Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany is right to be nudging Ukraine toward a federal structure. That is the best hope for bringing restive provinces such as Donetsk and Luhansk back into the fold of democratic politics, and the best way of accommodating those who may feel themselves somehow both Ukrainian and Russian, or somewhere in between. It’s the best hope for removing disputes from the hands of masked men with guns, and back into the realm of politics.
Already in March, Ms. Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, spoke of “federalizing solutions.” Accomplishing this, he said, would be a major part of “the political redirection of Ukraine.”
Under the present system, the central government appoints provincial governors. For example, in March, the acting president, Oleksandr Turchynov, appointed as governor of the Donetsk province Serhiy Taruta, a billionaire whose fortune was made in the coal and steel industry of Donetsk. But as the governor sent by the new Kiev authorities who are distrusted by many in the east, and with a civil war fomented by Russia effectively under way, he has had difficulty establishing his authority.
The country would be much better off if, instead of appointed governors, it had the equivalent of Canadian provincial premiers and legislatures, with all their imperfections. It would be best if those opposing the new government in Kiev were encouraged to take the argument off the streets and into elected bodies. Those favouring greater regional autonomy, and even closer ties with Russia, might win some local elections. That would be far better than their winning gun battles.
Meanwhile, as Ms. Merkel urges, the presidential election of May 25 should proceed on schedule. If need be, it should go to a second round. No doubt, voting will be disrupted in some localities in a few of Ukraine’s 24 provinces. But it is better to establish a democratic mandate first, so that there can be negotiations to modify the Ukrainian Constitution.
Would Russia favour a federal Ukraine? Yes. Would some of the splittists in Eastern Ukraine support it? Surely. That is no reason for Kiev to be opposed. Federalism does not mean debilitating decentralization. It means the possibility of stopping violence and restarting politics. And it’s the most plausible way of keeping Ukraine intact.