Donbas issue in the Ukrainian presidential campaign

The conflict in Donbas is among major problems facing Ukrainian society and priority issues of the 2019 Ukrainian presidential election. Various presidential candidates pay different attention to the Donbas issue. Nevertheless, an analysis of election programs of the main presidential candidates demonstrates that popular peace proposals include the negotiations in the Budapest format, the UN peacekeeping mission with a broad mandate and an access to the Ukrainian-Russian border, the support for sanctions, political and diplomatic means of the de-occupation etc. However, the majority of candidates avoid mentioning the special status for Donbas, the amnesty, the amendments to the Constitution of Ukraine and other unpopular provisions of the Minsk agreements.

According to various sociological polls, the conflict in Donbas is among the major problems facing Ukrainian society. The conflict is perceived at the same level with such problems as low living standards, high utility prices, corruption and price increase. However, the conflict is much more sensitive issue to persons living in Donbas and the adjacent regions, as well as Ukrainian soldiers and their relatives.

As a result, the Donbas issue is reflected in the Ukrainian presidential election. The main presidential candidates pay different attention to the conflict in their election programs: this issue belongs to priorities of Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko and Yuriy Boyko; Anatoliy Grytsenko pays an average attention to Donbas; Volodymyr Zelenskyi and Oleh Lyashlo placed this issue on the margins of their election programs.

Moreover, there are certain differences between the candidates in the proposed means of the establishment of peace and the restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty over certain districts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

 

Volodymyr Zelenskyi

Ranking 24.7%

Minsk agreements Zelenskyi is confident the Minsk agreements do not work. The candidate stands for “great Minsk agreements” with the involvement of more partners.
Reintegration of Donbas Zelenskyi considers that it is necessary primarily to cease armed hostilities.
UN peacekeeping mission
Negotiations Negotiations in the Budapest format, with the EU and direct talks with Vladimir Putin
Sanctions
Crimea No mention in the official program, occasional mentions in media
Military alliance Movement towards NATO and “other security alliances”

 

Yulia Tymoshenko

Ranking 18.3%

Minsk agreements The Minsk agreements and negotiations with the self-proclaimed republics are a “trap” for Ukraine.
Reintegration of Donbas The reintegration of Donbas is possible only under the conditions that peace and Ukrainian authorities are restored in the occupied territories, and IDPs return to their homes. Tymoshenko also stands for a reintegration program of Donbas which is an alternative to the Minsk process and is aimed to “destroy a wall of fear, misunderstanding and hatred which is being built between Ukraine and the occupied territories”. Moreover, she also supports the creation of an international fund for the reconstruction and development of Donbas.
UN peacekeeping mission The UN peacekeeping mission must be deployed on the Ukrainian-Russia border. This mission must facilitate the withdrawal of foreign troops and armed groups from the occupied Donbas, the return of IDPs to their homes, and the restoration of Ukrainian authorities in the occupied territories.
Negotiations Negotiations in the “Budapest Plus” format (the U.S., the UK, Russia, France, China, Germany, the EU)
Sanctions Strengthening of international sanctions against Russia
Crimea A mention in the official program, regular mentions in media
Military alliance Accession to NATO

 

Petro Poroshenko

Ranking 16.8%

Minsk agreements Poroshenko considers that the Minsk agreements enabled to stop an active phase of Russia’s aggression, to get sanctions against Russia, and to win time necessary for strengthening defense capabilities. The President is confident that only peacekeepers may ensure the implementation of security provisions of the Minsk agreements.
Reintegration of Donbas The return of Donbas and Crimea by political and diplomatic means, applying sanctions and the UN peacekeeping mission
UN peacekeeping mission Poroshenko supports the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission with a broad mandate which should cover the entire occupied territory, including the Ukrainian-Russian border, and provide for the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Negotiations
Sanctions Poroshenko considers anti-Russian sanctions as one of the instruments to seek de-occupation of Donbas.
Crimea A mention in the official program, regular mentions in media
Military alliance Accession to NATO; receival of the Membership Action Plan in 2023

 

