Category Archives: Ukraine

Ukraine – High Anti-Corruption Court and Prospects for Curbing Corruption

On June 26th, President Poroshenko signed a law establishing the High Anti-Corruption Court. The creation of the body was highly anticipated by both domestic and international observers. The Court is expected to be the last link in the chain of recently established bodies designed to fight top-level corruption in Ukraine and is one of the key conditions to unlock 1.9 billions in IMF aid.

As we previously mentioned on the pages of this blog, it has been a long and rocky road for the fight against corruption in Ukraine. Ukraine’s corruption levels reached an all-time high under the rule of Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014 and is currently under investigation. Since being elected in 2014, among other economic, political, and military problems facing the country, President Poroshenko also had to reform the justice system. In the past 4 years, Ukraine established three institutions tasked with fighting corruption in the country – National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, and the National Agency for Corruption Prevention. The role of the newly created High Anti-Corruption Court is to ensure that officials indicted by NABU face trial. Up to now, out of 220 indictments, only 21 officials have been convicted and no senior officials were imprisoned.

Since one of the central demands of the 2014 protests was to eradicate corruption in the country and bring corrupt officials to justice, the lack of convictions has started damaging the credibility of NABU as well as other institutions and governing bodies. According to the nationwide public opinion survey conducted in May 2018,

  • 83% of Ukrainians believe that the fight against corruption in the country has not been successful so far
  • Half of the population (50%) surveyed believe that it is a total failure
  • 48% of the population believe that currently no institution in Ukraine is actively fighting corruption
  • Only 11% believe that the National Anti-corruption Bureau was actively combating graft, but only 15% believe that its efforts are effective
  • Only 4% of those surveyed believe that the President is actively fighting corruption

The new law addressed the criticism previously raised by the IMF and the World Bank and allowed international experts to play a significant role in selection of judges. At the NATO summit in Brussels on July 13, the President confirmed his willingness to allow international experts to be involved asking NATO member countries to provide experts as soon as possible.

However, barely signed, the law was criticised again for allowing a loophole. According to the original law, all politicians and other suspects currently under investigation by NABU would not have to face trial in the newly established anti-corruption court. Instead, they could be considered in ordinary courts. This affected not only 135 cases currently under investigation but also all other cases submitted before the court was established. Given that it may take between 6 months and 2 years before the anti-corruption court is fully established and operational, this would have given significant leeway to a number of corruption cases.

On the urging of the IMF, the original law had to be amended on July 12th to address the criticism. The amendment expanded the jurisdiction of the High Court to include the cases opened before the court was established. Whether the amendments will be enough to unlock the aid from the IMF remains to be seen. More importantly, however, experts agree that the reduction of corruption may require much more than punitive measures alone.

Ukraine – Ex-Presidents and their Legal Troubles

A few weeks ago, on the pages of this blog, we posted an article about Peru’s ex-presidents and their legal troubles. Today, we continue the series with a follow up on Ukraine and ex-presidents’ troubles there.

In March 2018, EU prolonged sanctions against the former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and his associates, including President’s son, two former Prime Ministers, and Yanukovych’s chief of staff. EU accused the former President and his inner circle of misappropriation of state funds and froze their assets shortly after the president fled the country in February 2014. Estimated to be tens of billions of dollars, access to funds was blocked on the territories of 8 EU countries.

Yanukovych successfully challenged the sanctions during their first year, from March 2014 to March 2015, as EU did not have enough evidence of embezzlement at the time. However, the sanctions were re-instated starting from March 2015, followed by a recent extension for another year, until March 2019. Yanukovych and his son filed appeals in 2016 and 2017 to be taken off the EU sanctions listing. Both appeals have been dismissed and sanctions were upheld. Nonetheless, the President and his son continue to maintain their innocence and deny any involvement in corruption or other wrongdoings.

