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COHESION AND SECURITY (Not Indisputable Deliberations and Proposals)

Дата: 02.07.2019

А. Ткачук

COHESION AND SECURITY (Not Indisputable Deliberations and Proposals)

There is a signpost in front of the General Post Office in the very centre of Kyiv from which ray indicators showing distances to various Oblast central towns go in all directions. Some distances are more than 900 km. Ukraine is a big country indeed, but its regions are not so fused by either transport routes, movement of people or economic and cultural ties. While most countries of comparable size have the same problem, we also have some other factors at play. The first one is that various Ukrainian regions emerged as parts of different empires and hence, have ethnic, language, religious and cultural peculiarities of their own. The second is about the Ukrainian political class: it has been long using these cross-regional differences as a means to win seats in the Parliament or Presidential office thus only deepening differences and nursing them all the way to inter-regional clashes. The third factor is the Russian Federation, the biggest nation just next door to Ukraine that has never put up with existence of the independent Ukraine and is using the whole spectrum of available means, from information propaganda focussed on instilling the feeling of ‘acquired incapacity’ in the Ukrainians to set-up and support of separatists organisations to open aggression, to destroy the Ukrainian nation.

The idea of resistance to Russia’s pressure with exclusively military methods is a make-believe option. The RF will continue its attempts to ruin us for as long as it remains convinced in weakness of the Ukrainian government and existence of the inter-regional tension factor. The strongest army is only as strong as its rear is. Our rear is not so much about political parties and their actions as it is about, first, the regions and their relationships between themselves and with the centre.

The security of Ukraine and the ability to contain the aggressor directly depends on internal stability of Ukraine, unity of its realm and inter-regional cohesion.

Territorial Dimension of Ukraine Yesterday and Today

Until recently, the territorial dimension of Ukraine has been viewed as something either rather simple (the Right Bank and the Left Bank) or more complex combination of the Western (from the Zbruch River all the way to the western border), Central (from Khmelnytsk Oblast to Poltava Oblast and from Zhytomyr Oblast to Kirovohrad one), Eastern (Kharkiv, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhzhya Oblasts) and Southern Ukraine (Kherson, Mykolayiv, Odesa Oblasts and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.)

Until recently, many would not hesitate to call Eastern Ukraine the most developed and urbanised part of the country that determined the vector of Ukraine’s progress – or, at least, the one that prevented the nation from clearly deciding about the European development vector. However, the events of 2014 demonstrated that the situation with inter-regional differences and regions’ impact on the all-Ukrainian vector really changed a lot. Russia’s ideas of how to ruin the Ukrainian nation changed, too. If steps towards the safety of the whole nation and every its resident are to be made in line with current needs, one first has to remember the rather recent history of our own making.

Recent History

One probably should not look at 2014 events when Ukraine sustained serious human and territorial losses as something separate from preceding developments. The beginning should be sought in changes in the situation in the Crimea, the latest addition to the territory of the UkrSSR. It was the weakest link in the Ukrainian national domain, the only region where Ukrainians were the minority and where the Russian army and fleet were stationed.

The first ever attempts to sever the Crimea date well to the beginning of 90ies when a referendum on restoration of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (20 January 1991) was followed by adoption of Crimean constitution and later on, elections of Yuriy Meshkov as Crimea’s President (January 1994).

Pic 1. Sevastopol in early 90ies of 20th cent.

The mid-90ies in the Crimea were really a turbulent time. It was the first rather serious attempt to break the Crimea away from Ukraine that then failed.

The Ukrainian government, still rather consolidated, was able to avail of the then weak pro-Russian organisations with their infights (particularly between their leaders Tsekov and Meshkov) as well as of not yet militant position of Russia who expected to take over not just the Crimea but the whole of Ukraine in some years, defusing the visible part of the issue: Meshkov was ousted from the office, the position of President of the Crimea was scrapped and additional Republican Guard regiments were deployed.

