Ukraine has been firmly in the United States’ sphere of influence ever since Maidan protests in 2013-2014, that resulted in the overthrow of the allegedly pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Even though the Kremlin-backed Opposition Platform for Life (OPFL) approval ratings are rising, there is no danger for the former Soviet state to return to Russia’s geopolitical orbit.
By Nikola Mikovic
In an attempt to reduce the growing popularity of the OPFL, and also to spread “the Russian propaganda”, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has unplugged three television networks linked with the opposition party, even though in the past he pledged to “never, ever shut down any TV networks”.
Given that the US President Joe Biden called Zelensky the day before the ban, it is more than likely that the move has been coordinated with Washington. Moreover, the US officials openly supported such an action, while the spokesperson of the European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reprimanded Zelensky’s move.
“Media freedom does not include the right to spread malicious propaganda and disinformation. We support Ukraine’s decision to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity by countering Russia’s blatant and malign influence,” said Courtney Austrian, head of the US mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Ban on Russian social media
Ukraine already imposed a ban on Russia’s biggest social media networks and internet services, following Moscow’s incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation, as well as Russian activities in the Donbass.
Also, in 2019 the Eastern European country approved a law that grants special status to the Ukrainian language and makes it mandatory for public sector workers. Russia described such a move as divisive and discriminating against Russian-speakers who make the majority of the population in south-east of the country.
All these moves are part of “de-Russification” of Ukraine. The Kremlin effectively lost its influence in the former Soviet republic, although it de facto controls Crimea and the Donbass – territories that Kiev considers an integral part of Ukraine. There is very little Moscow can do about the current Ukrainian language and media policies, except urging international organizations to pressure Zelensky to protect freedom of expression.
However, given that Ukraine is strongly backed by the US, chances for Ukraine to change its policy regarding Russian language, and pro-Russian media operating in the country are close to zero. At the same time, by begging international institutions for help, the Kremlin just keeps demonstrating its political impotence regarding Ukraine.
Even though the OPFL, led by Viktor Medvedchuk whose daughter was baptized by Russian President Vladimir Putin, is currently the most popular political party in Ukraine, that does not mean that pro-Kremlim forces will come to power in Kiev. If the OPFL eventually has most seats in the Ukrainian parliament, all pro-Western parties will likely build a coalition and form a government in order to prevent “Putin’s man” from changing the country’s geopolitical course.
It is worth noting, however, that the OPFL is linked not only with certain Russian structures but also with regional Ukrainian oligarchs. On the other hand, Zelensky is known for having close ties with Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire business oligarch and the former Governor of Dnepropetrovsk Oblast.
In other words, oligarchs play a very important role in Ukrainian political life, as well as in Russian politics, although to a lesser extent. Thus, given that Zelensky’s approval ratings are dramatically declining, it is not improbable that powerful oligarchic groups will soon find a new frontman who will be presented as someone who could “save the country”. Such a deal, however, would first have to be approved by the United States.
Economic crisis and corruption
In the meantime, Ukraine will keep facing economic crisis and corruption. In January, protests against “tariff genocide” took place all over the nation. People came out to demonstrate against the rise in the price of gas, electricity and heating. The authorities, traditionally, blamed Russian security services of running the protests.
In reality, Moscow hardly has a mechanism to destabilize the country that has been in the US geopolitical orbit for seven years. Moreover, it is quite debatable if the Kremlin wants to have more influence in Ukraine at all, or if it just aims to preserve the status quo where Moscow controls the coal-rich Donbass region. Without the Donbass, Ukraine is forced to import coal and electricity from Russia – a country Kiev defines as an “aggressor state”.
Finally, with or without Zelensky in power, relations between Moscow and Kiev will remain tense, and Russia will keep losing its hold in Ukraine. Thus, in order to increase its chances of coming to power, the Opposition Platform for Life will have to find a common language with Washington, rather than with the Kremlin.
Nikola Mikovic is a Serbian journalist and a senior Geopolitical Analyst he publishes often for The Levant News.