In the meantime, the court hearing for Yanukovych’s treason case in Ukraine also continues. The trial started a year ago, in May 2017. The ex-president is charged with state treason. The punishment ranges from 10 years in prison to life imprisonment. The current President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, was called to testify in February 2018. However, his testimony  ended prematurely as the judge accused the lawyers of the defense of intentionally asking questions unrelated to the criminal investigation. And in the latest development, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, requested to testify in the case. However, due to fear of persecution, he agreed to appear in court only via a video conference. It is estimated that the investigation and trial will go on for several years.

Despite all the corruption problems in Ukraine, Yanukovych is the only president currently either on trial or on the run. That said, another ex-President, Leonid Kuchma, has experienced his fair share of legal troubles. In addition to being accused of corruption and vote-rigging, in 2011 he was indicted by court for his alleged involvement in the 2000 murder of a Ukrainian journalist. However, Kuchma managed to rehabilitate his image and turned into a respected diplomat in 2015, helping Ukraine negotiate during the crisis with Russia.

Zbigniew Brzezinski has been quoted saying that every Ukrainian president is worse than his predecessor. This may explain the low trust Ukrainians have in the executive office and their readiness to go to the streets to demand responsible politics. With the upcoming election next year, the Ukrainians surely hope that the current president will prove Zbigniew Brzezinski wrong.

Ukrainian Presidents and NATO

Will President Poroshenko be able to take Ukraine into NATO? This is the question experts of the Ukrainian foreign policy are asking today. A bit over a year ago, in February 2017, Ukrainian President promised to hold a referendum on the country’s membership in NATO before leaving office. A few days ago, Ukraine reached another important milestone in its quest for the NATO membership. On March 10, President has declared that Ukraine is officially seeking to enter into a Membership Action Plan (MAP), a formal step toward joining NATO. As a result, Ukraine has been granted a status of “aspirant country.”

According to the NATO website, the Alliance may invite aspirant countries to participate in the MAP “to prepare for potential membership and demonstrate their ability to meet the obligations and commitments of possible future membership. Participation in the MAP does not guarantee membership, but it constitutes a key preparation mechanism.”

The first president of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk (1994-1999), was in favor of joining the Alliance, a position which he advocated during his presidency as well as long after. He considered membership in NATO to be the best guarantee of the security of Ukraine. Today, he still continues to publicly support Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance. In August 2017, Kravchuk was quoted that given the international situation and conflict with Russia, Ukraine “will not be able to survive” without an alliance and accession to NATO.

Leonid Kuchma (1994-2004), on the other hand, never openly declared any intention to join NATO. He usually listed three main reasons for leaving it off his foreign policy agenda: (1) NATO was not willing to let Ukraine in; (2) Ukraine was not ready and (3) attitudes Russia, which categorically rejected NATO’s presence in Easter Europe and the former Soviet Union [1]. Viktor Yushchenko (2005-2010), on the other hand, was a strong supporter of Ukraine’s membership in the Alliance and expressed country’s readiness to join the Membership Action Plan in 2006. However, the plan for NATO membership was completely abandoned in May 2010 under President Yanukovych (2010-2014).

This brings us back to the present day. In July 2017, as we reported on the pages of this website, President Poroshenko announced that he would seek an opening of negotiations on MAP as well as promised to hold a referendum on the membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Furthermore, for the first time Ukraine undertook the necessary domestic reforms to back up its claim for the membership.

There are, of course, two sides to the question of NATO membership. It is not only the Ukrainian presidents who matter in the membership decisions. Since president Trump took office, the US has sent contradictory messages on NATO and the country’s leadership of the Alliance has been uncertain. President Trump, however, has been largely supportive of Ukraine. He has recently approved sales of weapons to the country as well as deployed more tanks to NATO’s Eastern flank reassuring both Ukraine and his European allies. Whether NATO will accept a country with an on-going military conflict is also in question. It has not stopped West Germany from joining the Alliance in 1955 when GDR was under the USSR occupation. Whether the Alliance would be willing to do it again, however, remains to be seen.

Note

[1] Kuzio, Taras. 1998. “Ukraine and NATO: The evolving strategic partnership,” The Journal of Strategic Studies 21 (2): 1-30.

