Ukraine Grants More Powers to Localities in Russian-Controlled Territory (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 165

(Source: AP)

Ukraine’s law on the “special procedure of local self-administration in individual districts in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces” (Ukraiynska Pravda, September 16; see Part One of this article) seeks to retain at least some means of influence and avenues of dialogue between Kyiv and local authorities in the “Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) area,” i.e., the Russian-controlled territory. It is an overture to lower-level administrative units there, bypassing the “central” authorities of the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics” (DPR, LPR). Drafted by the Ukrainian presidential administration, and approved by the parliament on September 16, this law offers some serious incentives for those local authorities to cooperate with Kyiv. These provisions do not entail sacrifices to Ukrainian interests or sovereignty de jure.

De facto, however, the law’s poorly drafted provisions regarding its adoption mechanism, its duration, geographic area of its applicability (see Part One), public use of languages, status of the police and judiciary, reconstruction financing, elections in this territory, and the local authorities’ relations with the Ukrainian government and Russia, respectively (see below), seem wide open to abuse by Russia’s proxies in the occupied territories. Senior Ukrainian government officials who did not participate in drafting this law are publicly criticizing or disavowing various parts of it.

Use of Languages

This law “guarantees the right to freely use the Russian language and other languages in public and private life” and will “support the learning and free development of Russian and other languages, their free development and equality” in the Russian-occupied territories of Ukraine.

Intended as a sop to Moscow (more than to local Russians), this provision does not reflect the local socio-linguistic situation. The Russian language reigns supreme here, mainly as a consequence of the Russification of Ukrainians in Soviet times. In the latest census (2001) in the Donetsk province, 75 percent of residents identified themselves as Russian-speakers, but only 39 percent as ethnic Russians, the majority ethnicity being Ukrainian. In the Luhansk province, 69 percent identified themselves as Russian-speakers, but only 38 percent as ethnic Russians, the majority ethnicity being also here Ukrainian, according to the latest census (Russkiy Yazyk v Ukraine, Dannyie Perepisi 2001 goda, via Unian, April 2, 2014).

Donetsk and Luhansk are the only provinces (oblasts) in which the Russian language predominates. Ukrainian is the state language throughout the country, including here. Russian, however, is the hegemonic language in Donetsk and Luhansk de facto, also enjoying official status on the provincial (oblast) level de jure, on par with the Ukrainian language, under the law on regional languages, in force since 2012. It is the Ukrainian language that needs protection in these two provinces generally, and in the Russian-occupied territories in particular at this time. The Ukrainian language and culture face risks to their survival in the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics.”

Police and the Judiciary

This law authorizes local councils in the Russian-controlled territories on the city, town, district, and village levels to “set up people’s police detachments, their operation to be coordinated by the corresponding council chairman (mayor).” This people’s police shall recruit volunteers from among “citizens of Ukraine who permanently reside in those localities.” Apparently intended as an alternative (potentially a counterweight) to the DPR and LPR paramilitaries (which are often indistinguishable from criminal gangs), the proposed “people’s police” could easily end up recruiting volunteers from among those very elements.

Under this law, the Ukrainian government and elected district-level administrations (councils) in Russian-controlled territories would jointly appoint judges and prosecutors. Thus, an exclusive prerogative of the government would be shared with locally elected authorities, under a special procedure. This law, however, clarifies neither that procedure, nor the jurisdiction to which those judges and prosecutors would be directly responsible.

According to Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Justice Minister Pavlo Petrenko, no “people’s police” or other law enforcement personnel can be authorized in that (or any) territory of Ukraine, unless they operate within Ukraine’s legislation and jurisdiction, which this law, however, does not specify (RBK-Ukraina, Ukrinform, September 17).

Reconstruction Financing and Investment

Under this law, Ukraine’s annual state budgets shall allocate funding for reconstruction and development of the Russian-controlled districts. That funding shall be a protected spending-line earmark, unaffected in the event of overall budget cuts or budget sequestration (i.e., an entitlement). Furthermore, a special legal regime shall be instituted to stimulate investments and credit for reconstruction of industry, infrastructure, and housing, job creation and general economic development of these districts. All this remains, presumably, to be fleshed out in subsequent legislation.

Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, however, firmly opposes such arrangements that “would send [state budget] money to districts not controlled by Ukraine, money that would be stolen by Russian terrorists.” “Not a cent,” Justice Minister Petrenko echoed. Yatsenyuk has instructed the finance ministry to draft legislation on reconstruction financing from sources in the following order or priority: 1) donations and investments by “Ukraine’s oligarchs”; 2) international donor aid; and 3) state budget funds “only if we reestablish full control over the entire territory” (Interfax-Ukraine, RBK-Ukraina, September 17).