Sunday, June 13, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Yanukovich Shelves Plans to Federalize Ukraine for Now

Paul Goble

Staunton, June 13 – Viktor Tikhonov, Ukraine’s new vice premier for regional policy, announced last week that Ukraine will remain a unitary state because the federalization of the country would be too expensive and problematic, thus putting off a change that many had thought President Viktor Yanukovich planned to make a centerpiece of his policy.
Indeed, since Yanukovich came to power, people in various parts of Ukraine and commentators in Moscow had argued that only federalization of that country could cope with the enormous divides among its regions, clearly on the assumption that the new pro-Moscow Ukrainian leader would move in that direction.
But Tikhonov’s declaration suggests that any moves away from Ukraine’s unitary state will not take place anytime soon, a possible indication that Yanukovich fears such changes could get out of hand or a recognition by the Ukrainian president that federalization could end by costing him and his Party of the Regions real power.
In an essay posted on, Igor Lesev suggests that Tikhonov’s views are authoritative and reflect two basic conclusions that the powers that be in Kyiv have reached: moving toward federalism now would be expensive and, what is more, “culturally, Ukrainians are still not prepared for this” (
Given that Tikhonov is one of the most “consistent supporters of the thorough-going federalization of Ukraine,” Lesev argues, it is clear that his statement that for the moment at least, Ukraine will remain a unitary state, reflects the position of the Yanukovich regime rather than any change of heart on Tikhonov’s part.
Any moves toward the federalization of that country would be long and difficult, Lesev notes. They would require “a complete change in the form of the entire system of power of Ukraine, and “what is most important, presuppose a cardinal change in the constitution of the country.”
Any such change, therefore, would require some kind of agreement with the Ukrainian opposition, something not currently on offer. But the real reason for the regime’s change of heart and Tikhonov’s statement, Lesev argues, is not an assessment of how the opposition would react but rather of how Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions sees the future.
Unlike his predecessors who either viewed it as “an absolute value” (Leonid Kuchma) or something that would prevent “independent movements in the regions” (Viktor Yushchenko), Yanukovich, Lesev says, was quite prepared to support the idea of federalization until it came to power but is now opposed to such a move because of its own calculation of self-interest.
Enjoying virtually unlimited power in the current centralized state, Yanukovich and his Party of the Regions want to “leave everything as it is” lest any shift reduce their control. On the one hand, federalization would lead to the rise of elites the current president’s party might not be in a position to control.
And on the other, local and regional elections could work against it even if the Party of the Regions were to win. That is because the regional candidates of the ruling party would have to appeal to groups that would tend to undermine Yanukovich’s control even if those who won proclaimed their loyalty to him.
Consequently, the Party of the Regions is prepared to let things ride, assuming that it has “sufficient time” to move toward the federalization that it has always supported. But this is “a mistake” on their part, Lesev says, because any result of the elections that are now scheduled will make it more difficult for Kyiv to move toward federalization.
“Success by the Party of the Regions will be a signal that the party is on the true path and that there is the chance to use unlimited government resources and that there is no sense in delegating power to the regions,” Lesev argues.
At the same time, the analyst continues, “success by the opposition will also make the process of the federalization of Ukraine more complicated since there will arise a powerful protest group in the regions and in the parliament.”
“In other words, if the regionals genuinely and not in words want to see the economic and in part political independence of regions, then they must conduct the reforms already now,” something Tikhonov’s words suggest they have decided against, because if they don’t, then “the process will be either impossible or become undesirable for the ‘Donetsk’ elite.”

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