Ukraine – President Poroshenko and the Anti-Corruption High Court

On 31 December 2017, President Poroshenko used his Twitter account to post a video on the last day of the year. The 1 minute 41 seconds video was a collection of clips with a short text underneath each providing a summary of the greatest achievements of the year. Among the biggest successes, the President named the establishment of the visa-free regime and the association agreement with Europe, the release of 73 hostages held in captivity by Russian-led militants in Donbas, large scale highway works as well as pension, education and medical reforms.

One reform area, however, was absent from the video – a demonstration of achievements in the fight against corruption. Given that corruption is one of the chronic, endemic problems that plagues Ukraine and was the reason for ousting its previous President, it is the reforms in this sphere that Ukrainian civil society is most adamant about.

As we mentioned previously on the pages of the blog, to address the demands for corruption reform the President promised to sign a law launching an anti-corruption court by the end of 2017. On December 22, President’s draft law “On the High Anti-Corruption Court” was registered in Ukraine’s parliament. However, the civil society groups and opposition legislators criticized the President’s draft arguing that it did not guarantee the selection of independent judges.

Civil society groups were not the only ones to disapprove the draft law. Transparency International urged the President to withdraw his draft, rework it and submit a new one, listing several areas where the draft did not adhere to the recommendations of the Venice Commission of October 2017.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) also wrote to the President’s office this month expressing concern that the draft law fails to meet the recommendations of the European rights and legal watchdog. Establishing an independent and effective Anti-Corruption Court is one of the reforms required for Ukraine to qualify for the further funding from the IMF, which amounts to $800 million.

Political scientists Robertson and Pop-Eleches call this joint effort between the Ukrainian civil society and the international community to force the country down the road of anti-corruption reforms a “sandwich” model. The model worked effectively in the case of defending the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and other anti-corruption reformers. Whether it will be effective in the case of the Anti-Corruption Court remains to be seen. Recently, the President confirmed that he will amend his legislation to make it more effective.

However, Anders Aslund, a leading specialist on economic policy in Russia, Ukraine and Eastern Europe, is pessimistic about the prospect of the effective reforms in Ukraine. In a recent article, Aslund wrote that the ruling coalition did not seem to be interested in a real independent anti-corruption court or electoral reform even if legislation was under way. Instead, Ukraine’s politicians seemed to be deeply absorbed by the upcoming election scheduled to be held in May 2019.

Ukraine – EuroMaidan: 4 years on

On the night of November 21st, 2013, the citizens of Ukraine came to the streets to protest the policies of then government of Viktor Yanukovych. The wave of demonstrations and civil unrest now commonly referred to as EuroMaidan ultimately forced the president and many high political officials to flee the country. Although the demonstrations were sparked by the decision to suspend the signing of the association agreement with the European Union, the protests were also against corruption at the highest levels of the Ukrainian society. Yesterday marked 4 years since the beginning of EuroMaidan, what progress has been made since then?

Last week, the President of the World Bank, Jim Young Kim, visited Ukraine to discuss the reforms in the country. The President of the World Bank affirmed “we applaud the remarkable reforms Ukraine has implemented, which have helped the economy return to growth.” However, Jim Young Kim called for establishment of an independent corruption court as “a critical step to tackle corruption.”

Chatham House also issued a report on the state of the Ukrainian reforms in October 2017, praising “the remarkable progress in laying the foundations for reducing corruption in public life.” Nonetheless, the report also noted that, despite numerous achievements, from the standpoint of the Ukrainian population there has been little to show for the reforms [1]. Thus, it is not surprising that last month Ukraine was engulfed in yet another wave of anti-graft protests. Over 4,000 people gathered outside of the parliament demanding to lift parliamentary immunity, change electoral system to an open-party list, and create a National Anticorruption Court.