After the defeat in the Crimea, Russia opted for a long game not limited to the peninsula. Pro-Russian organisations began mushrooming in various Ukrainian cities and regions. Political parties like CPU (Communist Party of Ukraine), PSPU (Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine), ZUBR (Za Ukrainu, Belorussiju i Rossiju, For Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia), ‘The Russian Block” etc. started seeping inside local councils. Some civic movements like the Ukrainian Choice began to openly promote ideas of Ukraine’s ‘federalisation’ [1] basically meaning to weaken the nation and transform it into a ‘Russia-dependent Ukraine.’ Eventually, these rather marginal travesties of parties, which primarily worked as mouthpieces for Russian memes and training grounds for the most radical members of future separatist movements, culminated in the Party of Regions. Looking like a rather moderate Russia-oriented force, it became the most acceptable option for regional elites in the east and south of Ukraine.

Parliamentary elections of 2002 and the presidential ones in 2004 already were an open clash of two ideologies based, among other things, on regional differences between the western and the eastern vector of Ukraine’s development.

The whole election campaign waged by pro-Russian parties and candidates was built around the principle of territorial distinction. Ukraine was cut in grades based on the regional principle; people were told ‘Donbas feeds everyone’, ‘Bandera-prone West’ enforces its heroes and so on. The peaceful Maidan of 2004 scared pro-Russian adepts so much that they launched a ‘Congress of South-East’ in Severodonetsk. The event marked the first rather serious attempt to separate a part of Ukrainian territory. Luckily, that time it did not happen; the participants in the conflict tamed their emotions and not even one of them was punished. Probably, this became a signal for future separatist outbreaks: more thorough preparations are needed and if it fails, there is nothing to fear of.

Pic 2. In 2004, the principle of schism in the Ukrainian realm was for the first time introduced in Ukrainian politics.

The time between 2005 and 2010 in Ukraine was marked by various trends: on the one hand, everything looked rather calm (excluding regular barb-trading between Prime Minister and President.) Alarming signals from regions, every time more frequent and disquieting, went unnoticed by the government.

Attempts to disrupt governmental institutions became notably stronger.

Local councils that had been elected in 2006 started making a range of decisions of openly antigovernmental nature, from declaring the Russian language the official/regional one to no-confidence votes to heads of CSAs (community-level state administrations) immediately after new councils were sworn in (and despite no statutory grounds for that). The spree mounted to attempts of banning port calls from NATO Navy vessels and declarations of the maritime Oblast a forever neutral and non-aligned territory… As governmental authorities seemingly turned a blind eye to these, the emboldened local councils remained undismissed, which only added to lawlessness sentiments.

The Party of Regions and its satellites in opposition to the ‘Orange Cabinet’ turned entrenched enemy of their own nation and began to destroy the basics of the statehood in areas where they had majority in local councils. This brewed negative feelings towards the Ukrainian government among the locals and, in due time, led to the war in Donbas.

Parallel to that, in 2005-2010 all sorts of ‘territorial community’ movements began to spread; that was another yet viral technology based around the idea that the Ukrainians can switch from being ‘citizens’ to ‘just humans‘ who would establish so-called ‘territorial communities’ and elect bodies beyond the system of public administrations of Ukraine with an intent to unseat the government. Activists from the Ukrainian Choice were actively promoting these ideas: the organisation’s web site was full with detailed instructions on how to set up a ‘territorial community’ and oppose Ukrainian law.

Those were the times when other initiatives, like those of NovoRossia and DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic), emerged. At that moment, it did not look serious enough and presence of the leaders of these marginal groups at various events held in the RF (specifically, on Seliger) was perceived as some stale propaganda – until the takeover of power in the east of our country spearheaded by those leaders just a couple of years later.

The undeveloped idea of common Ukrainian realm within the whole territory of Ukraine, weakness of public institutions and Ukrainian political elite’s strong focus in 2005 – 2010 on mutual jostling rather than on shaping national solidarity and cohesion of the nation contributed to further spread of viruses deadly for the Ukrainian statehood and eventually kicked-off a destabilisation scenario launched in some cities and whole regions of Ukraine.

The retaliation achieved by pro-Russian forces during 2010 election and the curbing of the pro-European choice of Ukraine was, in essence, a repetition of events from 2004-2005, this time much stronger due to Russia’s open intervention.

The war in spring of 2014 marked the end of the preceding period in which Ukrainian elites lost in the task of shaping the single Ukrainian realm.

