Poroshenko Faces Down Biggest Protests Since EuroMaidan

October 23, 2017

A major protest against the rule of President Poroshenko involving around 5,000 demonstrators - the largest protest event in Ukraine since the EuroMaidan revolution in February 2014 - came off without major incidents of violence on Tuesday (Oct 17) in Kyiv amid a heavy police presence. The protest was initially organized by former Odessa governor Mikhail Saakashvili but was joined by a large number of diverse groups, including Parliament’s two populist opposition parties Batkivschyna and Sampomich, a union of Donbass war veterans, the DemAlliance liberal party, and civil society organizations. Notably, the pro-Russian OppoBloc and its supporters were not involved in the event. Protesters presented 3 main demands: 1) eliminating single-mandate geographic districts from national parliamentary elections; 2) creating a special court system to try corruption cases; and 3) repealing a law that gives members of Parliament blanket immunity from criminal prosecution. After the main day of demonstrations on Tuesday, a few hundred activists set up a tent camp next to Parliament and pledged to remain there indefinitely.

The main factor favoring Poroshenko in his face-off with the opposition is the highly fragmented nature of the latter groups. On the “good” side of the opposition are pro-reform NGOs and credible anti-corruption activists such as MPs Serhiy Leschenko and Mustafa Nayem. However, the civil society side of the protests, which is advocating for serious judicial, procurement and other reforms that have been blocked and stalled by Poroshenko, is being overshadowed by militant nationalists and political opportunists, many of whom are openly calling for the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government, not to mention an end to economic liberalization and cooperation with the IMF. As the veteran Kyiv political analyst Volodymir Fesenko wrote in a recent column, the current anti-Poroshenko protests are actually two completely different and incompatible movements: one peacefully advocating reforms to reduce corruption, and the other demanding nothing less than a full-scale street revolution. As the so-called “Third Maidan” revolutionary scenario lacks deep support among Ukraine’s population, Poroshenko would appear to be in a good political position to deal with this threat. Indeed, he was able to play the situation to his advantage by acknowledging the legitimacy of the civil society demands while taking a tough line against those threatening violence. As we stated previously, at this point Poroshenko has to be viewed as likely to be reelected to a second 5-year term in 2019 given the absence of any widely trusted opposition figure, but with 18 months remaining before the vote, the basic assumptions about Ukraine’s political environment could still change.

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