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Redirecting/Managing (de)mobilisation – Ukraine

October 6, 2015

President Poroshenko has given his interpretation of the outcomes from the most recent Normandy Four gathering on 2nd October in Paris.

In short it is a possible, perhaps even probable, move from ceasefire to truce.  The truce to allow for full OSCE monitoring, elections under Ukrainian legislation with Ukrainian political parties competing, Ukrainian media coverage, IDP voting rights guaranteed, and the withdrawal of weapons of a calibre of 100mm and below within the next 45 days he claims.  Time will tell.

The perception he wants to project, certainly prior to the local elections across Ukraine on 25th October, being that the President held firm and that Germany and France are of the same mind.  No amendments to the Minsk II agreements are on the table – although the year end deadline for implementation must surely be more than questionable. Domestically, this projected perception theoretically would be an attempt to avoid moving public mood and votes toward the populist disasters personified by Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Lyashko and the numerous Ihor Kolomoisky fronts.

One wonders just how much this plays into any shared interpretation of the Poroshenko conclusions by France and Germany.  Certainly they would have a clear eyed view of what an unmitigated disaster Ms Tymoshenko gaining any (or even a sniff of) power would become for Ukraine.  If Ms Tymoshenko sees the local elections of 25th October as a litmus test of public opinion before deciding to leave or remain within the coalition and try to force new Rada elections, it seems unlikely any opportunity for encouragement to her ego would be willingly given.

Regardless of pre-election rhetoric or ponderings, whether this interpretation is indeed the shared interpretation of France and Germany – or not – will only be clarified by French and German statements and actions eventually.

Whatever the case, the President has been seen to be seen to uphold the constitution and stand firm (after numerous previous concessions) at least prior to the local elections – and perhaps he will stand firm after them too.  Time and electoral results will tell.

Nevertheless, the possibility of a truce – which does not mean peace nor a return to the pre-war status quo – should focus minds upon what follows thereafter in the immediate months and years ahead, plan for it and decide upon how any plans or policies will be implemented – not only within the occupied Donbas but also across the nation which has mobilised in various forms physically, organisationally and psychologically, to face the Kremlin sponsored and controlled threat in eastern Ukraine.

Naturally there are numerous tangible regional and national issues that will have to be faced – reconstruction, social policies etc., but there is also the psychological issue of how to demobilise society, or perhaps better phrased, how to manage any redirection of the mobilised society where in many cases and over some issues demobilisation is irreversible.

In Russia a clear and unmistakable conflict between keeping society demobilised within the domestic political discourse and yet hyper-mobilised against external threats seems certain to have repercussions that will eventually be beyond the control of The Kremlin.  The notable change of Kremlin controlled MSM propaganda from Ukraine (where matters are not progressing in line with domestic expectations as formulated by several years of Kremlin domestic propaganda) to Syria  is but a redirection of Russian societal mobilisation toward a different external threat – and another diversion from the internal issues within Russia of which a mobilised domestic constituency would cause perhaps terminal issues for the ruling elite.

Ukraine and Ukrainians are not about to look for other external threats should a truce with the occupied Donbas materialise.  It has no need to look for other external threats when The Kremlin will remain the biggest threat to Ukrainian statehood for decades other than the feckless Ukrainian political and oligarchical elites.  Any truce that materialises will push the latter fecklessness to the forefront of domestic discourse in perhaps unpredictable (and possibly volatile) ways whilst the occupied territories will be deliberately kept combustible by Moscow should it need to return to the Ukrainian diversion for domestic reasons.

Arguably the reason no third “Maidan” has already occurred – despite a very poorly perceived reform agenda and even more dire perception of any implementation programme – is that many consider another major public demonstration of Maidan scale would play into the hands of The Kremlin.

epa01022960 General view of a session of the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on 29 May 2007. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has suspended for two days, 29 May and 30 May, his decree on parliament's dissolution to give the Supreme Rada time to adopt laws needed to hold snap elections, his press service said. EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO

Thus the next “Maidan” should it occur, may well manifest itself within the walls of the Verkhovna Rada when the reforms eventually make a robust and long term stand against the old school – in the full knowledge of unshakable and organised constituency support of which the old guard may fear will manifest physically once again.  This time, if there is a managed and/or redirection of mobilisation of the majority of the Ukrainian constituency including those from the eastern front, obstructionist forces within the Verkhovna Rada may become more willing to release their nefarious grip on the nation.

Issues naturally arise relating to demobilisation of those that served at the eastern front, and the issue of controlling and/or surrendering weapons.  As previously written some months ago – “Discounting lawfully issued weaponry to those on active service, clearly there is a need to review existing firearms laws, deciding what weapons can be privately held and those that will be prohibited by law, how and where they must be registered, how they must be stored and how they can (or cannot) be carried in public places – All the usual parameters to legitimate private firearm ownership. (Whether or not there would be a need for legislative changes after that review remains to be seen.)

Thereafter providing a legal window for those holding currently anonymous/unregistered weapons that they will legally be allowed to hold the opportunity to identify and register those weapons with the State would seem rather sensible – together with an amnesty for surrendering all weapons that will be prohibited by law from being privately held, post any review.

The result being all illicitly held firearms/weapons/heavy weapons – having given the nation opportunity to legalise the currently illegitimate – would fall under the reviewed (and possibly unchanged) firearms legislation – or terrorist legislation where appropriate.