In 2013-2014, various pro-Russian forces take on board the map of inter-regional disunity; that eventually led to attempts of overthrowing the Ukrainian government in some key cities of many regions in Ukraine.

That both external and internal enemies had in mind the dismemberment of Ukraine became clear from new maps spread in 2014 over the Internet and leaflets circulated in the south and east of Ukraine.

Pic 3. New ideas of dismemberment of Ukraine, 2014.

Luckily, Ukrainian citizens reacted decisively and were able to stop the avalanche of ‘people’s republics’ in Dnipro, Kharkiv, Zaporizhzhya and Odesa. Still, the war became a reality for Donbas, and for two reasons: the proximity to Russia with an open border through which Russian military groupings could infiltrate Donbas; and hostility a considerable proportion of the locals felt towards Ukraine due to many previous years of propaganda that the Ukrainian government let slip past unnoticed.

War in Donbas

22 February 2014 can be considered the official starting date of separatist sedition in Ukraine. That day Kharkiv hosted a congress to which deputies of all levels from south-eastern Oblasts and the Autonomous Republic of Crimea [2] flocked. The congress featured not only local MPs but also chairs of Luhansk, Dnipropetrovsk, Donetsk and Kharkiv Oblast administrations who were responsible for compliance with the Constitution and laws Ukraine and meant to personify the Executive, Sevastopol City Mayors and governors of Rostov-on-Don, Voronezh and Belgorod (which is hard to understand) [3].

Among the decisions made at the congress was one to transfer local-level authority to bodies of local self-government ‘until the Constitutional order and law is restored in the country, also in order to legitimise operation of central bodies of government.’ Congress delegates advised the locals to ‘self-organise and coordinate with law enforcement agencies on site [4].’

This was followed by seizure of governmental buildings, setting up ‘self-defence units’, quasi-referenda and the proper war that can be said to start on 13 April 2014 when a group of Ukrainian military officers was riddled with bullets from a hideout and one officer was killed.

Ukraine started the reforms of 2014 in conditions of deep economic exhaustion, the loss of the Crimea and violent confrontation unfolding in Donbas. All this had unavoidable effect on the content and pace of reforms and possibilities of their funding. Same applies to decentralisation and national regional policy reforms.

Positive Steps of 2014-2016

Immediately after a new Cabinet was formed in the wake of 2014 Maidan developments, steps were taken to bring the focus of government’s attention back to the issue of national cohesion, solidarity in the society and conditions for ‘stitching Ukraine together.’

Firstly, Ukraine started the process of decentralisation of power immediately after the Revolution of Dignity and despite hostilities in Donbas. On April 1st, 2014, Government Resolution No. 333-r to Approve the Concept of Local Self-government and Government Territorial Organisation Reform was adopted.

This ushered in devolution of authority and budget resources to territorial communities in cities of Oblast importance and in newly established amalgamated territorial communities in spite of external pressure and internal problems. It marked a rather important step towards building initial cohesion inside the nation when every new territorial community having entered into direct relations with the national budget of Ukraine, became a new link between the region and the Centre that kept the nation together.

The lack of positive perception of adopted Constitution on territories gripped with separatism served yet another confirmation of the assumption that local-level protests had nothing in common with a local self-governments’ want of additional powers or better independence of local policymaking. Anti-Ukrainian measures were instigated and supported from outside with more global objective of ruining Ukraine as a nation.

A new for Ukraine practice was launched when neighbouring communities started concluding cooperation compacts between themselves to set up territorial communities with sometimes more than 20 members in them. This created a system of vertical and horizontal links between the national level and territorial communities in Ukraine and allowed bypassing the regional level with its natural gravitation towards politization that could turn into separatism.

It all became possible owing to the adoption in 2014 and 2015 of several rather important pieces of legislation: on Voluntary Amalgamation of Territorial Communities; on Cooperation between Territorial Communities; and to change the Budget Code of Ukraine in respect of reform of inter-governmental fiscal relations.

Secondly, the national regional policy and the strategic planning of regional development also went through some serious changes.

