The dramatic changes that have taken place recently in Ukraine mark a new stage in the conflict over the country’s leadership but not an end to the conflict, says Regina Smyth, associate professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. And politicians trying to govern Ukraine between now and elections scheduled for May 25 face tremendous challenges.
“Ukraine emerges from this political turmoil in deep crisis,” Smyth said. “The economy is in dire need of deep and painful economic reforms as well as immediate cash transfusions to avoid default. Russia has cut off its aid package. Western aid is likely but not without conditions and not without some signs of political stability.”
The specter of civil war hangs over Ukraine, Smyth said, as divisions between the country’s Russian and Ukrainian populations are heightened by recent violence and international rhetoric frames the conflict as a contest between the West and Russia.
“But the rhetoric should be taken with a grain of salt,” she said. “There are significant forces mediating against civil war.”
In the coalfields of Eastern Ukraine, ethnically Russian workers have not been radical or well organized, suggesting they will not take to arms. In the Crimea, the significant Tartar minority declared itself on the side of the new Ukrainian government, disappointing the Russian population.
Smyth said former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from prison Saturday, may emerge as a candidate both Russia and the West can accept, although she has not committed to a run for office, and it is not clear the opposition would unite behind her. And while Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster as president has bolstered support for Ukraine to join the European Union -- the issue that touched off the protests in November -- that will proceed only after a long period of reform to meet EU membership conditions.
“Still, there is a long time between now and May 25,” Smyth said. “The uncertainty about Ukraine’s future is likely to persist until after that election.”
Smyth's research explores democratic development and elections in post-Communist states. She can be reached at 812-856-2822 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For insights from other Indiana University experts, see this media tip sheet from IU News.