Zakarpattia: Pipelines, a Oligarch and some Separatists

Some notes on a geopolitical hot spot with features of a institutional freak show.

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Lots of the gas pipelines from Russia to EU lead through Zakarpattia, the westernmost Oblast of Ukraine. Moreover, oil, international power transmission lines, a main road (Chop-Kyiv) and railways (Budapest-Moscow). Zakarpattia borders to four countries, is mountainous and the ‘man in charge’ seems to be the local oligarch, Victor Baloha.

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He and this brothers are running for national parliament, aiming four seats of Zakarpattia (out of six!?) as part of the Poroshenko bloc. They want Ukraine joining NATO and to strengthen local communities. Baloha is often criticized of being exemplary of Ukraine’s nepotism. He explains his motivation doing politics differently:

‘Maybe it’s not right that all three brothers are running. I’m ready not to run but there is a responsibility before the community, there is credibility with the voters in Zakarpattia.’ [1]

@Dariusz_Kalan describes Baloha and his alliance with Poroshenko as pragmatic:

‘The support given to Poroshenko shows well the oligarch’s method of establishing relations with the powers in Kyiv, that is, an alliance with the strongest player in the political scene. […] The oligarch’s pragmatic strategy is aimed not only to protect him and his sphere’s economic interests and political influence but also to maintain distance from Kyiv. Maintaining relative self reliance has always been more important to local powers than ideological or party related sympathies.’ [2]

Moreover, the Baloha brothers play a leading role in the moderate wing of the Rutheniant movement. It is based on the ethnic and cultural identity of the Zakarpattians.

And there is the radical network around Dmytro Sydor (or Sodor), a orthodox priest and Petr Hecko. They declared to create a independent Ruthenian state on the territory of Zakarpattia, under Russia’s patronage. Hecko met with representatives of the Novorussian ‘government’ in July. [3] A Stratfor report (draft) of Dec 2008 mentions Sydor as leading figure in a Russian financed attempt for secession and concludes:

‘Coupled with other covert and overt actions that Moscow has taken in southern and eastern Ukraine, these latest developments could tear Ukraine apart an already divided and dysfunctional country. And that suits Russia just fine.’ [4]

Today the Zakarpattian secessionist groups are considered to have limited influence. They are few in numbers, the scene is fragmented and their potential is locked by the configuration of regional powers, since no border country or EU would support a independent Zakarpattia. Nevertheless, there is potential for civil unrest.

The policy of a relative autonomy from Kiev is what most interest groups can agree on. In the past, people of Zakarpattia demonstrated their ability for mobilization against interferences from the outside world. Protests related to Maidan were common and it was the first region that opposed officially against Yanukowych early 2014.

In the end of July people protested against the enlisting into the national Ukrainian army, accompanied with road blocks and calls for separatism. A clip shows a angry hoard (mainly women), beating and shouting down officials. [5] In order to de-escalate, the Deputy announced in August that only volunteers would be enlisted [6], he was dismissed later.

Footnote 2 looks at Zakarpattia analytically, Kyiv Post and uzhgorod.in report regularly on daily politics and wikipedia delivers plenty of useful informations.

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[1] Kyiv Post 14/08/14
[2] PISM 07/14 Zakarpattia: A New Powder Keg in Ukraine?
[3] mrdos622 07/07/14
[4] Stratfor 21/12/08 Ukraine: The Ruthenians and the Russian Resurgence (draft, Wikileaks)
[5] liveleak 30/07/14
[6] uzhgorod.in 5/8/14