In 2014-2015, two strategically important documents, the Law on Basics of National Regional Policy and the National Strategy of Regional Development until 2020, were adopted. For the first time the Strategy outlined the unity of the Ukrainian realm as a strategic task of national regional policy.

Also, a politically neutral and predictable mechanism of regional development funding from the National Regional Development Fund formed with 1% revenues of the National Budget of Ukraine was launched.

The situation with the making of new national regional policy based on cohesion of the Ukrainian realm looks rather good – if from the legal regulatory point of view. The real-life situation is rather remote from the ideal one.

Current Situation


1.    Ukraine has no jurisdiction over the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the most populated parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. There is an actual area along the contact line where operational possibilities of private entrepreneurs and local self-government bodies are limited. Raions adjacent to RF border suffer from actual shutdown of transborder transit, stagnating local businesses and accelerated depopulation.

2.    More than 1.5 million of internally displaced persons (IDPs) concentrated mostly across Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya and Kyiv Oblasts. Relocation of IDPs beyond the limits Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast considerably reduces their chances of return to places of permanent residence, even following liberation of the territories.

Pic. 4. IDPs across Ukrainian regions.

3.    The majority of TV channels are in opposition not just to the Ukrainian government but, seemingly, to the Ukrainian nation in general.

4.    Many Ukrainian politicians (among them, candidates to President of Ukraine) still would not call a war a war and Russia, an aggressor. The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine has no real majority that could support the Cabinet and its national economy and security development initiatives – on the fifth year of war…

5.    The level of trust in public institutions in Ukraine is exceedingly low, which suggests Ukraine’s vulnerability to external pressure and internal upheavals.

Pic. 5. Dynamics of change of trust in public government (Source: Gallup Institute.)

The situation in 2019 in Ukraine from the perspective of stable country development and containment of centrifugal processes and external threats looks complicated, though not as critical as it was in 2014. However, the election campaigns of 2019 may substantially deteriorate it.

National and Regional Identities

The contraposition between ‘us’ and ‘them’ has resurfaced again in political struggles and is gaining – again – a territorial hue.

Domination of the regional identity over the all-Ukrainian one already backfired in the Ukraine of 2014, and pedalling the same process today looks extremely dangerous.

We must comprehend that within the sovereign territory of Ukraine there are two areas, the Crimea and parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, where a completely different identity, the one separate from the rest of Ukraine and closer to Russia, is being shaped.

Pic. 6. Regional identity (Donbas. Source: Rating Group.)

 The picture above begs the following conclusion:

– the local identity of residents in regions under control of Ukraine is substantially different from that on occupied territories. An identify formed in occupied territories is similar to the Russian one. This new identity becomes factual, and each new year in occupation makes the rift between the Ukrainian identity and the new territorial one even deeper. This has to be taken into account when planning steps towards potential integration of these territories in Ukraine in future.

Hence, the shaping of Ukrainian identity in regions remains relevant both these days and in mid-term perspective.

Regional ‘Separatism’

Following the separatist congress of 22 February 2014 in Kharkiv and the subsequent bloodshed in Donbas, regional separatism or rather attempts to make regional governments self-dependent should have become a thing of the past, but in reality, that hasn’t happened.

The system of local self-government in Ukraine is built in a way that the Oblast council at the regional level is a kind of partisan and representative body of local self-government with rather limited scope of authority and no executive body of its own. In a nutshell, the powers of the executive body of the Oblast council lie with the relevant Oblast state administration. The authors of respective chapter in the Constitution opined the model would save the regional level from separatism. It generally could but for proportional elections of Oblast council members, a share of national taxes and dues allocated to the Oblast level of self-governance, and Oblast council’s right to motion no-confidence vote against the chair of Oblast state administration.

The Ukrainian decentralisation down to the level of cities of Oblast importance and amalgamated territorial communities substantially limits Oblast councils’ influence on situation in the Oblast to matters of basic public services available to residents and social, engineering and educational infrastructure development. Oblast councils are not ready for implementation of their key mission of regional development planning; they remain instead the bodies that make political decisions beyond their own scope of competence, including prohibition of language of the aggressor country within Oblast territory or demands of switching to contractual relationships between the Oblast and Kyiv. Such decisions border with regional separatism.

