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9 July, 2013 11:46   ▪  

Alexander J. Motyl for the World Affairs: Is Decentralizing Ukraine Possible?

“Most of Ukraine’s regional policymakers and populations probably wouldn’t object to decentralization… For the Yanukovych Family to give up power is to commit political and economic suicide.”

At one time, Yanukovych and the Party of Regions supported decentralization of power to the regions as a solution to Ukraine’s problems, and even flirted with separatism for eastern provinces. But this changed after they seized power in Kyiv and realized that centralization is the shortest route to wealth enhancement, Motyl recalls in his article for the World Affairs.

However, most of Ukraine’s policymakers and populations probably wouldn’t object to decentralilzation, he argues. This would still leave opportunities for theft, even if smaller, yet push local officials to do something for constituents who know them. Coercion isn’t a viable option for local crooks because they would have to rely on inefficient and underfunded local police forces to crack down on protesters. And if locals are given more power, they can’t blame the center for their failings, plus the local populations will be able to exert some pressure on the crooks down the block and make them behave.

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One of the obstacles to decentralization is fear among Ukraine’s political elites that it could lead to separatism. Ukraine’s eastern provinces have since the early 1990s expressed a distrust of independence and a marked preference for unification with Russia or a return to the Soviet Union, while Western Ukrainians are highly unlikely to separate from any political entity that bears some resemblance to their vision of Ukraine, Motyl argues. However, “Eastern Ukrainians … are ruled by Regionnaires, who will never permit their bailiwick to join Russia. Annexation by Moscow would immediately transform the Regionnaires from local crime bosses to Kremlin gofers and, far worse, subordinate them to Russian organized crime and oligarchs. The Yanukovych Family would go out of business in such dire circumstances,” he writes in the article.

A Ukraine split in halves would never work, Motyl argues. “The European Union and NATO just might take a democratic, stable, and poor Western Ukraine under their wing. But no semi-rational Russian state would ever voluntarily annex a rust belt seething with anger and doomed to underdevelopment,” he says in the publication.

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“Whatever the solution to Ukraine’s ills, the single most important obstacle to any kind of change is the Party of Regions. If the Regionnaires secede, Ukraine has a chance. If they stick around for long, the country is pretty much doomed to, at best, permanent stagnation,” Motyl concludes.

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