The Reasons for Destabilization in the Southern and Eastern Regions of Ukraine

15 May 2014

The current situation in the Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine is approaching the “red level of threat” to the political and humanitarian security not only in the country, but also in the whole Eastern Europe. Low level of manageability of the political administration infrastructure, insufficient level of support from the Western partners, unprecedentedly high level of Russian aggression against Ukraine and a range of basic internal destabilization factors hamper the possibility to promptly resolve the existing collision. To solve the array of available problems it is crucial to clearly analyze the reasons of the processes occurring in these regions. Based on this analysis, it is further necessary to urgently implement effective strategies and measures for settling the conflict.

The “Southern East” of Ukraine does not exist. Such construct of the post-soviet political geography is Kremlin’s imperial modeling of geopolitical map of the so-called “near abroad” – the zone of Russian priority influence. With the aim of destabilizing the situation in whole post-revolutionary Ukraine, Russian propaganda creates informational framework of the so-called pro-Russian Ukraine that is geopolitically alternative to the West. According to Putin’s idea, the pivot of the “Southern East” should be constituted with no less ephemeral “Novorossiya” – imaginary space including Ukraine’s regions from Odesa to Kharkiv. Russia is striving to gain control over these regions to secure transportation corridor from Russian border in the East of Ukraine to Russian military enclave at Moldovan Pridnestrovie, as well as to solve the problem of supplying the Crimean peninsula with gas, electricity and water.

The peculiarity of elites of the South and the East of Ukraine. Over the last decades, the eastern regions of Ukraine lived under the system of parallel administration, the so-called “oligarchy”. The period of 2010-2013 was marked with the attempt of Eastern-Ukrainian oligarchic elites to impose on the whole territory of Ukraine the model of control that previously functioned mostly in eastern and southern regions. Subjugation of regional business and political elites and their cooptation into the political machine of the Party of Regions was accomplished with the help of politically motivated appointments to executive positions in regional bodies of internal affairs, security service, prosecution, tax inspection, customs and justice of people mostly from Donbas (Donetsk and Luhansk regions). The strategy was not equally successful in different regions. For instance, in western regions this tactics did not only fail, but also became one of the main reasons of Euromaidan and its mass support among the residents of Western Ukraine. At the same time, in the Crimea this tactics lead to actual seizure of the autonomy by oligarchic groups (the so-called “Makedonians” – people from Makeevka and Donetsk) and dismissal of local elite from executive institutions of power in the region.

Yanukovych’s flight from the country has landed oligarchic elites (in the first place, of Donetsk and Luhansk regions) in trouble – they have not only lost the infrastructure of business and political control over the country, but also the guarantee of their further existence in the national political class. The absence of such guarantee is the reason why separatist actions at Donbas are occurring under passive support of regional business and political elites. Prospectively, these elites assign themselves the role of mediators of this conflict, resolution of which should be connected with granting the regional oligarchy with the safeguards of legal immunity and regional business and political autonomy.

The peculiarity of party development in Ukraine after independence. Anthropologically, political parties in Ukraine were being built in the form of the so-called party-political substitutes. Political parties that were created during Ukraine’s modern history did not actually aim at aggregation and articulation of public thought, but rather turned into political machines of gaining business and political rent. On the one hand, institutionalization of parties in the form of business and political holdings allowed Ukrainian elites abstracting from the existence of electorate as such and discounting ideology as a factor of party and political building. On the other hand, this model laid a delay-action mine, as it created such pattern of public administration, for which people, notwithstanding universal electoral rights, are generally superfluous, and the procedure of political elections is merely utilized to legitimize the unfair and non-transparent authority system. Donbas, as the area of political and security destabilization, is the region where party and political diversification and competition was absent while the monopoly for power for many years belonged to the Party of Regions and its business and political factions. Due to this domination, alternative elites were not formed (though now they have arisen in the form of lumpen revolt), social lifts were stopped and the population was mostly dependent on the non-reformed regional industry. While the state machine was controlled by oligarchy of the Party of Regions and the “Family” (close milieu of Yanukovych and his kin), competitiveness of this industries was supported with subsidies and subventions from the state budget. The loss of control over state machine by oligarchy jeopardized not only the prospects of business and political elite of Donbas, but also its economic model (noncompetitive, based on raw materials and outdated industry), as well as lifestyle of the region.

The role of law-enforcement corporations in managing the state infrastructure of Ukraine. Political configurations of modern history of the state bureaucratic machine in Ukraine have resulted in its unprecedented institutional and legal autonomy. Such basic systems as justice, prosecution, security service and police have actually transformed into corporate business of rendering informal services of fiscal (corruption, guarding and enforcement) character – the so-called enforcement business. In fact, the regime of Yanukovych, just like the regime of the former President, was systemically dependent on the services of “enforcement corporations”. The beginning of mass protests at Maidan in fall 2013 was connected with the demand to stop the arbitrary rule of the police and reform (in a wide sense) the law-enforcement structures. Ignoring these demands, Yanukovych consciously provoked aggravation of the conflict with wide popular resentment. Hypothetically, on his opinion this aggravation was less dangerous for him than conflict with enforcement corporations that have always been and still are the fundamental core of the Ukrainian neo-patrimonial political system. Escalation of separatist actions in Donbas is occurring under sabotage of the whole vertical of law-enforcement bodies in destabilized regions (the sabotage is the highest in the regions with the greatest corruption rent – Donetsk, Luhansk, Odesa regions and the Crimea). Without radical demolition of the hegemony of enforcement corporations over business and legal system, it is impossible to change the situation in the region and in the country.

This comment was originally posted on April 29, 2014 by the Kennan Institute/Wilson Center Kyiv Office here.