Pic. 7. Regions of Ukraine where Oblast councils filed a request of compact-based power devolution between Oblast and the central government.

As seen from the picture, the virus of separatism was properly injected in the central and even western Ukraine, even the metropolitan Kyiv Oblast joined. [5]

Dire consequences of these solutions could be much more detrimental should Oblast council have executive bodies of their own with authority to implement made decisions.

As these decisions were overlooked by governmental authorities, a precedent was set up; thus, local councils continued making decisions way beyond their scope of authority rocking even further the Ukrainian legal realm.

It is worth noting that regional dimensions already show great variance in estimating situation in Oblasts. Worries of the population and expectations of threats have reached dangerous levels not just in Donbas but in a few Oblasts too.

Pic. 8. Situation in Oblasts, 2018 (Source: Rating Group.)

As seen from the picture above, the Oblasts of far East and West are in the risk zone in terms of stability.

It is absolutely necessary to introduce proper state supervision over legality of decisions, actions or inaction of bodies of local self-government. More than 90% territorial community members also support the idea of such supervision. [6]

All-Ukrainian Solidarity/Cohesion

It has been already noted above that the national regional development strategy until 2020 determines the strategic objective of the national regional policy: ‘To create conditions for dynamic balanced development of regions in Ukraine for the purpose of ensuring social and economic cohesion of the nation…’ [7]

This would imply national programmes and projects that should have been implemented in 2014-2018 to meet the above strategic objective; sadly, because of budget constraints and insufficient understanding by Ukrainian political elites of the importance of nation’s unity, such programmes were never developed or implemented until late 2018. Only owing to budget support from the European Union, a national regional development programme, The All-Ukrainian Solidarity, was prepared and funded in 2018. [8]

Unfortunately, one can state both regions and central bodies of the Executive found themselves not ready for designing and submitting projects aimed at ensuring cohesion of the Ukrainian realm and in the Ukrainian society as well as integration of regions into the overall Ukrainian realm. [9]

Another similar EU-funded programme has been slated for implementation in 2019 but its budget will be less than the 2018 one.

The problem of funding programmes aimed at achieving cohesion of the national realm and regional dimension integration into the single all-Ukrainian realm could be resolved by earmarking certain appropriations from the Nationl Regional Development Fund for implementation of nation-wide objectives of the national regional policy.a

Noteworthy, the budgets of 2015-2018 could provide required amounts from the so-called ‘MP subvention’ otherwise named the subvention for social and economic development of individual territories; the annual subvention disbursement is in the range of UAH4-5 billion and there is no statutory regulation at law level as to its use in line with any planning documents.

Ukrainian MPs decision to waive the money in favour of their use to promote inter-regional unity and cohesion of the Ukrainian realm would become an important and timely move to enhance security of Ukraine.

Problem Territories

Cohesion has a number of synonyms: not just unity or monolithic integrity[10] but also unification, ownership of something common. Thus, we regard cohesion as not only a key component of the national regional policy and important factor of national stability but also as nonetheless significant feature of a region or territorial community (particularly, amalgamated one), not in the least for convergence of various social, ethnic etc. groups.

Given the subject matter of this note focuses on national and regional dimension of cohesion, the range of issues described above and related to inter-regional problems and territorial identity would be incomplete without matters of economic growth inequalities of regions and also of territories within these.

It is no secret even rather successful regions have areas with natural features limiting their growth prospects: e. g., hard-to-access highland territories or areas where development is hindered by new factors like decline in a certain industry sector that used to be the dominating one, closeness to the zone of hostilities or closed national border.

This is why cohesion also envisions the designing of new tools to support such territories with resources of not only the mother region but of the whole of Ukraine.

The range of problem territories can include the ones with restricted access possibilities, mostly, islands, mountainous areas, territories inside natural reserves, rural areas with low population density, ‘rust belt’ regions with mono-cities built around a couple of once strong, now decaying enterprises belonging to one sector, areas adjacent to the border with the RF and the ones along the delimitation zone in Donbas.

Each territory type should have tailored government support tools designed for it, from tax benefits for newly established legal entities created in line with established criteria to government-backed insurance of risks for businesses operating on certain problem territories.