President Petro Poroshenko took immediate steps to speed up the legislative process to address the three demands raised by the protestors. As a result, the legislators agreed to fast-rack a bill stripping members of parliament of immunity from persecution possibly as early as next year. Parliament also started discussing the possibility of changing the electoral system. Finally, President Poroshenko promised to sign a law launching the anti-corruption court by the end of the year.

However, it is important to note that scholars still know very little about corruption, why some countries succumb to it, and most importantly how to eradicate it. Certainly, more research is needed on the topic, especially since Ukraine is definitely not the only country struggling with corruption. This year alone, on these pages we have reported on the corruption scandals at the highest levels of government in Brazil, Romania, South Korea and Guatemala, among others.

Although protestors in many countries in the world, including Ukraine, rightly demand the enactment of anti-corruption reforms and the elimination of corruption, these do take time. Unfortunately, Ukraine does not have that much time. In their 2015 article, Rosas and Manzatti found that victims of corruption are more likely to punish presidents and governments that condone or engage in corruption. Furthermore, “those that suffer corruption and find themselves in a situation of poor economic performance are even more likely to offer pessimistic assessments of the siting president” [2]. Only 18 months are left before the next presidential elections in Ukraine. Given the levels of inflation and struggling unemployment figures, Ukrainian citizens are likely to hold the president accountable for failing to curb corruption in the next elections. Therefore, to improve his chances of winning the re-election, President Poroshenko will need to show progress in reducing corruption in the country or at least to take significant steps toward it.

Notes

[1] Lough, John. 2017. “Anti-corruption Reforms” in Ash, Timothy et al. Chatham House Report: The Struggle for Ukraine.

[2] Rosas, Guillermo and Luigi Manzatti. 2015. “Reassessing the trade-off hypothesis: How misery drives the corruption effect on presidential approval,” Electoral Studies 39: 26-38.

How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions?

This is a blog post by Svitlana Chernykh based on her recent article with Paul Chaisty published in Political Research Quarterly (Online First). The full article can be found here.

Although the concept of coalitional presidentialism is not new, until recently, the question of how presidents form and manage their coalitions has been explored primarily in the context of Latin American presidential democracies. However, we know little about how and whether these theories travel outside Latin America. In “How Do Minority Presidents Manage Multiparty Coalitions? Identifying and Analyzing the Payoffs to Coalition Parties in Presidential Systems” we use original quantitative and qualitative data to analyse how minority presidents manage their multiparty coalitions to achieve legislative support in Ukraine.

Why Ukraine? With few exceptions, the country has been governed by multiparty cabinet coalitions since 1996 and thus offers rich macro-level data. Ukraine is also a difficult case with which to test institutional hypotheses. Many scholars of Ukrainian politics have questioned the applicability of notions of coalitional behavior to the country and have suggested that coalitional solutions to the problems of limited legislative support are difficult to operate in the Ukrainian context. Finally, presidential coalitions in Ukraine frequently contain cabinet parties as well as parties that do not have cabinet representation. This allowed us to explore the non-cabinet strategies that presidents used to manage the support of coalition parties.

Portfolio Allocation and Cabinet Coalition Discipline in Ukraine

In the first part of the paper, we test a now well-established hypothesis in Latin American literature that cabinet portfolio payoffs to coalition allies raise the level of legislative support for presidents. Our dependent variable is coalition discipline. It is measured as the percentage of legislators belonging to cabinet parties who voted in favour of bills introduced by the executive branch. Our main independent variable is the level of cabinet coalescence or the level of fairness in the distribution of cabinet posts among coalition members [1].

We find that cabinet coalescence has a positive and statistically significant effect on cabinet coalition discipline in Ukraine. To put it in substantive terms, an increase in cabinet coalescence by 10 percent increases cabinet coalition discipline by 2.4 percent. Thus, the dynamics of coalitional presidentialism in Ukraine are similar to those that we find in Latin America. The presidents who compose their cabinets more proportionally can expect a higher degree of satisfaction from allied parties and thus higher levels of discipline.

