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Ukraine – Another Political Crisis Is Brewing

As Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman approaches the end of his first year in office, the situation in Kiev is a mess, and the policymaking process has ground to a halt at a time when there is urgent need for action. That has not only impeded efforts to secure additional loans under a $17.5 billion lending agreement with the IMF, but extends as well to efforts to resolve the armed conflict between the Ukrainian military and Russian-backed separatist rebels in the eastern Donbass oblasts of Donetsk and Luhansk.
In a sign of heightening tensions, the government announced a ban on trade with the rebel-held oblasts in mid-March, formalizing a de facto rail blockade imposed by nationalist activists earlier in the month. The move came in the wake of clashes between Ukrainian authorities and the activists, and reports that the rebel administrations in Donetsk and Luhansk had seized control of key economic assets in the oblasts.
The cessation of shipments of coal from the east is depriving Ukraine’s industries of the materials required to stay in business, which has negative implications for economic growth, employment, and generation of foreign exchange earnings and tax receipts. The negative economic outlook points to a further erosion of support for Poroshenko’s BPP and Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, the two parties that provide Groysman’s government with its parliamentary majority, even as the administration approached the end of the one-year grace period during which it enjoys protection from being toppled by a confidence vote.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin shows no sign of abandoning his strategy of sowing instability in Kiev. Whether intentional or not, the release of captured fighter pilot Nadiya Savchenko in a prisoner swap carried out in May 2016 may turn out to be a masterstroke in that regard.
Since being freed, Savchenko, who was elected to the Parliament while imprisoned in Russia, has displayed unexpected political ambition. She has founded her own political movement, Civic Platform RUNA, and her hardline positions on cleaning up the government and her refusal to make any concessions to the eastern rebels have made her an appealing figure for members of the military, war veterans, and ordinary Ukrainians frustrated by the lack of political reform since the Euromaidan revolution in early 2014.
It is unclear at this point whether Savchenko’s favorable numbers—she is rated the most trusted politician by Ukrainian voters—can be sustained once she ceases to be a political novelty. However, she could potentially emerge as a key player in the event of a near-term political crisis triggered by the collapse of Groysman’s government.
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