23 October 2016

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OpinionConstitutional escalation

I feel that my country is getting particularly weak when it’s being openly told what to do.

We are witnessing the latest stage of pressure exerted upon Ukraine, particularly upon the Ukrainian Parliament, to force it to pass amendments to the Constitution regarding the so-called decentralization, with the Europeans being most interested in the provision regarding a special status of Donbas. From the very beginning, it was a politically and legally unwise idea. However, having decided that we would trick’em all and not pass any legislation which is not generally supported by public, the Ukrainian Government seems to have tricked itself.

President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko during his recent visit to Dnipropetrovsk region said in particular that "in the near future the Parliament will also support constitutional changes regarding decentralization".

He wouldn’t say it had he not known something, would he? It is likely that it was French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault who “inspired” the Ukrainian president to once again talk about the Constitution. He said there was a need to adopt the law on Donbas elections and to grant a special status to the region. But only a week ago, in his annual address to the parliament, Poroshenko said something quite different: "There has been no second reading of [draft] constitutional changes, whose ghost is constantly wandering around this hall. And there won’t be one until appropriate conditions for this ripen."

Now it seems that the president, himself, let this ghost inside the parliament.

The Kremlin needs to have Ukraine on fire. That is why Russia is waiting until Europe feels fatigue from Ukraine

But what conditions have ripened throughout this period? What has Russia fulfilled in these seven or ten days from among the conditions set out by the Minsk agreements?

For example, September 14, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a joint press conference with Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and France in Kyiv said: "We came to Kyiv with the pledge from Moscow that the separatists' weapons will fall silent at midnight." However, a spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, while answering a question of an UNIAN correspondent whether the Russian side had promised Germany to establish ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, said that they promised nothing to Germany, because Russia is "not a party to the conflict".

So is there anyone left unaware that Russian promises are worth nothing?

Former Foreign Minister of Ukraine, now Deputy Chairman of Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs Borys Tarasyuk, while commenting on proposals of the European diplomats, said that such European powers as France, Germany, as well as the United States, should know better than trying to put pressure on the Verkhovna Rada but rather think of the ways to help Ukraine to counter Russian aggression, including with weapons. "Name one country which has problems with separatism and has made changes to the Constitution that actually legalize this separatism and the absence of control over a certain part of its territory... This hasn’t been done in Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Moldova. Why should Ukraine change its constitution in relation to Russian aggression? This is a search for an easy solution to an extremely complex problem of Russian aggression at the expense of Ukraine," he said.

However, it is likely we can expect that Parliament will continue the cry wolf that there is a need for a compromise and they should adopt Constitutional amendments, because there is no such thing as “special status” there but only a reference to the law on special order of local governing in certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. But if some region is prescribed some different terms of management, then it’s special status alright, that is the status different from the others.

Actually, there are some weird discussions ongoing on the sidelines of the Verkhovna Rada. The MPs do not at all exclude such developments. They say that in this case, the president's team would draft a bill that would not let the provision on the special status of Donbas be enforced until Minsk agreements are fulfilled. However, it is difficult to imagine a law that would prevent the norms of the Constitution from working.

In addition, it should be recalled that a year ago, August 31, 2015, 265 deputies voted for the preliminary approval of amendments to the Constitution on decentralization. That hand-wringing of the parliament has led to the bloody events outside its walls. Now, for the final approval of the changes, at least 300 votes are needed. It’s rather problematic to get such an amount, but everything is possible in Ukraine.

People's Front faction with its 80 votes, the political force without which the adoption of amendments would be impossible, has its own clear position that "as long as the shellings continue, until all POWs are released and until all Russian troops, to the last soldier, leave Donbas, and local terrorists - lay down their arms, we won’t even begin to talk about a special status and elections in the occupied territories." It sounds fine, of course. But, again, if we remember August 2015, when there was the same situation in eastern Ukraine, 69 deputies from this faction still voted “Yes”.

There is also a question whether Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna will change its position as well as Samopomich and the Radical Party, all of which chose to not support the amendments last year. However, given that politics often means bargaining, anything may happen, and anything can intervene with the factions’ fundamental plans.

Only one thing can be predicted for sure - if the issue of adopting Constitutional changes appears on the Rada’s agenda, the Ukrainian parliament will experience a real storm. Moreover, against the background of increased heating tariffs, which will be felt from the beginning of the heating season, we can also expect some public turbulence.

At the same time, one can understand Europe, which has been lobbying for putting the issue on the agenda. Even though the recent decisions to support sanctions against Russia give some optimism that Ukraine has not been left alone facing the aggressor, they would rather forget about Ukraine’s problems as soon as possible. They also may sincerely believe that Russia will "get over it" and stop its aggressive advance. However, Russia is totally not interested in returning peace to Ukraine, otherwise there would be no such inexplicable things as "DPR" and "LPR". The Kremlin needs to have Ukraine on fire. That is why Russia is waiting until Europe feels fatigue from Ukraine. It is important that European politicians be aware of that, while they are visiting Kyiv, still a peaceful city for now. 

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