Managing Parties Outside of the Cabinet 

However, Ukrainian presidents also rely on the support of parties that do not receive portfolio payoffs. As the figure below shows, the number of non-cabinet coalition parties is significant in the Ukrainian case. In fact, the inclusion of non-cabinet parties was crucial in giving each president minimum winning majorities or near majorities.

Figure 1. The number of Ukrainian parties in cabinet and floor coalitions, 1996–2011.

 

How did the presidents in Ukraine secure their support? What were the motivations behind these parties’ decision to join the coalitions? To answer these questions, we interviewed 50 legislators, of whom 60 per cent were members of the coalition in 2012. We designed an interview sample and a number of structured and semi-structured questions to help us explore whether the perceived benefits of coalition membership differed significantly between members of coalition parties that had and did not have cabinet representation.

As figures 2 and 3 show, that the motivation to support the president differed between coalition parties that were members of the cabinet and those that were not. Non-cabinet coalition parties were significantly likely to identify extra-cabinet strategies such as patronage, budget payoffs, and informal favours when asked about strategies that the president used to form the coalition (figure2).

Figure 2. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who identified the importance of extra- cabinet benefits (patronage, budget resources, and informal favours) in the formation of coalitions.

We find a similar pattern when analysing the responses to a structural question, which asked legislators to choose the first and second most important reason why a political party would decide to join a presidential coalition from a list of options (figire 3). Members of the cabinet party were significantly more likely to identify policy influence and cabinet positions than the members of non-cabinet parties within the floor coalition. In contract, members of non-cabinet parties were more likely to mention budget influence and especially the informal exchange of favours than members of cabinet parties.

Figure 3. Percentage of non-cabinet and cabinet coalition party members who selected as the first or second most important reason why a political party might choose to join a presidential coalition.

Therefore, on the one hand, the Ukraine case validates extant analysis on the effects of cabinet management on legislative behaviour. This suggests that coalitional presidentialism is not simply a unique Latin American phenomenon and gives us good reasons to expect similar dynamics in other regions of the world. Given the increasing preponderance of minority presidents in new democracies, this presents the opportunity to compare a diverse range of presidential cases across other parts of Europe as well as other regions including Africa and Asia.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian case also highlights the multivariate nature of the strategies that presidents deploy to maintain their legislative support. This adds a new dimension to the extant literature, which has mainly focused on the tools deployed by presidents at the cabinet level. By distinguishing between cabinet and floor coalitions, it is possible to identify parties that are motivated to join presidential coalitions by reasons other than cabinet portfolios. This finding highlights the need to consider the entire “toolbox” of resources that presidents can use to maintain their coalitional support [2]. 

 

[1] Amorim Neto, Octavio. 2002. “Presidential Cabinets, Electoral Cycles, and Coalition Discipline in Brazil”, in: Scott Morgenstern and Benito Nacif (eds), Legislative Politics in Latin America, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 48–78.

[2] Chaisty, Paul, Nic Cheeseman, and Timothy J. Power. 2014. “Rethinking the ‘Presidentialism Debate’: Coalitional Politics in Cross-Regional Perspective.” Democratization 21: 72–94.

Ukraine – Ex-president Viktor Yanukovych on Trial

On May 4, Ukraine began a high treason trial of its former president Viktor Yanukovych. According to the Ukrainian state prosecutor’s website, Yanukovych is accused of committing “treason by helping the Russian Federation and its representatives to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The so-called “trial of the century” has already held two sessions. The prosecution’s main evidence are copies of letters written by Yanukovych asking Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops to Ukraine. In addition, the prosecutor says that it has witness testimonies, documents, and photo materials to support the case. The punishment for treason in Ukraine carries a sentence of 10 to 15 years.

However, in addition to the treason trial, Yanukovuch is also under criminal investigation in three other cases. First, the former president is accused of ordering the use of disproportionate force against the demonstrators during the so-called Europmaidan protests between November 2013 and February 2014. Second, Yunukovych is accused of having formed criminal groups. And finally, the Mezhyhirya case of illegal acquisition of property. The Mezhyhirya residence of the former president became famous when it was confiscated in 2014 after he fled the country. Later authorities discovered fleet of luxury cars and other luxury items that have stored in the the now infamous estate.

