As Crimea is de facto under Russia’s control and the situation in southern and eastern Ukraine looks like implementation of the Kremlin’s scenario, the government is taking a well-balanced stand but shows, according to experts, an extremely slow reaction. For example, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Arsenii Yatseniuk, addressed residents of the southern and eastern regions as late as last Tuesday.
Yatseniuk’s messages were right on the whole and covered the issues that are very sensitive to a considerable part of Ukrainians, such as expansion of regional powers, language, church, relations with the European Union and Russia, and, what is more, the new government’s plans for the near future. The speech itself was rather frank and had no unnecessary “decorations.” This was perhaps the way the leadership should have spoken to eastern and southern Ukrainians well before.
Yet, as political consultant Viktoria Podhorna commented to The Day, the Ukrainian premier failed to do the main thing – to signal people in the regions in simple words that the center is prepared to share power with them. “It is necessary that people feel sure that they can be in touch with the local officials who have the authority to tackle their problems, instead of constantly turning to the center and complaining that the latter is indifferent to them,” Podhorna says. “It is good that Yatseniuk’s address is bound to have some effect on the conscientious eastern and southern Ukrainians. There are people there who can think and hear reasonable arguments.”
“I would say the statement was made in good time. But this is not enough now,” Podhorna says. In the expert’s view, the Ukrainian leadership’s No.1 task now is to make an all-out effort to put credible information across to the inhabitants of eastern and southern Ukraine. Moreover, information should be spread in all directions by means of various methods and channels. From this angle, Ukraine is now totally losing to Russia. What is more, it looks unrealistic that Russia will ease its informational pressure on Ukraine’s problem regions now that it has in fact annexed Crimea. Just the contrary, the Kremlin’s change of tactics – from military action to peaceful federalization – does not leave many chances for optimism and is fraught with the aggravation of domestic conflicts in Ukraine.
“If we conduct a powerful information campaign about acute issues and constantly explain the government’s position, the situation in the east and south may change some time later,” Podhorna explains. “Naturally, the authorities cannot persuade everybody, but, after all, everything depends on their willingness to take these steps. People need be talked to.”
However, the impression is that not only Russia, but also some of the local elites in Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Luhansk oblasts are playing on Ukraine’s domestic differences. Oligarchs like Rinat Akhmetov pretend to have no clout to influence the situation in their homelands. “As is known, nothing can happen in Donetsk without Akhmetov’s permission. There could be no disturbances there without his consent. Let him then remember Firtash,” Batkivshchyna MP Andrii Pavlovsky wrote on his Facebook page the other day.
Incidentally, the Party of Regions (PoR) has not yet dissociated itself – either in word or in deed – from separatists. Even most of the PoR members of the Ukrainian parliament refused to cast their votes for dissolution of the separatist Crimean parliament or condemn Aksionov and Konstantynov, while this party’s first-past-the-post deputies never visited their constituencies to explain the need for Ukraine to be united.
“The Party of Regions has been using separatist slogans and trying to split this country since 2004. It is a source of separatism inside the state and in fact functions as a Kremlin agent,” Podhorna comments. “What PoR members really wish is that Ukraine should remain a criminalized and corrupt, rather than democratic, country and they become feudal warlords as part of Russia. But even if they break away, they will not leave the other part of Ukraine in peace. The Regionnaires will work to carry out Putin’s strategic plan to destroy Ukraine as a state. Yet, instead of curbing these influences (it is easy to ban the PoR, but this will cause irreparable damage), we must let other parties seriously compete with them. The No.1 task is not to leave south and east one-on-one with Putin.”