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Will Ukraine’s Euromaidan Democrats Eventually Prevail?

A recent Forum of Democratic Forces may have finally started the process of formation of a broad pro-reform coalition of largely untainted anti-corruption fighters.

Will Ukraine’s Euromaidan Democrats Eventually Prevail?

On 11th January 2019, Kyiv hosted a congress
of various pro-reformist grouping that together announced their support for the
presidential candidacy of former Minister of Defense Anatoliy Hrytsenko. In
fact, the meeting was largely an event of Hrytsenko’s party “Civil Position”
that managed to gather a number of similarly oriented micro-parties which
decided to come out as public backers of Hrytsenko’s bid. They included the
Civil Movement “Wave,” Civil Movement “Home-Country,” European Party of
Ukraine, and Political Force “Alternative” – small organizations of whom even
many Ukrainians may have never heard of. In addition, a number of prominent
MP’s from the well-known inter-factional group “Euro-Optimists,” including
Svitlana Zalishchuk, Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayem, demonstratively
joined the congress. The latter gave a speech welcoming the unification
congress, and calling for an even broader coalition of pro-reform politicians.

In fact, Nayem touched upon the crucial
question of the entire enterprise: Will the new alliance become eventually
broad enough to exert real political influence, on Ukraine’s future domestic
and foreign affairs? Nayem called explicitly upon L’viv mayor Andriy Sadovyi
and the lead singer of the popular group “Elza’s Ocean” Sviatoslav Vakarchuk to
join the coalition, in support of Hrytsenko’s presidential bid. For a number of
reasons, Nayem’s appeal may have more political meaning and practical
significance for the autumn 2019 parliamentary elections than for the
presidential ones this spring. This has to do with both, Hrytsenko relatively
low chances of becoming president in April, and the constitutional division of
real power in Ukraine.

To be sure, Hrytsenko would, perhaps, be the
ideal choice for President of Ukraine, from among all the candidates currently running.
National defense, state security and foreign affairs are the main prerogatives
of the Ukrainian presidency while social and economic matters are largely in the
hands of the Prime-Minister elected by parliament. A former military officer
and experienced politician, Hrytsenko would be well-prepared for the particular
tasks of the President.

 Moreover, his Civil Position party has
official observer status with the European Parliament’s liberal ALDE group. His
team includes a number of internationally well-connected politicians who could,
in particular, help him to deepen Ukraine’s relations to the West. Hrytsenko is
one of the few – also outside Ukraine – known politicians with an untainted
reputation, and image of a resolute anti-corruption fighter. He and his team
would probably be very welcome as Ukraine’s new leadership, in the EU and North

Alas, it looks – as of late January 2019 – a
far a shot for him to actually gain the presidency. This is not the least
because of Hrytsenko’s very standing as a no-nonsense corruption-cleanser. In
as far as Ukraine’s presidential elections will, to significant degree, be
decided by the amount of money each candidate can invest, Hrytsenko is at a
disadvantage. He cannot count on much support from Ukraine’s oligarchs, as he
is not willing to offer anything for exchange. Even if he manages to enter the
second round of the presidential elections in April 2019, Ukraine’s oligarchic
clans would probably mobilize against him, out of sheer fear, during the
campaign for the second round. Most likely, he will not even make it into the
second round, as he may be neither financially nor rhetorically strong enough
to prevail against his, in both regards, more potent competitors Petro
Poroshenko, Yuliya Tymoshenko and Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Still, his candidacy and the rallying of
reputable forces around Hrytsenko and his party Civil Position are important
for Ukraine and its integration with the West. That is because the unification
process that the January forum started offers a chance to create an appealing
list and powerful force, for the October 2017 parliamentary elections. In 2014,
Hrytsenko’s Civil Position too formed a coalition with the small, but reputed
Democratic Alliance. Yet, this political couple eventually proved too weak to
pass the 5% barrier and thus did not gain a faction in the Verkhovna Rada
(Supreme Council, Ukraine’s one-chamber parliament). One hopes that this
autumn, things will be different, and that the new alliance that Hrytsenko is
now assembling will be far broader. Ideally, this should push his list, in
October 2017, over or even far over 5%.