Currently leaving in exile in Russia, the president is being tried in absentia. To enable this, Ukrainian legislature had to pass a number of amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code. This, however, generated a number of controversies. Some argued that the bill is a case of selective justice and is politically motivated, drafted with a sole purpose of putting the former president on trial. Furthermore, the defence has argued that there is no legal basis for the treason trial as Yanukovych has not been presented with an official notification of the charges against him. Most importantly, however, the bill has been criticised for the potential impact it may have on regular citizens. Many argue that the amendment can lead to the dangerous abuse of power allowing the possibility of convicting a person in absentia, without them even knowing about being on trial.

In the last year alone, a number of other countries put their presidents on trail. The most high profile recent case is the impeachment and the corruption trial of the president of South Korea Park Geun-hye. Burkina Faso has also recently started a trial of its former president Blaise Compaore. He is also tried in absentia and is accused of using force against unarmed protesters in 2014, during the uprising that took him out of power. The presidents of Brazil and Argentina are also currently on trial for corruption. Thus, a quick look around the world shows that Ukraine is not the only country to have one of its former presidents on trial. However, it is one of the few countries to have a president tried for treason, in addition to corruption and excessive use of force.

The trial is an important test for the Ukrainian judiciary. There are serious grounds for bringing charges against the former president. However, it is crucial for the trial to be conducted in a fair and independent manner in order not to only avoid the verdict being challenged in an international court but also continue to further build and strengthen the judicial system in Ukraine.

Ukraine and NATO – President Promises a Referendum

In the beginning of February, in an interview with a German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, President Poroshenko announced that he would hold a referendum on Ukraine’s membership in NATO during his presidency. Citing increasing support for the alliance among the population of the country, the President confirmed that he would do everything in his power to join the North Atlantic Alliance if the Ukrainians vote for it.

Since the beginning of his presidency, Poroshenko paid particular attention to strengthening Ukraine’s relationship with the international organisations and alliances, with a particular focus on the EU and NATO. Visa free regime with the EU was one of Poroshenko’s headline campaign promises. And although it has taken two years longer to achieve than the president had hoped, the EU seems to be set to introduce a visa free travel for Ukrainian citizens in June.

However, a closer affiliation with NATO, even though might be desired by the majority of the Ukrainian population, might be even more difficult to achieve for the president. Poroshenko, however, does not seem to be dismayed by the challenging task ahead. In the interview, the president cited a quickly rising support for the alliance among the Ukrainian population: “Four years ago, just 16 per cent [of Ukrainians] supported NATO membership. Now it is 54 per cent.”

However, even if NATO referendum will pass, joining the North Atlantic Alliance may still prove difficult for Ukraine. It has been reported that, although supportive of the country, NATO is not keen on admitting it as a new member and is cautious not to provoke Russia. A very similar situation surrounded Poland, when it joined the Atlantic Alliance in 1999 but no Russia response followed. However, Russia made its position clear on the question of Ukraine joining NATO in 2008, when it threatened to target its missile on Ukraine if it joined the Atlantic Alliance.

NATO member fees have also been the topic of the controversy recently. During the recent visit of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to the US, President Trump reportedly presented her with a £300bl dollar bill. Whether Ukraine would be able to cover its fee membership if admitted is also a question.

Nonetheless, the question of Ukraine membership in NATO is not new. An online petition, which collected 25,000 signatures, asking for a referendum on NATO membership was previously submitted to the president in August 2015. And even though the referendum, of course, will not directly result in Ukraine joining NATO, holding a referendum would not only fulfil President’s pre-electoral promise to do so but also show the support for the alliance in the country.

Henry E. Hale – Presidential Power in Ukraine: Constitutions Matter

This is a guest post by Henry E. Hale, Professor of Political Science and International Relations at George Washington University

Some observers argue Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has been determined to concentrate power in his own hands ever since his May 2014 election and has either failed or not seriously tried to eliminate high-level corruption. Yet nearing the end of his third year in office, he clearly lags far behind where his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, was three years into his presidency. Indeed, Ukraine in 2017 remains a much more politically open place than it was in 2013. Why has this been the case?

