Staunton, December 9 – Despite Vladimir Putin’s call for the federalization of Ukraine and Petro Poroshenko’s suggestion that he is prepared to oversee steps toward the decentralization of power in his country, nothing can be done toward either under the current crisis conditions, according to Moscow’s leading expert on Ukraine.
Bogdan Bezpalko, deputy director of the Center for Ukrainian and Belarusian Studies at Moscow State University and a member of the Presidential Council on Inter-Ethnic Relations, says any talk about decentralization now is simply “rhetoric” with no chance of being realized.
Decentralization in Ukraine should and could have been discussed before the current crisis, “before its hot and bloody stage,” Bezpalko says. At that point, it could have adopted one or another of the arrangements that other states have; but that option is not available now, although it might be again at some point in the future.
“Now,” the expert says, “under conditions of war and when Crimea already will not be part of Ukraine and when the Donbass is in a state of war, it would be extremely difficult to carry out a decentralization” of the Ukrainian state or conduct a referendum about how the Ukrainian state should be organized.
The same thing is true about giving languages other than Ukrainian special status, he argues. That could and should have been done earlier and may be done at some future point. But it would be very difficult to do now. But in the past, Kyiv refused to allow a discussion of this and indeed came down hard on anyone who tried to raise the issue.
Even now, the current Ukrainian president has “repeatedly declared that his humanitarian policy will be unitary, strict, and nationalist, and that he will not offer any rights to the Russian language.” Consequently, his promises to do so in the future, just like his words about decentralization, can be safely ignored as nothing but propaganda.
It is important to remember, Bezpalko says, that there are a variety of approaches to decentralization. “Earlier, [President] Poroshenko declared that he intends to consider the experience of Poland” in this area. But the Moscow expert says that the Polish “model” doesn’t fit Ukraine’s situation at all.
“Poland is a mono-ethnic state,” Bezpalko continues. “The overwhelming majority of its population consists of Poles and people who already assimilated a long time ago and … consider themselves Poles.” Its model of decentralization doesn’t fit Ukraine’s circumstances which are ethnically and linguistically diverse.
The model Ukraine should consider, he argues, is that of the Russian Federation with its diverse composition of republics, autonomous regions and autonomous districts. Or Kyiv could make use of the German model in which the provinces have a broad range of rights. Indeed, Bezpalko says, almost any model but the Polish would be acceptable.