Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (left picture) yesterday said he is "ready" to hold a nationwide referendum on federalism if a committee that is charged with drafting a set of amendments to the Ukrainian Constitution deems it appropriate. Poroshenko further said he is convinced that federalism is rejected by 90% of Ukrainian citizens, who according to him favor a "unitary state." The President believes the idea of turning Ukraine into a federal state is an "infection" inoculated from Russia.
The Russian government proposed in March 2014 that Ukraine become a federation in which each province would have wide legislative and executive powers. Moscow also suggested that Ukraine should adopt Russian as a second official language.
Yesterday, Poroshenko ruled out this possibility, saying that "the only official language of Ukraine is and will be Ukrainian." Russian is the main language in several areas of eastern and southern Ukraine.
Decentralization based on "the Polish experience"
Poroshenko opposed Russian-backed federalism to decentralization, which is the president's favourite option for Ukraine. Decentralization, Poroshenko said, will not be based on regions, but on local autonomy, following the "Polish experience," as the president referred to.
The committee on constitutional reform held its first meeting yesterday, and will start working on a proposal for decentralization from its next meeting on April 15th, as announced by the president of that body, Volodymyr Groysman.
A constitutional amendment and decentralization are two of the commitments that Ukraine agreed to implement in a February deal with Russia, Germany and France in Minsk in order to find a solution to the Donbass conflict. Under that agreement, Ukraine also accepted to grant a "special status" for "patricular districts" of the Donbass -presumably, those areas currently under the control of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People's Republic (LPR), which declared themselves sovereign states last year.
The Minsk deal did not specify to what extent would this "special status" grant self-government to Luhansk and Donetsk. DPR and LPR leaders insist they will not accept anything else than the recognition by Kyiv of their existence as sovereign countries. The strength that both self-proclaimed republics can play vis-a-vis Ukraine will largely depend on how much political and military support will Moscow be willing to provide them.