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Constitutional reform in Ukraine: Poroshenko trapped between West, right radicals

September 01, 2015, 18:46 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko

© Mikhail Palinchak/Ukrainian presidential press service/TASS

MOSCOW, September 1. /TASS/. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tends to interpret the constitutional reform, which triggered Monday’s unrest and bloodshed in the centre of Kiev, very differently, depending on whom he is talking to at the moment, many Russian analysts point out. Whenever he addresses the internal audience, Poroshenko says the reform envisages no special status for Donbas, while all those outside Ukraine hear from him that it fully agrees with the Minsk Accords, which do contain provisions for such a status. In the meantime, Ukraine’s ultra-right radicals, who see the reform as a threat to the country’s unity, have staged clashes with police. Yet the polled pundits are certain that Ukraine will not see a re-run of massive street protests similar in scale to the turmoil of 2014.

Ukraine’s parliament on Monday voted in the first reading for the presidential draft of decentralization amendments to the Constitution. Three of the five political parties in the ruling coalition - Samopomoshch (Self-Assistance), Oleg Lyashko’s Radical Party and Yulia Timoshenko’s Batkivshchina - voted against to have outspokenly challenged the president.

Way before the parliament met in session the extremist Right Sector group started to blockade the government compound. About one thousand right-wing radicals gathered for a rally in front of the parliament to slam the amendments as "treason." After the voting the crowd tried to storm the building. Clashes with police followed. Two people died and more than a hundred others were injured.

Most opponents of the reform are against item 18 of the bill saying that local self-government in some areas of Donbas shall fall under the operation of a special law. They argue that in this way Donbas will obtain a special status under the Constitution and in fact result in the country’s federalization. Poroshenko denies this.

Under the Minsk Accords Kiev is obliged to be through with the constitutional reform by the end of 2015. It envisages decentralization of government and a special status for Donbas.

Deputy dean of the world economy and world politics department at the Higher School of Economics, Andrey Suzdaltsev, believes that Poroshenko’s constitutional reform reflects his intention of creating a strong chain of command with the president at the very top. The problem is how to reconcile the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics with this system, he told TASS. Under the Minsk Accords the future of that region is to be decided within the framework of a special law on the status of Donbas. But the consideration of this bill has been suspended until elections are held in keeping with Ukrainian legislation.

"On the one hand, Poroshenko tells the West he complies with the Minsk Accords, because the special status is "built into" the amendments to the Constitution. On the other hand, he tells the Ukrainians that neither Donetsk nor Luhansk will get any special status. In other words, each audience is told what it would like to hear, which merely adds to the general confusion."

Nevertheless, the right-wingers in Ukraine, for whom unitarian Ukraine is an idol, have sensed the constitutional reform is fraught with the country’s real federalization, because some other regions may demand a special status for themselves, too. "Their question is: won’t we cause Ukraine to fall apart? In the end the right-of-centre factions in parliament cast their votes against, and the out-of-parliament ones rose in revolt."

Suzdaltsev is certain another "Maidan" is ruled out today. "Such a campaign will require heavy financing and thorough preparations. The right-wingers are few. Support for them is moderate. Yet they are trying to dominate the political field. This explains their radicalism and harshness."

At the same time the right-wing radicals are objective allies of the current authorities, he believes.

"Today’s Ukraine is forming its ideology on the basis of ethnic nationalism, which meets their expectations. The authorities and the right-wing radicals are allies and associates. Yesterday we were able to see that the police by no means dispersed them but only tried to hold them back," he remarked. "But they surely lack the strength to start some kind of an uprising to eventually seize power. Moreover, should there happen any mutiny attempt, the army will most likely be used against them."

Suzdaltsev has no doubts about the way the West might respond.

"Victoria Nuland earlier said that Poroshenko had in fact complied with the Minsk Accords by making preparations for the constitutional reform. Germany and France are more cautious. They are against an aggravation of the situation, but they will keep insisting that Kiev is on the right track while Russia does not comply with anything. But Russia is not expected to comply with anything, because it is a guarantor of the Minsk Accords," he believes. The amendments have been adopted in violation of the Minsk Accords, which unequivocally say that they are to be agreed with Donetsk and Lugansk representatives.

"For Poroshenko the voting for the bill is a tactical move," the daily Vedomosti quotes Ukrainian political scientist, Vladimir Fesenko, as saying. "He cannot afford to be the first to refuse to comply with the Accords. This item, which in fact yields nothing, was voted for not for the sake of the Donetsk or Lugansk republics, but in order to please Washington, Berlin and Paris."

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