Ukraine plans more powers for provinces

April 03, 2014 - 7:26:30 am

KIEV: Crisis-hit Ukraine took the first step yesterday toward granting more powers to the regions in line with Western wishes but stopped well short of creating the federation sought by Russia.

The Western-backed team unveiled its high-stakes plan under the dual pressure of tens of thousands of Russian troops massed at its border and a veiled Kremlin threat to raise the price it charges its neighbour for crucial gas deliveries for a second time in a week.

But Ukraine’s new government — having won both vital financial backing from the IMF last week and morale support from a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday — appeared ready to resist the Kremlin’s attempts to dislodge the more Russified regions in the east of the ex-Soviet country from direct 

Kiev rule.

The government said it would like to eliminate the current practice under which local governors are appointed by the president and move toward an election system.

But it said nothing about granting regions the right to set their own trade policies or establish special relations with foreign states.

“The main idea behind the concept is to decentralise power in the country and substantially broaden the authority of local communities,” the government said in a statement published on its website. Moscow has sought radical constitutional reforms in Ukraine in the wake of the February overthrow of a pro-Kremlin regime whose rejection of closer ties with Europe sparked months of deadly unrest.

Russia would like to see Ukraine transformed into a federation that allows eastern regions in the vast nation of 46 million to adopt Russian as a second state language and overrule some decision coming from Kiev.

The Kremlin has argued the changes were needed because ethnic Russians had allegedly been coming under increasing attack from ultranationalist forces that helped the new leaders overthrow Kiev’s Moscow-backed president.

But Washington and its EU allies fear that Russia — having already annexed Crimea last month is using the federation idea as an excuse to further splinter Ukraine by granting the Kremlin veto powers over Kiev’s 

regional policies.

US officials have instead urged Ukraine’s new leaders to introduce more targeted reforms that undercut President Vladimir Putin’s arguments for sending troops into the heavily Russified swathes of southeastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian government’s statement follows closely in line with US wishes by stressing that a system under which regional governors are appointed by local legislatures would be “more efficient”.