Russia Set to Gain Ground in Ukrainian Elections
Russia will likely gain political ground in Ukraine regardless of the outcome of the upcoming 2019 Ukrainian Presidential and Parliamentary Elections scheduled respectively for March 31 and October 27. The majority of the leading presidential candidates are amenable in some degree to the Kremlin. Current Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is the candidate most aligned with the West but his popular support has slipped due to his inability to deliver on key anti-corruption reforms as well as a sustained disinformation campaign by Russia. If Poroshenko wins the election, it will likely only be by a slim margin and his political bloc still stands to lose seats in the subsequent parliamentary elections. His opponents, by contrast, are populists willing to offer concessions to the Kremlin or politicians openly favorable towards Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Russia thus stands to advance its core strategic objectives in Ukraine - namely, reasserting political control over the Government of Ukraine and preventing its integration with the West. Russia must also extort or otherwise gain access to a supply of freshwater for the occupied Crimean Peninsula. Many of the presidential and parliamentary candidates are likely willing to support these types of concessions in exchange for limited economic or military deals with the Kremlin. Russia has deliberately cultivated these relationships with a wide range of politicians, shifting away from its prior tactics of investing in one major candidate or political party in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Western-oriented political reformists are active and still have a chance to make progress in the 2019 Ukrainian Parliamentary Election. The U.S. should engage with and support these reformists, who are facing pressures in advance of both elections, in order to counter Russia. Preserving reformers within the Government of Ukraine - particularly the Ukrainian Parliament - will be critical to Ukraine’s ability to withstand subversion by Russia and defend its pursuit of closer ties with the EU and NATO.
Access the charts below as a PDF here.
Chart endnotes are available on ISW's blog here.