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Is the Risk of Ethnic Conflict Growing in Ukraine?

New Laws Could Create Dangerous Divisions

People attend an election rally of Ukrainian President and Presidential candidate Petro Poroshenko in Kiev, March 2019 Gleb Garanich / REUTERS

The Ukrainian presidential election is only weeks away, and its outcome is highly uncertain. President Petro Poroshenko is lagging in the polls behind Volodymyr Zelensky, a television actor whose only political experience consists of playing the president of Ukraine in a sitcom. The country will head to the polls while still at war in its eastern region of Donbas, where in 2014, local separatists forcibly seized government buildings and declared people’s republics in the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk. Since then, the conflict has taken on elements of both a civil war and an interstate conflict, with Russia arming separatist combatants and sponsoring the breakaway regions. Violence is muted but steady: the number of deaths recently reached 13,000, one-quarter of them civilian.

Unsurprisingly, Ukraine’s leading presidential candidates are all running on platforms resisting Russia. The choice is logical given popular anger over President Vladimir Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and

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