Ukraine’s ‘Shady’ Political Landscape on the Eve of Parliamentary Elections

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 16 Issue: 100

(Source: Reuters)

In mid-June, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine (CCU) ruled that the snap parliamentary elections called by newly inaugurated President Volodymyr Zelenskyy would be scheduled for July 21 (, June 20; see EDM, May 22). Recent polling, conducted by the sociological firm Rating, shows that 42.3 percent of Ukrainians are ready to support Zelenskyy’s freshly formed Servant of the People party, which could result (for the first time in Ukraine’s post-1991 history) in a single-party majority in the parliament. The Opposition Platform–For Life faction (which originates from ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych’s now-defunct Party of Regions) could count on 13.4 percent of popular support (but 46.8 percent in the government-controlled Donbas region) (, July 3). Previous president Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity polls at 8.3 percent; Svyatoslav Vakarchuk’s Voice party—7.2 percent; and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party also attracts 7.2 of the vote, according to the latest Rating survey (, July 4). Despite the emergence of several new political parties, the upcoming early elections will also feature many “old faces” closely associated with previous regimes. And reportedly, four or five of the country’s most powerful oligarchs (including Ihor Kolomoysky, Viktor Medvedchuk, Viktor Pinchuk and Renat Akhmetov) are sponsoring several political forces capable of entering the Verkovna Rada (parliament) (, June 19). The present political situation thus once again calls to mind the mid-2000s, when Ukraine resembled a “republic of oligarchs.”

Kolomoysky, who recently returned to the country from self-imposed exile, has revealed that he will be supporting several political forces, but his main bet is on the pro-presidential party (see EDM, June 19) consisting of friends and associates of Zelenskyy. Servant of the People includes a number of key Kolomoysky allies: notably, individuals close to Andriy Bohdan (nicknamed “Kolomoysky’s lawyer” and currently the head of the Presidential Office) as well as several personalities connected to Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and above-mentioned billionaire Viktor Pinchuk. (, June 18). For Kolomoysky, these elections represent an opportunity to boost his influence over (aside from the executive) the legislative branch. Considering Kolomoysky’s and Bohdan’s contacts—allegedly, Bohdan has numerous connections in the CCU (several judges and a son of the former head of the Court) (, June 18) and the broader judicial system (see EDM, June 19)—the oligarch is, thus, clearly attempting to insert his “own people” into all branches of power in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Medvedchuk, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin (a godfather to Medvedchuk’s daughter), is trying to regain his influence in Ukrainian politics through support for Opposition Platform–For Life. This openly pro-Russia political force has repeatedly called developments in Donbas a “civil war” and the 2013/2014 Revolution of Dignity (EuroMaidan) a “coup d’état” (, June 21). In the last several weeks, Medvedchuk has ramped up efforts to consolidate his power over popular Ukrainian media. On June 14, Medvedchuk’s close associate, Taras Kozak, acquired the ZIK TV channel and solidified his control over 112 Ukraine and NewsOne by creating the media holding company Novyny (, June 14). Medvedchuk also purchased from Dmytro Firtash (who in the light of potential extradition to the United States actively is selling his assets) 80 percent of shares of the television channel Inter. According to reports, he also plans to acquire Poroshenko’s Pryamiy and Channel 5 (, June 30). As a result, approximately 14.5 percent of Ukraine’s TV audience may now be directly influenced by media sources supported by pro-Russia oligarchs (, July 4)—further exacerbating the country’s pre-existing informational security challenge in the run-up to this month’s parliamentary elections.

In an attempt to mobilize voters for his preferred political faction, Medvedchuk is trying to present himself as a peacekeeper. Notably, he has unilaterally orchestrated the release of four Ukrainian prisoners, sparking a sharp rebuke from Zelenskyy (and potentially suggesting an emerging conflict between Kolomoysky and Medvedchuk) (, July 3). The above-mentioned purchase of Ukrainian TV channels and the “prisoner release” occurred after Medvedchuk’s two (March and June) trips to Moscow, thus pointing to some share of involvement by the Kremlin (, June 19). Sources point to existing strong ties among Medvedchuk, Sergey Beseda (the head of the Fifth Department of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, and one of the “curators” of occupied Donbas), Dmitry Kozak (Russian deputy prime minister and alleged “patron” of Ukrainian exiled oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko) (see EDM, February 12) as well as Mikhail Babich (the former Russian ambassador to Belarus and the new “curator” of the Moscow-backed Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics”) (, May 19;, July 4).

Oligarch Pinchuk (former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma’s son in law)—whose position was eroded during Poroshenko’s presidency—is now on the verge of regaining his former influence and power. Multiple close associates of Pinchuk are present on the party lists of Servant of the People, Strength and Honor (of former Security Service head Ihor Smeshko), and Batkivshchyna; some sources allege his support for the Voice party (, July 1). The fact that Kuchma is being returned to the negotiation process over Donbas (, June 19) as well as the fact that Zelenskyy has suggested the possibility of forming a ruling coalition with Voice (, June 20) could signify Pinchuk’s growing role domestically and his increasing cooperation with Kolomoysky.

Akhmetov has traditionally been circumspect about indicating his political preferences. But he has known links to Strength and Honor as well as Opposition Bloc (now united with the “party of mayors” created by Kharkiv Mayor Gennady Kernes and Odess Mayor Gennady Trukhanov—a force that is also supported by Kolomoysky (see EDM, June 19). Furthermore, Akhmetov is seeking to influence the electorate (mainly pro-Russian voters) by exploiting religion: his business partner Vadym Novynskyi recently met with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill (, June 16). At the same time, Akhmetov, who recently established a near monopoly over Ukraine’s electricity market (, May 28), is likely to cooperate with other oligarchs.

The results of the approaching parliamentary elections will have enormous consequences for Ukraine, a country with a semi-presidential political system in which the parliament has (on some key questions) even more power than the executive. Notably, the head of state has to agree with the Rada on foreign and security policy, mobilization, declarations of war, use the military, as well as constitutional amendments. And without parliamentary approval, the president is not able to appoint a government, or ministers of defense and foreign affairs. Beyond the impact the elections will have on Ukraine’s political landscape, the new makeup of the legislature will affect national security issues ranging from energy and external affairs to information security.