The Recent Elections in Ukraine and the USA: Implications for the Future

November 13, 2012
Anthony T. Salvia,
Director, American Institute in Ukraine

Since Ukraine’s parliamentary elections on October 28, the opposition has sharply criticized the freeness and fairness of the recent election, and has demanded a re-run of the vote in 13 disputed single mandate constituencies. The West has also been critical, but has taken a distinctly muted tone. Certainly, no key Western leader has said anything that would constitute a direct challenge to the results.

The Party of Regions (PoR) won, and will lead the next ruling coalition. That is clear. What has changed as a result of the election is the emergence of a new political force -- UDAR -- and the entry into parliament of Svoboda. This portends a more contentious Rada and the possibility of paralysis, which is cause for concern especially in view of the economic problems facing the country.

It is ironic that Western observers demanded a more representative Rada -- well, now they have one. Let's see how it plays out.

Specifically, Svoboda's success has given rise to expressions of concern in the US, Europe and Israel over its history of extreme nationalism and anti-Semitism. Some have already compared Svoboda's rise to that of such parties as Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary. They see Svoboda as a threat to democracy and human rights in Ukraine. That view is gaining increasing and sharper attention in the West.

Perhaps this also is a problem not just for Svoboda itself but also for UDAR and Batkivshchina in the new Rada. In the European Parliament and in Europe's various national parliaments, parties deemed extreme-nationalist often find themselves ostracized -- even by moderately nationalist Center-Right parties. Will UDAR and Batkivshchina take the same tack and ostracize Svoboda? Or will they work with it and risk their favorable image with those in the West who condemn Svoboda? It is of great significance that in the United States the Anti-Defamation League, a very influential voice, has aimed its criticism not only at Svoboda but at Batkivshchina and Tymoshenko personally.

If Ukraine’s electoral results promise to be contentious in the future, it’s interesting to contrast that to the results of the US presidential and Congressional election – a process that cost Americans almost $6 billion! The outcome? Nothing changed. Obama was returned to power, the Democrats will continue to be the majority in the Senate and the Republicans in the House of Representatives.

As for US-Ukrainian relations, we can expect continuity in Washington's relationship with Kiev -- a relationship I would describe as cool and correct -- including its practice of deferring to the European Union as the main vehicle (such as it is) for Ukraine's Western integration.

While the relationship is, as I say, correct, it is beset by concerns over the Tymoshenko jailing, Yanukovich's long-term political intentions, and the direction of Ukraine's relations with Moscow - and now the parliamentary debut of Svoboda. The US, of course, regards Ukraine almost exclusively through the prism of its relations with Russia. Much will then depend on what President Obama has in mind for US-Russian relations.