War in North Caucasus Not Over and Moscow’s Use of Force There Affecting All of Russia, Memorial Says

June 9, 2016
Russian forces on March 30, 2016 at the scene of a previous bombing in Dagestan's Tabasaransky District. Police officers stopped a car at a checkpoint at an entrance to the village of Sirtych. One police officer was killed and one injured when the vehicle exploded. Photo by Bashir Aliyev/TASS

Ukraine’s Forgotten Decentralization Problem: Amalgamating Local Governments

Staunton, VA, June 9, 2016 – Decentralization “under Ukrainian conditions,” the editors of DSNews.ua say, is about two things: the decentralization of the system of power to regions and cities, and “the voluntary unification of small rural communities” that can assume responsibility for the tasks of governance.

The first has received enormous attention because of Moscow’s demands about the Donbass; the second has not. But, as the editors note, “the first is impossible without the second” because one can’t transfer power from Kyiv to the localities when there are no institutions there capable of exercising it.
Since 1991, the rural population of Ukraine has decreased by 2.5 million people, and the number of rural population centers of various kinds by 348. But over the same period, “the number of rural councils has increased by 1067, a trend that has created duplication and confusion rather than good governance.
As of the beginning of last year, there were about 12,000 territorial communities with their own political structures in Ukraine. More than half of them had fewer than 3,000 residents in each; 4,809 had fewer than a thousand people within them; and in the case of 1,129 communities, the number of residents was “less than 500.”
Given these small numbers, the paper’s editors say, “it is not surprising that in the majority of rural communities executive bodies of rural councils have not been established, budgetary institutions are lacking,” and so on. Unless that changes as a result of amalgamation of these small units, no real decentralization will be possible.
In March 2015, the Ukrainian government initiated a program calling for “the voluntary unification” of the smaller entities and provided financial incentives for them to take this step. This move has been promoted by Western aid organizations as well, but it has not moved as fast as Kyiv would like because of inertia and because of the unwillingness of officials to cede office.
War in North Caucasus Not Over and Moscow’s Use of Force There Affecting All of Russia, Memorial Says
Staunton, VA, June 9, 2016 – Given media attention to Vladimir Putin’s other military actions, many have forgotten that the war in the North Caucasus goes on, and they have failed to see that the methods the Kremlin leader has employed there are spreading to ever more parts of Russian life far from that region, according to the Memorial human rights organization. (For reviews see here and here.)

The number of killed and wounded in the conflicts in the North Caucasus have declined over the last several years, but primarily because of the Russian authorities have helped jihadists there to go to fight in Syria and Iraq, Memorial says. And at the same time, the Russian side has suspended its use of “soft power” and instead is employing “state terror” there and elsewhere.
That does not presage anything good for the North Caucasus, the authors of the Memorial report say; indeed, an upsurge in violence appears likely. But even more disturbing, this trend casts a larger shadow because Moscow is increasingly inclined to use the same methods it is now employing in that region across the entire country.
One of the authors of the report, Svetlana Gannushkina, said that as a result of Kremlin policies, Chechnya has become “a state within a state.” There, “the Constitution of the Russian Federation doesn’t operate nor do Russian laws. The only thing that matters are the orders of Ramzan Kadyrov.”
Chechens “already long ago became accustomed to this and consider it the norm,” she says. But the form of “’stability’” Kadyrov has established there is now reflected in Moscow with such things as the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. The existence of this “enclave with a totalitarian regime,” she adds, “is a serious danger for the future of Russia.”