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18 March, 2014

Political Crisis in the East – the Aftermath of the Collapse of the Party of Regions

The rapid collapse of the Party of Regions left its orphaned electorate feeling betrayed amidst a political vacuum

Vandalism has reigned in the Donbas over the last week. Within 10 days, what began as pro-Russian meetings on March 1 has degenerated into blatant and senseless hooliganism. Aggressive people wearing Russian symbols beat up people carrying Ukrainian flags on the streets, wrote foul language on the Shevchenko statue in the city centre, burned the local FC Shakhtar flag, confusing it for the black and red flag of the OUN (Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists)  and broke glass. In a word, they showed the entire country the image of the Russian World in their interpretation of it. A lot of Donetsk residents did not approve of this. The vandalism alienated more or less reasonable people, who stayed away from mass actions, and in accordance with historic traditions, the Russian rebellion in Donetsk became not only merciless, but also senseless.

The demonstrators stopped seizing administrative buildings. They don’t have an intelligent plan of action. The whole circus was calculated specifically for Russian troops to be brought in, but Putin decided not to send troops to the Donbas, and participants gradually became bored with the demonstrations.

For many citizens, the events of the last ten days in the Donbas were a surprise and even a shock. Nobody expected the appearance of such a large number of aggressive people on the streets, who oppose the very fact of the existence of Ukraine. However, the developments were quite logical. They are the result of the collapse of the Party of Regions, which long had a political monopoly in the South East. The uncontrolled disappearance of one of the largest political forces in the country has led to a major crisis.

What the patriotically-minded public of Ukraine awaited has become a significant test for the country. At the moment of the collapse of the largest party, a vast amount of energy was created, such as during a nuclear reaction, which the new authorities are not capable of channelling at this time. Meanwhile, one of the basic principles of physics teaches us that energy does not simply disappear. Those who formerly had no chance for anything were the ones who got the energy of the Party of Regions – pro-Russian marginal persons; the dregs of Ukrainian politics, losers and madmen, who had previously played the role of clowns.

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For many years, we dreamed that the Party of Regions would gradually disillusion its voters, lose influence and leave the political arena. In our imagination, this should have happened gradually. In time, splits and internal conflicts, as well as decreased popularity among people were supposed to weaken the Party of Regions and to force MPs to distance themselves in split-off political projects. Nobody expected the colossus to fall in an instant, but that is what happened. The orphaned masses of its electorate have become even more radical and vicious – because they felt betrayed.

This vast territory faced a political vacuum. “The father who would not betray his children”, transformed into a pitiful loser, who was ousted out of the country. His party split. The leaders scattered, while MPs renounced yesterday’s comrades-in-arms. Being at a loss, millions of voters cried: “What about us?!” – but they suddenly learned that their political force was merely a phantom, and there is no one left to answer this question. They all blamed one another and surrendered to the mercy of the victors.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin broke into the vacuum. This is almost like Yanukovych, but more severe. He will not betray or run off. His party will not scatter. Putin is the last refuge of Ukraine’s former Party of Regions’ members; the new idol, the new “father”, but more pumped up and strict. Only formalities keep him from appearing in the Donbas personally.

Instead, he is sending prophets have come to the electorate, armed with money and sermons, and with new ambitions regarding the electoral pie. Had the demise of the Party of Regions not been so rapid, the successful channelling of its flock would have been relatively painless. Had the new authorities been smarter, they would have created a similar controlled project to replace the Party of Regions long ago, designated to win the South-Eastern vote. But the collapse happened very quickly and gained excessively spontaneous and dangerous forms.

What should be done under current conditions? First of all, a mess should be avoided. Hotheads calling for immediate lustration in the East should calm down and realise that an advance on the remains of the disoriented political elite of the Party of Regions will ultimately push them towards separatism. The tensions must be gradually soothed. To do this, it is necessary to systematically neutralise the most tempestuous marginal element in the South East, which calls for unrest, and at the same time, give those who support the unity of the country some room to manoeuvre. The remnants of the Donetsk elites must be given the opportunity to remain in politics for a while. They should be allowed to form a moderate political force, capable of subduing tension and returning life in the region to a state of calm.

This is not particularly revolutionary. But this is the only thing that will work in Ukraine. These are the specific features of the eastern regions. Otherwise, we will have to turn the Donbas over to Russia. After all, there is only one reason why Putin cannot send troops there: in contrast to Crimean authorities, the local authorities in the Donbas remain loyal to Kyiv.

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