Putin's Federalization Card in Ukraine
Published: April 8, 2014 (Issue # 1804)
Not that long ago, the idea of federalizing Ukraine was interesting only to a handful of obscure scholars, but it has now suddenly taken center stage in the political debate. Moscow is demanding that Kiev adopt a new constitution that provides for a decentralized model of government to regulate relations between the regions and capital.
Most Ukrainian politicians strongly oppose this idea. Meanwhile, Washington does not reject the possibility of federalization but insists that Ukrainians must make that decision for themselves.
Even if a pro-Russian president came to power in Kiev, it is now highly unlikely that he could form a pro-Russian cabinet. Moscow's strategy is therefore to weaken Ukraine's government institutions as much as possible. Toward that end, the Kremlin wants to establish governing bodies that are autonomous in Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lugansk, Odessa, Dnipropetrovsk and other eastern regions of the country. The hope is that those regional administrations would then align themselves more with Moscow than with Kiev, making it possible to preserve their economic and cultural ties with Russia, along with their important links to Russia's defense industry.
Federalizing Ukraine would amount to a radical decentralization of power currently concentrated in Kiev. It would mean electing governors rather than appointing them from Kiev, permitting each region to retain the taxes their citizens pay, independent policies concerning the Russian and Ukrainian languages and greater powers for regional authorities.
If Russian cannot hold all of Ukraine within its sphere of influence, it can at least try to maintain its influence in the eastern regions loyal to Moscow.
Moscow justifies its demand for federalization by arguing that in the 20 years it has existed as an independent and unitary state, Ukraine has failed to consolidate and effectively rule its western, eastern, southern and central regions. Russia also says Ukraine lacks a common identity or a common historical narrative. Many people in southern and eastern Ukraine are unhappy with the government's attitude toward the Russian language and feel it should receive official status, citing the official multiple-language policies of Switzerland and Belgium.
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