Anatoliy Grytsenko

Ranking 10.3%

Minsk agreements By their nature, the Minsk agreements are void. However, instead of cancelling the Minsk agreements, he considers that it is necessary to propose a new peace plan “for the development of the Minsk agreements” which should include even such provisions that are not envisaged in the Minsk agreements.
Reintegration of Donbas The return of the occupied territories without any “special statuses” is possible within a 5-year presidential term.
UN peacekeeping mission Closing the uncontrolled section of the Ukrainian-Russian border should be a first step taken by peacekeepers. Grytsenko says that a phase-by-phase plan for the deployment of peacekeepers in Donbas lies on a table of Poroshenko, Putin, Macron, Merkel and Trump.
Negotiations Grytsenko considers that direct talks with Russia will bring nothing. Instead, he proposes that the U.S. and the EU should be involved in the negotiations as they are players which have political, financial and sanctions leverages.
Sanctions Grytsenko considers that Ukraine should have been a first country to impose sanctions on Russia. He considers sanctions as one of the instruments to return the occupied territories.
Crimea A mention in the official program, regular mentions in media
Military alliance Accession to NATO

 

Yuriy Boyko

Ranking 9.9%

Minsk agreements Boyko supports the Minsk process. He considers that the Minsk agreements are a basis for conflict resolution, though he acknowledges that it is necessary to make amendments to the agreements.
Reintegration of Donbas Boyko considers that the reintegration of Donbas must be in accordance with the following sequence of steps: the deployment of peacekeepers along the contact line; the disengagement of forces; the adoption of the law on special status and the law on amnesty for persons who did not commit grave crimes; the conduct of local elections under Ukrainian legislation; the restoration of economic ties; the restoration of control over the Ukrainian-Russia border.
UN peacekeeping mission Boyko stands for the deployment of peacekeepers along the contact line in order to cease armed hostilities.
Negotiations Direct talks with Russia and the unrecognized republics
Sanctions
Crimea No mention in the official program, occasional mentions in media
Military alliance Boyko stands for the non-aligned status. Moreover, he considers that enshrining Ukraine’s course towards NATO in the Constitution is contrary to the Declaration of State Sovereignty and the Act of Declaration of Independence.

 

Oleh Lyashko

Ranking 5.7%

Minsk agreements Lyashko considers that the Minsk agreements are “actually treason against Ukraine’s national interests”.
Reintegration of Donbas Lyashko considers that the return of Donbas is possible by means of strengthening of defense capabilities, care of IDPs and citizens who are “hostages of occupation”, and involvement of Russian and Western investments in the reconstruction of Donbas.
UN peacekeeping mission The deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission on the Ukrainian-Russian border
Negotiations Lyashko says that he will demand the fulfillment of the Budapest Memorandum. If the Memorandum is not fulfilled, he threatens to restore the status of nuclear-weapon state.
Sanctions The candidate supports sanctions against Russia but considers that they do not lead to Ukraine’s economic strengthening.
Crimea No mention in the official program, occasional mentions in media
Military alliance Military agreement with the U.S.

 

Based on the analysis of election programs of the main presidential candidates (with a ranking over 5%), several trends which define the Donbas issue in the current presidential election can be noticed.

  1. The main presidential candidates reject the return of Donbas through the military force and state that the de-occupation should be achieved by diplomatic and political means.
  2. The proposal on the Budapest format of negotiations is a popular trend of the current presidential campaign. In particular, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Yulia Tymoshenko and Oleh Lyashko stand for these negotations.
  3. The majority of presidential candidates avoid mentioning unpopular provisions of the Minsk agreements (special status, amnesty, constitutional amendments). Only two candidates demonstrate a clear position on the Minsk agreements: Yuriy Boyko favours shat Ukraine should implement political provisions of the Minsk agreements while Anatoliy Grytsenko rejects any special status for Donbas.
  4. Almost of frontrunners (Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko, Anatoliy Grytsenko, Oleh Lyashko) stand for the UN peacekeeping mission with a broad mandate which should cover the entire occupied Donbas, including the Ukrainian-Russian border. Yuriy Boyko is the only one who proposes the deployment of peacekeepers along the contact line.
  5. The top 4 presidential candidates (Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko, Anatoliy Grytsenko) demonstrate a clear position on Ukraine’s accession to NATO. At the same time, Yuriy Boyko advocates the non-aligned status while Oleh Lyashko demonstrates uncertainty over Ukraine’s accession to NATO.
  6. The Crimean issues is on the margins of the current presidential campaign. Yulia Tymoshenko, Petro Poroshenko, Anatoliy Grytsenko state that it its necessary to return Crimea in their election programs while Volodymyr Zelenskyi, Yuriy Boyko and Oleh Lyashko only mention the peninsula during occasional media appearances.