Early elections scheduled in Ukraine as Kiev condemns Russian “invasion”

One day after the country’s independence day parade on 24 August, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dissolved the Parliament and announced that early elections would be held on 26 October. The announcement is a strong signal on the eve of Poroshenko’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk, and as Russian soldiers have been arrested on Ukrainian soil today. It raises concerns about a potential escalation of the conflict as the political and economic situation deteriorates in Ukraine.

Political turmoil in Ukraine

Ukraine has faced a political logjam since late July, when Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned from office. His decision had followed the pulling out of three parties members of the ruling coalition, which reduced the number of coalition members under the constitutional threshold of 226 deputies necessary to form a majority. Nevertheless, a majority of Ukrainian deputies eventually voted against Yatsenyuk’s resignation on 31 July, forcing him to remain Prime Minister until new elections.

Poroshenko’s decision to dissolve the Verkhovnaya Rada can be explained by several political motivations : firstly, it aims at satisfying the 80% of Ukrainians who favour early legislative elections and complained about the absence of parliamentary elections since the replacement of Viktor Yanukovych  in February. Secondly, the Ukrainian President believes that elections would oust the remaining pro-Yanukovych deputies still in Parliament, who have been accused of hampering lawmakers’ work. Reformist deputies desperately need a new majority in order to pass a new election law and eventually marginalise Yanukovych’s followers.  Thirdly, elections would bring more legitimacy to Poroshenko, whose parliamentary majority has not been subjected to any popular vote since he came into power in February 2014. More legitimacy is needed to achieve the military recapture of the Donbas region. “Victory in Donbas and victory of reformist democratic forces are interconnected. Snap elections are part of my peace plan,” Petro Poroshenko declared during his address to the nation.

As far as economics are concerned, the Independence Day parade could not hide the deteriorating situation of Ukraine’s economy, threatened by a recession of 6,5% in 2014 according to the IMF. Angela Merkel has recently tried to address these issues by offering €500 million to reconstruct the zones destroyed by the conflict.

A second Russian convoy scheduled after “invasion” started

The recent clashes between Ukraine and Russia could enter a new phase in the days to come as incursions in the Ukrainian territory are on the rise. On Friday 22 August the Russian humanitarian convoy, suspected by Kiev of carrying weapon supplies for separatists, entered the Ukrainian territory after being stuck at the border for more than 7 days. The Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko condemned a violation of previous bilateral agreements saying that the Russian trucks “passed into Ukraine without clearance or participation of the International Red Cross or (Ukrainian) border guards.” For its part, Russia reaffirmed its peaceful purposes towards the populations of rebel-held city Luhansk which has lacked running water and power for more than two weeks now.

More recently, a second incident took place on 25 August when Russian soldiers were captured by Ukrainian military forces on their territory. The Ukrainian army published online video interviews ukraine territorywith some of the soldiers as proof, as Russian authorities at first denied there had been any Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Although Russia then called it an “accident”, Ukraine’s defense minister explained that “Officially, [the soldiers] are at exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality, they are participating in military aggression against Ukraine.” US National Security Advisor Susan Rice further accused Russia of increasing its military incursion in Ukraine with tanks and missile defense systems.  In a video published by Ukrainian troops, one of the captured soldiers was quoted saying “this is not our war” while another affirmed “Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We've come as cannon fodder.”

As Ukrainian and Russian Presidents are to meet in Minsk today alongside their Belarusian and Kazakh counterparts, EU’s High Representative Catherine Ashton - who will also be present - declared that the meeting is “an opportunity [the warring parties] should not miss”. If no significant progress is expected, it constitutes at least the first “historic” meeting of both Presidents to settle the crisis.

Sources : Interfax, Le Figaro, Deutsche Welle I, The Guardian, The Moscow Times, Le Monde, European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, BBC, Deutsche Welle II, Los Angeles Times.

Photograph : Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Author : Laura Gounon

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