No amount of legislation or amnesty opportunities will account for all the weaponry that has seeped, and will continue to seep, across Ukraine. It would be a fantasy to think that organised crime, vigilantes, or “swivel-eyed underground groups” will not retain weaponry, appoint quatermasters, and secrete weapons for “future operations”/”just in case”. No doubt illicit arms stashes will be found a decade from now, buried, hidden etc., and no doubt many will be used in illegal activity in the years ahead too.”

As any truce and military demobilisation will require dealing with large numbers of illicit and unregistered weaponry that have seeped across the nation, it is perhaps time to once again raise this issue and the options above – and with any amnesty periods (and there should be several over a period of 18 – 24 months) the cash value of the weaponry surrendered should offered as an incentive.

As it would be foolish to think that Ukraine will retain all of those within the armed forces that have fought in the east, and although it would make sense to retain as many as is possible within a contract army that want to remain, there will be a significant number that are not fit to, nor wish to remain, and yet will remain highly mobilised when it comes to changing the country.

But how to manage and where to aim that newly reinforced mobilised society if a truce materialises and the battle-hardened take on a new (and possibly far more difficult) internal political fight (without weaponry)?

It will be important to continually underline constitutional responsibilities and parameters.

Where there was none, there is now an army.  The constitution has not been raped at The Kremlin whim (yet).  Foreign policy is clear.  Those are the major constitutional responsibilities of any sitting president, other than a few political appointments.  To be sure President Poroshenko has made a complete and unmitigated hash of the several Prosecutor/Attorney General appointments during his tenure thus far, and it is that office/institution of State that actively and deliberately prevents any large and influential fish from being fried.

Indeed some may wonder if referring all events from 22nd February 2014 onward to the ICC (the constitutionality of which is questionable after the Constitutional Court in 2001 prevented the ratification of The Rome Statute) was done to facilitate transparent investigation and unbiased due process, or whether it was to simply to circumvent a deliberately obstructive and unethical prosecutors office, and/or just kick something politically prickly into the long ICC investigative grass.

Unless an independent, unbiased and competent Prosecutor General takes the reigns and big fish start to be fried, serious questions about President Poroshenko and his desire for reforms will crystallise on and around the PG/AG office internally and externally of Ukraine.  In short if Ukraine enters 2016 with the same Prosecutor General it is fair to anticipate both internal societal and external (political and diplomatic) pressure to mount significantly and presidential support to fade should that pressure fail.  Likewise any morally weak, managerially inept cronyist replacement will meet the same response.

Many, both internally and externally will wonder why innumerable cases not short of evidence – such as Yuri Boiko’s oil rig scam – have yet to see any progress whatsoever, for that is the size of fish the Ukrainian constituency want to see fry.  Even the corrupt and unlustrated judiciary cannot be blamed for dubious decisions in cases that don’t even reach them.

Other than that, all mobilisation would likely be directed at those that hold the constitutional responsibility for all other governance and policy – the Cabinet of Ministers and the parliamentarians of the Verkhovna Rada that enable or disable any such policies – and rightly so.

It would be an immense mistake to encourage the President to exceed his constitutional authority and attempt to turn both Cabinet of Ministers and parliament into rubber stamp institutions, or cross the constitutional boundaries and interfere in governance where he should not by entering into open and consistent conflict with the legislature and the policies of the Cabinet of Ministers.  Ukraine has been there before many times – each time with dire stagnation as a result at best – regression at worst.  This time western abandonment of the political class would also be a possibility should the current authorities pave the way for the return of populist politicians that have never been anything other than a detriment to Ukraine and an unwanted headache in “The West” and amongst international institutions.

To avoid the perception of a regime change from something close to democratic into either authoritarian or simply chaotic, both President, Cabinet of Ministers and parliamentarians should be actively encouraged to remain fully within their constitutional remits.

Having watched The Kremlin regime change from managed democracy/hybrid democracy to authoritarian, possibly heading toward yet worse definitions, constant reminders to the Ukrainian political class to stay firmly within their constitutional constraints are certainly prudent when it comes to domestic and external perceptions.  Be there no smudging of constitutional roles – then there be no smudging of constitutional responsibility, and thus accountability.  From there let any mobilised society tackle the right institutions lawfully but robustly.

(Indeed, when thinking of regime change in Russia, think not necessarily of the people in charge chaning but of governance style they employ.  If doing that, arguably there has recently been a regime change when authoritarianism replaced “managed democracy”.)

Understandably there is no trust in The Kremlin or its proxies, a trust that is gone for a generation amongst the majority of Ukrainians.  The Ruski Mir/Russian World is no long seen as a soft power instrument but a hard power prelude.  Within Ukrainian psychologically there will not be much of a demobilisation toward The Kremlin for many decades – but there will be a change of priorities and direction of a disappointed but mobilised society should a truce manifest, and a clear aim toward real reform and effective implementation in a far swifter fashion than has so far occurred.

Are the political class in Kyiv ready to deal with a mobilised society that will have it squarely within its sights if a truce arrives and takes hold?  Whilst there may be (or not) a redevelopment plan that moves the Donbas from heavy and unsustainably subsidised industry toward other economic spheres as part of that plan – is there a plan within Kyiv over how to manage, redirect or demobilise the Ukrainian constituency that is getting ever more impatient for effective reform?

Perhaps the local elections are a litmus test for more than just populist politics – perhaps they will highlight the level of regional frustrations too.

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