Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ukraine Update:November 9-December 13, 2016

                                                                                 By: Franklin Holcomb, and Ben Knudson

The Ukrainian government implemented a series of reforms in the face of rising public dissatisfaction and protests. The slow pace of reform and perceived corruption of the Ukrainian government manifested in demonstrations of over 5,000 protestors in November. These movements enjoy the support of pro-Russia and populist parties that are making a concerted effort to capitalize on increasing public frustration in order to strengthen their movements and undermine the legitimacy of pro-western president Petro Poroshenko. Lack of unity and a clear direction from populist parties will likely prevent them from gaining meaningful traction among the Ukrainian electorate in the short term, however. Ukraine’s reformist movement also continued to voice its dissatisfaction with the Poroshenko administration. Former governor of Odessa Oblast, Mikheil Sakaashvili, announced the creation of a new reformist political party, held protests and launched a fundraising effort. President Poroshenko attempted to quell dissatisfaction by enacting reforms doubling the minimum wage, restructuring the health care system to make insurance universally available and protecting depositors against bank fraud. President Poroshenko will likely seek high-profile public victories, particularly EU visa liberalization, in order to stabilize support for his government.

Ukraine also continued to strengthen its military and political ties with the EU and NATO in its effort to distance itself from Russia and modernize its infrastructure and military. Ukraine and the EU signed a memorandum of understanding on a strategic energy partnership that enhances cooperation in efficiency and facilitates energy market integration in the future. The deal also makes progress towards a visa-free travel regime for Ukrainians visiting EU nations. Ukraine launched numerous domestically manufactured surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles near Crimea, forcing a strong Russian reaction. In an effort to avoid prompting Russian military action against their forces, Ukraine shifted the tests further inland, revealing its ability to utilize its military buildup in Crimea to alter Ukraine’s use of its sovereign territory. Russia went so far as to assert that it would use its military assets in Crimea against another Black Sea power. Despite Russian pushback, the missile tests demonstrated the growing capabilities of Ukraine’s military and domestic arms industry, which continues to improve and modernize from its post-Soviet state of disrepair.