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UKRAINE: Presidential Elections

Yesterday Ukraine voted in the first round of its presidential elections. The latest exit polls give 30.4% of the votes to Volodymyr Zelensky, the maverick actor and screenwriter who was propelled to political prominence after playing the role of President on a popular television series. The incumbent Petro Poroshenko came in second with 17.8% of the votes. The final result of this first round will only be known on April 10th, while the second round of voting will take place on April 21st.

The PiS government has often mentioned the strategic importance of Warsaw-Kiev relations, given Poland’s aim to reduce Russian influence in the region and bring the Eastern Neighbourhood closer to the EU.  In practice, however, historical animosities have prevented a real strengthening of relations in spite of ad hoc cooperation in terms of gas deliveries and Poland’s vocal criticisms of Russian presence in Crimea.

A report by the National Bank of Poland showed that 2.1 million Ukrainians worked in Poland in 2018, but experts estimate that an additional million worked without official employment. Yesterday, Ukrainian citizens queued in major Polish cities to vote, with commentators surprised at the high-turnout. Ukrainian presidential elections are always closely followed by both the Polish media and politicians. Diplomats in Warsaw are anxious for the election campaign dust to settle in Ukraine to gauge Zelensky’s actual attitudes towards the EU and Russia. While some are hoping for a new opening in relations if Zelensky wins, others are worried that the political newcomer could further destabilize ties.