In such a case, the new Rada would not only gain
a – particularly, for Ukraine’s Western partners – important player who could
be relied upon, with regard to pushing through economic as well as judicial reforms,
implementing the Association Agreement with the EU, and further advancing
Ukraine’s ongoing decentralization. A strong showing of Hrytsenko’s list in
autumn could offer the opportunity of his group being included in Ukraine’s new
coalition government. Hrytsenko himself as well as such well-respected veteran democrats
as Viktor Chumak, Mykola Tomenko or Taras Stetskiv might, in a best-case
scenario, obtain ministerial portfolios or other relevant positions within
Ukraine’s legislature and executive.

In order to achieve this result, however,
Ukraine’s pro-democratic forces will have to further coalesce, team up and consolidate.
The field of not only the presidential, but also of the parliamentary elections
will be crowded. Most likely, Tymoshenko, Poroshenko and Zelenskiy will propose
their own lists, and invest considerable resources into their electoral
campaign. In addition, the Oleh Liashko’s notoriously populist Radical Party,
Ukraine’s far right groups, and, at least, one successor organization of the
Party of Regions will probably make strong bids, in the parliamentary
elections. There are, however, only 100% to be divided, and 5% need to be
passed. As a result, there may be not enough political space and urban educated
electorate for even two (not to mention more) pro-democratic anti-oligarchic
groups to make it into the parliament. In a worst-case scenario, two or more
similarly oriented parties could divide Ukraine’s anti-oligarchic electorate,
and thereby leave all of these groups, below the entry barrier for the

It will thus be imperative for the various
Euromaidan groups to show political wisdom, electoral pragmatism and strategic
foresight, in order to make it jointly over 5%, in October. One the one hand,
Hrytsenko and his team will have to be inviting, tolerant and generous, when
forming a joint list with other interested groupings. On the other hand, these
other groupings will need to be realistic, modest and oriented towards the
common good. The famous proverb “When two Ukrainians get together, there will
be three hetmans (chieftains)” is an apt warning. If the various more or less
potent groups and electorally strong personalities, within the anti-oligarchic
spectrum, cannot get their act together, they could eventually all lose in

There may be even a Western role in the
preparation process and electoral campaign. Many of the relevant leaders of the
groupings mentioned above are frequent guests in Western embassies and
capitals. Ukraine’s European and American partners should tell their friends in
Kyiv, L’viv and other places, in no uncertain terms, that they need to act
constructively during the consolidation of Ukraine’s anti-oligarchic forces.
Those who break out of the currently shaping alliance and decide to make their
own competing bits, or who behave unhelpfully within a broadening coalition
should be warned that they may later face consequences for any divisive conduct.

Official sanctions might be a bit too much. But
it could help if Western diplomats, activists and politicians make clear to
their interlocutors that invitations to embassy receptions in Kyiv, and
political gatherings in EU capitals – not to mention other benefits – may occur
less frequently for those found to be guilty of splitting the pro-reform vote,
hindering political alliance formation, and thus weakening the anti-oligarchic
forces in Ukraine’s future parliament. The stakes are high in Ukraine’s
upcoming elections, and so should Western attention for them be.   



Andreas Umland

Andreas Umland, Dr.Phil. (FU Berlin), Ph.D. (Cambridge), is a Research Fellow at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Senior Expert at the Ukrainian Institute for the Future in Kyiv, and Associate Professor of Political Science at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. He has held fellow- & lectureships at Stanford, Harvard, Oxford, Urals State University, Shevchenko University of Kyiv, and Catholic University of Eichstaett. He is also General Editor of the book series "Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society" ( and on the Boards of Directors of the International Association for Comparative Fascist Studies (, Boris Nemtsov Academic Center for the Study of Russia ( as well as German-Ukrainian NGO "Kyiv Dialogue" (

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