Five Arguments Russians Make for Decentralization of Ukraine Even More Compelling for Russian Federation

Ukraine Map and Flag

(Window on Eurasia – Paul Goble – Staunton, June 1, 2014) One of the problems that Moscow propagandists face is that many of the arguments they put out for political change in Ukraine apply with equal or even greater force to the Russian Federation and thus have the potential to spark demands inside the latter country that the Kremlin is very much against.

Nowhere is that possibility of unwelcome blowback more obvious than in Russian discussions of the need for decentralization of power and the creation of genuine federalism in Ukraine, discussions in which every argument about Ukraine could be made with even greater force about Russia.

An obvious example of this possibility is unintentionally provided by Aleksandr Karavayev, a researcher at the Moscow Institute of Economics, in a commentary on “The Decentralization of Ukrain e as a Variant of Soft Federation” on the Politcom.ru portal on Friday (politcom.ru/17657.html).

As with most Moscow authors on this subject, Karavayev says that “the strategy of decentralization may be the last chance at a minimum to implement the reform of local self-administration and at a maximum to weaken the separatist backlash.” And he says this strategy must involve the devolution of both electoral and fiscal control.

The regions and cities of Ukraine would be allowed to elect their own leaders, keep far more of the taxes collected on their territories, and leave to Kyiv only a coordinating function. Not surprisingly, demands for exactly the same things are regular features of the agendas of regionalists in the Russian Federation where ever fewer officials are elected, ever less of taxes collected are left to the regions, and where Moscow insists on deciding everything.

In support of his argument about Ukraine, Karavayev says there are five “e ssential political reasons” why Kyiv should decentralize:

  • First, such a reform would allow the government to adapt to the diversity of Ukraine’s regions.
  • Second, it would open the way for cooperation among regions and not just between individual regions and Kyiv.
  • Third, it would allow for a return to the system of proportional representation in the national legislature in place of the current winner-take-all arrangements.
  • Fourth, decentralization would open the way for talks with Moscow to improve bilateral relations.
  • And fifth, it would open the way for the resolution of the problems the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics by meeting many of the demands they pose and thus reducing pressure for secession.

Karavayev says that the experience of Canada shows that “federation in the Western world is one of the best means of resolving the problems of administration in complex states. And he says tha t Ukraine could have chosen on its own to do so but now may be forced to do so by the threat of the disintegration of the country.

Exactly the same argument could be made about the Russian Federation, although it is certain that this particular Moscow writer and others like him would be most distressed if anyone in Kazan, Irkutsk, or Makhachkala ever draws the obvious parallels, something they are almost certain to do as the economic and political situation in Russia deteriorates.