Governmental effect on improvement of situation in problem territories in regions will make another yet component for stitching together the Ukrainian realm, which will demonstrate the State’s attention to the problems that cannot be resolved within just territorial community or region.

In Lieu of Conclusion

1.    The history of Ukraine in general, and in particular, in the past decades shows that the reason behind enhanced pressure on Ukraine on behalf of the Russian Federation and related threat to the national security of Ukraine and the Ukrainians lies in not integrated Ukrainian realm, separatist attempts, weakness of governmental institutions and everyone’s total distrust to every other one.

Instead, neither the Law on National Security [11] nor the Strategy of National Security of Ukraine [12] include separatism and actions aimed at incitement of inter-regional alienation in the list of threats to national security and, because of that, envision no coercive action by the State to minimise damage from these actions.

2.    The decentralisation of government in Ukraine that commenced in 2014 may convert from growth possibility and national cohesion into a threat of increasing asymmetry in growth of individual communities and territories and from here, to another spiral of tension, unless promptly completed before new local elections of 2020. Here adoption of the Law on Basics of Administrative and Territorial Structure in 2019 becomes critically important.

3.    Of same importance, both from the standpoint of preserving unity of the Ukrainian realm and common coordinated enforcement of Ukrainian laws across the territory of the nation, is the task of identifying a way of governmental supervision over decisions, actions or inaction of bodies of local self-government and establishing the range of responsibility of such bodies in the event of venturing outside their own scope of authority as soon as practically possible.

4.    Start of the national regional development strategy implementation via national regional development programmes and, in particular, the All-Ukrainian Solidarity Programme, would make a rather important step to ensure cohesion of Ukraine; this will only be possible if subsequent changes to Article 24-1 of the Budget Code of Ukraine are made to provide for National Regional Development Fund enlargement to 1.5% revenues of the National Budget of Ukraine and if a third of the funds is used exactly for implementation of national programmes of regional development.

5.    No step by the government to shape cohesion in Ukraine will bear fruit in conditions of totally overwhelming dominance of negative news about situation in Ukraine in the information field and attempts to pit various groups and regions against each other. Therefore, the national communication policy is in need of substantial changes. Government bodies and officials have to explain their plans and actions to Ukrainian citizens, develop mechanisms of public engagement into discussion of draft decisions and attract for this expert potential of Ukrainian think tanks and CSOs. The information field in Ukraine needs a constructive political discourse regarding ways of uniting Ukraine and the Ukrainian realm and sparing political struggles from aggressive pitting communities and regions against each other.

Anatoliy Tkachuk, 21.03.19

[1] http://vybor.ua/article/zayavlenie/zayavlenie-obshchestvennogo-dvijeniya-ukrainskiy-vybor-1.html

[2] https://www.bbc.com/ukrainian/politics/2014/02/140222_kharkiv_nk

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://helsinki.org.ua/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/New.pdf

[5] https://glavcom.ua/news/kijivska-oblrada-progolosuvala-za-pidpisannya-dogovoru-pro-rozmezhuvannya-povnovazhen-z-centralnoyu-vladoyu-376971.html

[6] Public opinion poll carried out by the Council of Europe in December 2018 in Ukraine

[7] https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/385-2014-%D0%BF

[8] http://www.minregion.gov.ua/napryamki-diyalnosti/regional-dev/derzhavna-rehional-na-polityka/sektoralna-byudzhetna-pidtrimka-yes/programi-regionalnogo-rozvitku-shvaleni-postanovoyu-kabinetu-ministriv-ukrayini-vid-7-zhovtnya-2015-r-821/

[9] http://www.minregion.gov.ua/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Perelik-proektiv-peremozhtsiv-konkursnogo-vidboru-za-rezultatami-zasidannya-konkursnoyi-Komisiyi.pdf – list of projects under the program “All-Ukrainian Solidarity”

[10] https://uk.worldwidedictionary.org/%D0%B7%D0%B3%D1%83%D1%80%D1%82%D0%BE%D0%B2%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%96%D1%81%D1%82%D1%8C

[11] https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/2469-19

[12] https://zakon.rada.gov.ua/laws/show/287/2015