ukrainian politicians towards Russia are even tougher. We can expect that Kiev will not be able to resolve this situation by political means, and will try to solve the problem of southeastern Ukraine by force.

How strong this new Rada becomes will depend on the policies of the parties that made it into parliament. If they manage to put aside their partisan interests, the Verkhovna Rada may work for the entire period as stipulated by law, legislatively providing for the future development of the country. That would be desirable for the interests of the Ukrainian people. I would like to be wrong, but more likely, a serious inter-party struggle will ensue, because of which, parliament will lose newly emerging opportunities for leading Ukraine out of a severe political crisis.

Andrii Kruglashov, Ph.D. in Political Science, independent political consultant.

More than 55 percent of MPs are first-timers in the eighth parliament. It represents a substantial turnover, based on demographic changes as well as intensive campaigns against over 140 candidates known to be involved in corruption or who voted for dictatorial laws. Half of them were left outside by voters. There are multiple cases of candidates with relatively low budgets winning single-member districts. But still, this parliament is to be watched carefully.

As regards the Prime Minister’s interaction with the new parliament, formally and legally, the Prime Minister has much greater power. However, the President’s influence is based on the real sector economy. There may be a very loose game of mutual blaming, and the PM may show his tusks, offended by any rejection of the President to form a joint coalition between the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko and the People’s Front. But this may be a power struggle and an attempt to gain more momentum in front of upcoming local elections.

Poroshenko played the role of the “dove” during the summer and fall months of his term. Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front seems to be more like a nest of hawks. Therefore, the small margin victory of the Prime Minister and his militant colleagues leaves not much room for maneuver in this sensitive issue. Poroshenko will try to reach oligarchic consensus with the southeastern elites, but what can be guaranteed there?

Anything considered too fragile to sustain tends to last unexpectedly long. However, the stability of the coalition may be undermined by internal friction between the President and Prime Minister. The remake of the 2006 struggle between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko seems to be a disastrous, but entirely possible option.

Vladislav Ginko, Lecturer at the Institute of Economics of Natural Monopolies at RANEPA

Elections to the Verkhovna Rada in Ukraine have shown that there exist artificially high expectations among the population, and no real hope for a dramatic improvement in their lives due to the “country’s association with the EU.” These false hopes have led to the fact that voters tend not to notice that the actions of politicians in Kiev have already created an economic disaster in the country. Russia is hoping that those politicians who received a vote of confidence from the people of Ukraine will address the pressing problems of their citizens – the standard of living of the majority of them has significantly deteriorated after the change of government in February. The basic issue of the uninterrupted provision of the country’s inhabitants with heating, hot water and electricity has not been solved.

There is concern that a solution to these economic problems will once again be ignored, and in Kiev, they will continue to engage in political games in the Verkhovna Rada, forgetting that Ukraine expects them to bring back peace. As for the standard of living of the citizens of Ukraine, Kiev will need several years to return Ukrainians to the level of prosperity that they enjoyed under the previous government – and this only if the politicians in Ukraine will show wisdom and resume the largely lost economic ties with Russia. The key to political stability lies in the resumption of normal business relations with Russia, otherwise Ukraine will be faced with more political chaos. Noteworthy is the fact that Ukraine has not developed a strategy for the economic development of the country – the slogans of “EU Integration” are political declarations that hide the fact that the euro zone countries, with their high levels of public debt, rising budget deficits, as well as considerable unemployment, objectively cannot help Ukraine.

In addition, broad autonomy for East Ukraine is a necessary condition in order to avoid the collapse of Ukraine. In addition, to strengthen the interaction between Eastern Ukraine and other parts of the country, Kiev will need to develop an economic program for the region and not abandon financing the industry of that area. This was done in the spring of this year, and has since become one of the economic reasons for the increasing instability in the Donbas.

Sergey Bespalov, Ph.D. in history, leading researcher at the Institute of Humanities at RANEPA.

The results of the elections show that the Ukrainian parliament is going to be notably renewed. A significant part of the Party of Regions fraction has been left out of the current parliament, although some of its members made it to the parliament winning single-member districts and through the lists of the Opposition Bloc. The Batkivschyna (“Fatherland”) Party of Yulia Tymoshenko suffered substantial losses and the catastrophic results of the elections are most likely to halt the political career of Tymoshenko. The Freedom Party (“Svoboda”) and the Communist Party of Ukraine also could not make it into the parliament. At the same time, new political forces secured their place in the parliament – the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, the “Radical Party” and, possibly to the biggest surprise of everyone - Samopomich (“Self-Help”), the party of the mayor of Lviv, Andriy Sadovyi.

However, despite the substantial renewal of the parliament, fundamental change in the government (which is formed by a majority coalition in the Verkhovna Rada) might not happen, even though it was seen to be inevitable just two weeks ago.

Considering the formidable support that Yatsenyuk and his colleagues have from the U.S., it is most likely that he will stay in the Prime Minister’s chair.

The success of the People’s Front and the relative misfortune of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc during the elections will not allow the president to consolidate executive power just around him. However, a lot will depend on the position of Samopomich, which most likely will become a third member of the coalition. Therefore, in case Samopomich will reach an agreement with President Poroshenko, it is possible that the People’s Front leaders will not get any key ministerial portfolios. But again, taking into account the formidable support of Yatsenyuk from the U.S., this scenario is seen less likely.

It is obvious that the success of the People’s Front decreases the chances for peaceful settlement in the southeast of Ukraine and gives no reason to hope for a decrease in tensions with Russia. However, the fact that the elections were held and most radical forces failed to pass the 5 percent threshold allows expectations for at least a partial softening of aggressive nationalist rhetoric.

In any case, the new Rada and the new government will hardly be able to stabilize the catastrophically deteriorating economic situation in Ukraine, which leaves no confidence in the strength of renewed power.

Vyacheslav Mikhailov, Professor, Head of the National and Federative Relations Chair at RANEPA, Doctor of Historic Studies.

I still think that uniting Ukraine is possible, but, as Lenin said about that once – only in unity with Russia. Unfortunately the new parliament, as I see it, can hardly share this statement. But this does not coincide with the priorities of the ordinary people, half of whom - if not the majority, is inclined more towards Russia.

Thus, we can see the conflict between power distribution in the Verkhovna Rada and in society. Almost half of the Ukrainians did not take part in the voting, which caused such a misbalance.

The approximate equality of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and Yatsenyuk’s party ties Poroshenko’s hands, especially since he positions himself as a “dove.” This makes the mew Parliament’s margin of safety quite small. The only hope is for the alliance of Poroshenko’s bloc, the Lviv party of Samopomich and the Opposition Bloc – it is this alliance that can provide an advantage against the “party of war” (Yatsenyuk, Lyashko, Tymoshenko). In this case, peaceful dialogue is possible which can ultimately lead to the federalization (and decentralization) of Ukraine. It should be taken into account that federalization will be supported in Western Ukraine, Bukovina and Transcarpathia (Zakerpattia). Central regions of Ukraine will also support such a policy.

If this path will be chosen, Kiev and Moscow have a chance to normalize relations and facilitate the coordination of two integration projects – the European one and the Eurasian one.