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What's Next for Ukraine?

Expert Insight into the 2019 Ukrainian Elections

Introduction

Olga Onuch, Gwendolyn Sasse & Henry Hale

How should we understand Ukrainian politics as the country moves to a momentous presidential election scheduled for 31 March (but likely to require a runoff later) and a parliamentary context slated for October? This collection of articles debunks many common myths of Ukrainian politics, provides a crucial foundation for interpreting what happens, and demonstrates why these election results will be so important for the future of Ukraine and for Europe more generally, not to mention Russia’s efforts to restore and expand its own influence.

Ukraine’s current elections are marked by unprecedented uncertainty. The top three candidates are neck and neck in the polls, but it is quite unclear whose supporters may have last-minute changes of heart or fail to turn up at the polls - and about a quarter of those who are planning to vote remain undecided. Indeed, the current front-runner is a comedian and actor who is new to politics but did play the role of Ukrainian president on TV, Volodymyr Zelensky. He is most popular among those who are younger, male, with lower levels of education, and located in the south and east of the country, though also has some broader appeal. The two closest challenges, current President Petro Poroshenko and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, are in a statistical tie, meaning that either one could make a runoff if the top vote-getter does not get 50 percent of the vote on 31 March. And whoever wins, all the major players will not stop struggling since parliamentary elections in October will decide who becomes prime minister, a post that carries significant power in contemporary Ukraine.

One of the first issues that comes to mind when people think of Ukrainian politics is identity politics; how might identity divisions in Ukraine impact the 2019 election outcomes and shape how these outcomes play out in the future? Analyses in the articles made accessible here indicate that the simple “divided country” trope is inappropriate and quite likely to lead to inaccurate predictions and poor interpretation. For one thing, there are actually many salient dimensions of identity in Ukraine and these do not break down into a clear, single national divide (Onuch and Hale 2018). Thus ethnicity does not appear to be playing a key role in shaping support for either of the top three candidates in the 2019 presidential election. We see the same patterns regarding expectations of what the elections will bring. This is because, as Sasse and Lackner (2018), Robertson and Pop-Eleches (2018), and Kulyk (2018) point out, much has changed in Ukraine since 2014: namely, ethno-linguistic identities seem to have become less salient and attachment to the state (or what some would call civic identities) has strengthened in the five years since the Euromaidan and the onset of the Russia-Ukraine conflict in Crimea and parts of eastern Ukraine. But while the war with Russia and high levels of corruption remain the top policy priorities for most Ukrainians, the population is highly skeptical as to whether any of the current Presidential candidates will be able to solve either of these two issues.

Special Issue Title Journal Volume/Issue
The Russian-speaking Populations in the Post-Soviet Space: Language, Politics and Identity Europe-Asia Studies 71.1
The Ukrainian Crisis and the Post-Post-Cold War Europe Europe-Asia Studies 68.4
IDENTITY POLITICS IN TIMES OF CRISIS: UKRAINE AS A CRITICAL CASE Post-Soviet Affairs 34.2-3
The Ukrainian Crisis: Sub-State and Non-State Actors Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16.1
Retrospective on the Crisis in Ukraine Russian Social Sciences Review 58.2-3
Russia, Ukraine and Contemporary Imperialism International Critical Thought 6.4
Ukraine in Crisis European Politics and Society 17.4

The articles below are free-access via this page only up until 31 July 2019.

Article Title Author(s) Journal Title Volume Issue
The Impact of ‘Boss’ Candidates and Local Political Machines on Elections in Ukraine Erik S. Herron & Fredrik M. Sjoberg Europe-Asia Studies 68 6 (2018)
Does fraud trump partisanship? The impact of contentious elections on voter confidence Elizabeth Iams Wellman, Susan D. Hyde & Thad E. Hall Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 28 3 (2018)
Ukraine and the Big Moral Divide: What Biased Media Coverage Means to East European Borders Martin Barthel & Hans-Joachim Bürkner Geopolitics 2019
Ukraine, Mainstream Media and Conflict Propaganda Oliver Boyd-Barrett Journalism Studies 18 8 (2017)
Article Title Author(s) Journal Title Volume Issue
The Ukrainian–Russian Linguistic Dyad and its Impact on National Identity in Ukraine Nadiia Bureiko & Teodor Lucian Moga Europe-Asia Studies 71 1 (2019)
Identity in Transformation: Russian-speakers in Post-Soviet Ukraine Volodymyr Kulyk Europe-Asia Studies 71 1 (2019)
Between Dependence and Integration: Ukraine’s Relations With Russia Rilka Dragneva & Kataryna Wolczuk Europe-Asia Studies 68 4 (2016)
How Ukraine has become more Ukrainian Dominique Arel Post-Soviet Affairs 34 2-3 (2018)
Studying identity in Ukraine Olga Onuch, Henry E. Hale & Gwendolyn Sasse Post-Soviet Affairs 34 2-3 (2018)
Article Title Author(s) Journal Title Volume Issue
Introduction: The Ukraine Crisis and Post-Post-Cold War Europe Derek Averre & Kataryna Wolczuk Europe-Asia Studies 68 4 (2016)
The Ukrainian crisis: sub-state and non-state actors Tracey German & Emmanuel Karagiannis Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16 1 (2016)
“Veni, vidi, …  vici?” EU performance and two faces of conditionality towards Ukraine Olga Burlyuk & Natalia Shapovalova East European Politics 33 1 (2017)
Irregular Militias and Radical Nationalism in Post-Euromaydan Ukraine: The Prehistory and Emergence of the “Azov” Battalion in 2014 Andreas Umland Terrorism and Political Violence 31 1 (2019)
The Transition of Ukraine's Economy: A Second Start? Leonid M. Grigoriev, Eugenia V. Buryak & Alexander V. Golyashev Russian Social Science Review 58 2-3 (2017)
Transition impossible? Ukraine between violence and power Anton Oleinik Journal of Political Power 10 3 (2017)
Article Title Author(s) Journal Title Volume Issue
Coercive diplomacy and the Donbas: Explaining Russian strategy in Eastern Ukraine Andrew S. Bowen Journal of Strategic Studies 42 3-4 (2019)
Euromaidan revolution, Crimea and Russia–Ukraine war: why it is time for a review of Ukrainian–Russian studies Taras Kuzio Eurasian Geography and Economics 59 3-4 (2018)
Ukraine and Russia: Two States, One Crisis Boris Kagarlitsky International Critical Thought 6 4 (2016)
Ukraine in crisis Nicolai N. Petro European Politics and Society 17 4 (2016)
The Russian annexation of Crimea: regional and global ramifications Hall Gardner European Politics and Society 17 4 (2016)

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