Political leaders who won strong voter endorsement for their pledges of reform and closer ties with Western Europe began work Monday on forming a parliamentary coalition to deliver on those promises.
Russian officials grudgingly said they would accept the results of Sunday’s elections for Ukraine’s Supreme Council that will give a trio of pro-Europe parties a majority and the power to steer their troubled nation into the West’s democratic fold.
With most of the vote counted late Monday, political movements headed by President Petro Poroshenko, Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk and a new alliance of young activists had at least 54% of the vote locked up for their expected coalition.
Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose Fatherland Party placed sixth with 5.7%, has also promised to join forces with the Europe-leaning leaders.
Even as it demonstrated Ukrainians’ commitment to fight the endemic corruption that has placed their country on par with Nigeria, the decisive pro-Europe vote also was likely to further agitate Russian President Vladimir Putin and his proxies in eastern Ukraine who have been rebelling against governance from Kiev.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the vote could help focus Ukrainian leaders on “the real problems” they face instead of “swinging to the East or West,” according to an interview carried by Russia’s LifeNews television. Russia is pleased that Ukraine now has a government “that’s not fighting itself” and can concentrate on restoring unity to the country, Lavrov said.
Lavrov’s deputy, Grigory Karasin, was less sanguine on the election outcome.
“We are waiting for the official results while there is rather contradictory data,” Karasin told the Interfax news agency. “But it is already clear that, despite the rude and dirty campaigning, the elections took place.”
Separatist gunmen backed by Russia control significant areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions. They blocked voting in their territory on Sunday, as did the new Russian government in Crimea, the military stronghold seized and annexed by Moscow this year. That has served to further diminish the voice that pro-Russia eastern politicians had in Ukraine’s political affairs before the ouster in February of Kremlin-allied President Viktor Yanukovich.
Poroshenko praised Ukrainians for their endorsement of his reform course and the country’s goal to eventually secure membership in the European Union.
“For the first time in the history of Ukraine, the ruling parties gained more than 50% of votes. It is impressive,” he said in a statement posted on the presidential website. “It is a vote of trust the Ukrainian people gave to the political parties to immediately begin the process of reforms.”
Poroshenko Bloc leader Yuriy Lutsenko told journalists that the faction was already in talks with the parties sharing the president’s priorities of restoring peace in the embattled eastern regions and cleaning up the country’s finances and reputation.
The tumultuous events of the last 11 months left Yanukovich’s Party of Regions in disarray. Some politicians of the former ruling party ran under a new pro-Russia alliance called the Opposition Bloc, which won about 10% of Sunday’s vote. But the Communist Party, their allies in the quest to retain and even strengthen economic and political collaboration with Russia, failed to get enough votes in the balloting for party slates and, for the first time in modern Ukrainian history, will not be represented in the legislature.
The Kiev government’s inability to open polling places for at least 4 million registered voters was among the failings of balloting carried out amid civil war and economic disaster, according to election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. But the observers said the vote was overall fair and legitimate.
Political analysts say they recognize the risk of a unified turn westward further antagonizing the Kremlin, which has insisted on Eastern Europe remaining in Moscow’s political orbit. But they insist that the course toward Western Europe is Ukraine’s to define, not Russia’s, and that Putin will have to come to some accommodation with Kiev to provide for Russians in Crimea and Ukraine’s east.
“I don’t see how relations between our states can be worse when we are already at war,” said historian and Ukraine Voters Committee Chairman Oleksiy Koshel.
He said Moscow’s plan to build a bridge from mainland Russia to the Crimean peninsula across the tempestuous Kerch Strait to create a supply line would be expensive, time-consuming and unreliable. Pragmatism, Koshel said, will compel Putin to agree to scrap the bridge project in exchange for Ukraine supplying electricity, drinking water and heating fuel to a Crimea region at least nominally within the Ukrainian state.
That would be a face-saving way of providing for the largely Russian community in Crimea and sparing Moscow billions in investment that would only add to Russia’s economic woes amid Western sanctions and falling oil prices, Koshel said.
Russian provocations in the east have decreased since a European-brokered Sept. 5 cease-fire, but they have not ended, and a swift surge in shelling of government positions on the eastern front was noted immediately after the elections, said Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council.
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