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Russia for Federal System in Ukraine
Apr 24, 2014

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov recently advocated a federal system of government for Ukraine. He said he hopes all political forces in Ukraine will have an equal voice and can agree on which kind of concrete political, economic, financial, social, religious traditions will be respected in different parts of the country. He called on Western powers to back a proposal for a federal structure in Ukraine.

According to Russian foreign minister, if our Western partners are prepared, Russia, the U.S. and the EU will be able to set up a group of support to Ukraine and to formulate general appeals to those who rule in Ukraine now. This would lead to talks between all political forces without exception, naturally not armed radicals and would result in a new constitution allowing for a federal system of government.

But the opinions of Western powers are not same. According to them, Russia’s advocacy of federalism in Ukraine is deeply hypocritical, since the Putin regime has greatly undermined federalism within Russia itself, stripping regional governments of much of their autonomy and increasingly centralizing power in the Kremlin. This, despite the fact that Russia, like Ukraine, is a large and diverse nation that has numerous ethnic minorities, including many that have a long history of oppression at the hands of the ethnic Russian majority. In addition, it is difficult to see how a federal system in Ukraine can work if Russia reserves the right to occupy and annex parts of Ukraine at will, as it did in the case of Crimea.

Federalism has often been a successful strategy for reducing ethnic conflict in divided societies. Cases like Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada are good examples. Given the deep division in Ukrainian society between ethnic Russians and Russified Ukrainians on the one hand and more nationalistic Ukrainians on the other, a federal solution might help reduce conflict there as well by assuring each group that they will retain a measure of autonomy and political influence even if the other one has a majority in the central government. Although Ukraine has a degree of regional autonomy already, it could potentially work better and promote ethnic reconciliation more effectively if it were more decentralized.


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