While leadership styles are clearly part of the story, there is a strong argument to be made that constitutional design is an important part of the explanation. When Yanukovych first came to power, he used his fresh mandate not only to get his own person installed as prime minister (something Poroshenko also achieved) but to establish a strongly presidentialist constitution, one that signaled his clear dominance over the parliament and all other formal institutions. This signaled to Ukraine’s most potent oligarchs and other power networks that Yanukovych was the unquestioned dominant authority and complicated their efforts to challenge him; even if his opponents had managed to win the 2012 parliamentary elections, which they did not, even this position would not have put them in a position to significantly limit presidential power.

Poroshenko’s election, on the other hand, emerged partly out of the discrediting of that very presidentialist model, which with the rise of the Euromaidan came to be blamed for fostering overweening presidential power and its use of brutal force against its own people. Indeed, one of the first moves of the victorious revolutionaries, weeks before Poroshenko’s election, was to restore the constitution that had been in place prior to Yanukovych’s 2010 election. This constitution establishes a division of executive power between the president and a prime minister who is primarily beholden to parliament. Thus while Poroshenko surely would have liked to have more formal power, he was not in position to capitalize on his election win to call for a newly presidentialist constitution.

As a result, Poroshenko’s efforts to augment his own power have been limited by a constitution that leads the country’s political forces to see him as not necessarily the dominant power. While the parliament did vote to confirm his preferred prime minister, his parliamentary majority is at best fragile and does not represent a strong control over parliament, and there is a strong likelihood he could lose control of the next parliament given current patterns of public support. With parliament (and by implication the prime ministership) a major prize, Poroshenko’s opponents thus find it easier to envision a successful move against him even if they cannot capture the presidency itself. And this leads others to be more cautious about placing all their political and economic eggs in Poroshenko’s basket, which further limits his authority in the country.

My sense, therefore, is that Ukraine’s being more democratic about three years after Poroshenko than it was three years after Yanukovych is more about constitutions than about presidential beliefs or capabilities–even in a country like Ukraine, where the rule of law is weak and people frequently question whether constitutions matter at all.

American Foreign Policy and Ukraine

On 24 January, the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, appealed to the EU and the U.S. to keep sanctions on Russia. The U.S. and the EU initially imposed sanctions in 2014 in response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Shortly before leaving office, President Obama extended the sanctions for one year, until March 2018, to signal the commitment to continue to support Ukraine. And until now, both the EU and the U.S. have promptly acted on their commitments toward Ukraine as the country has been facing some of its most challenging times.

The fears of President Poroshenko, however, are not unfounded. Following the recent presidential election in the U.S., Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Ukraine and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, said it was a particularly stressful time for Ukraine and that “Ukraine was the biggest loser in the world tonight.” The statement was not surprising given the previous comments made by President Trump. In his interview with the Wall Street Journal, for instance, he suggested that there could be a shift in American foreign policy toward Russia and Ukraine, putting in question whether the U.S. will continue to impose sanctions on Russia and support Ukraine.

Even though in the last week the news has mostly focused on the recent executive orders issued by the U.S. government, the question of the sanctions remained in the media. During the recent press conference, when further pressed on the question, President Trump appeared ambiguous and noncommittal in his answer, saying “we’ll see what happens, very early to be talking about this.” The question of Ukraine, however, is likely to come up again later this week during the Senate confirmation of prospective secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.

European leaders have not changed their position on Ukraine. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, who has just finished her first state visit with President Trump, reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to maintaining sanctions on Russia “until it met its commitments on Ukraine.” Germany has also remained a steady ally of Ukraine through its roughest times. However, it is maintaining the support of the U.S. in the months and years to come will probably be one of the biggest challenges of the foreign policy yet to come for President Poroshenko.