The thunder of detonating assholes continues from behind the northeastern border as Russia tackles Mikheil Saakashvili’s recent appointment. Top pro-Kremlin trolls are on the loose in the social networks, and Dmitry Medvedev was so surprised he started speaking Ukrainian:
Саакашвили – глава Одесской области. Шапито-шоу продолжается. Нещасна Украïна …
— Дмитрий Медведев (@MedvedevRussia) 30 мая 2015
While we should give Dima props for finding the ї letter on his (likely Russian) keyboard, I think it’s time to tackle another issue Western observers get wrong, namely Ukraine’s local government. A unitary country (despite all of Russia’s efforts during the last year), it largely inherited its administrative divisions from the old Soviet Union, with a single exception of Crimea, which went from Crimean Oblast during Soviet times to Autonomous Republic of Crimea in independent Ukraine. The issue goes a bit more complex here, but I’ll tackle Crimea in more detail later. Basically, Ukraine is comprised of:
– 24 oblasts (the closest equivalent in English is ‘region’ or ‘province’);
– one autonomous republic (Crimea);
– two cities with special administrative status (Kyiv and Sevastopol’);
These are further divided into raions (closest equivalent is ‘county’; large cities are also divided into raions, which are better translated as ‘districts’ or ‘boroughs’), which are further divided into local (city, town and village) councils. To date, there are some 490 raions in Ukraine, which are comprised of 11 500 local government entities; the proper and more concise breakdown can be found here. I swear, if Western journalists and observers actually took time to Wikipedia stuff, they’d have a lot less questions.
This is all going to change, and hopefully soon: the upcoming constitutional reform promises to abolish raions by dividing Ukraine into roughly 129 powiats. Lower level administrative entities are going to get the same treatment, because frankly, eleven thousand different local governments is a bit too much.
Anyway, here’s the thing: Ukrainian local government basically comes in two varieties: you have the local councils and council heads, who are elected, and then you have raion and oblast governors, who are appointed. Moreover, they – all of them – are appointed by the President personally, just so you see the retardedness of the system. An exception to this is Crimea, where the local parliament appointed a local Council of Ministers; this didn’t save Crimea from getting saddled with appointed governors, although at the raion level. It also gets peculiar in Kyiv, where the mayor (head of city council) and the governor (head of city administration) are legally two different entities. With one exception, Kyiv’s mayor was also customarily appointed the governor; said exception being during Yanukovych’s Ancien Regime, when the city was ran by an appointed governor. Honestly, after the last mayor’s antics, quite a few Kievans actually appreciated that. Sevastopol had it even worse: it never had an elected mayor, only an appointed governor, which contributed to the beef most Sevastopol citizens had with Ukraine. Apparently they never heard how Russia appoints its governors, though.
The theory is more or less unchanged from Soviet times: local councils run local things, while governors are in charge of implementing said things; in practice, local councils are often the governor’s rubber stamp bodies that practically do nothing to protect the citizens’ interests. While they can oppose and delay implementation of the governor or the national government’s decisions, in practice this is rare, because, more often than not, local councils are bought and dominated by members of a particular party which the governor happens to belong to. When he’s not, there is usually a lot of horse-trading involved, which is why the President is actually slow at replacing governors unless absolutely necessary. Most local councils, at least in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, are presently dominated by former Party of Regions members, forcing governors and the government either to seek compromise or force local governments to do their bidding. More often than not both local governors and local councils actually stand in for the local oligarchs, which in Ukraine are best compared to feudal rulers. Thus you have Donetsk Oblast, which more or less ate from Akhmetov’s hands (and Zaporizhzha Oblast still does, too), Luhansk Oblast, where Oleksandr ‘Dickface’ Efremov was the feudal overlord, Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, which was more or less bought by Kolomoyskiy from his arch-rival, Kryviy Rih’s Oleksandr Vilkul, and so on.
This also presents difficulties for the central government when you can replace the governor, but not the local councils – or local mayors, as is the case with Kharkiv’s famous Gepa Kernes. Kharkiv is basically a frontline city, where terrorist bombs go off literally the entire time, as well as an important staging point for Ukrainian troops; at the same time you have the mayor, Gepa, snug in his wheelchair telling us, for example, how ‘Russia is not the aggressor here’. As a noted titushky (hired thugs) provider during the revolution, Kernes is currently under criminal investigation, but he can’t be removed otherwise. This is probably the case with most mayors and even more local councils – Kharkiv’s the most vocal example. Much criticism is leveled at the government for not doing anything with Kernes; the problem is, again, that barring elections he cannot be relieved of his position. Then again, many Ukrainians have trouble understanding how their country works.
A more brute force approach is in order for Donbass, where most local councils at best did nothing to prevent separatist takeovers and referendums, and, at worst, actively helped them out. After retaking much of the territory, the government proposed – and the Rada voted in – the creation of joint military-civilian governments on the liberated territories, wherein oblast governors get extensive powers, including the use of military assets, to get their job done. Most local councils guilty of cooperating with separatists chose to quietly dissolve. Again, elections are required to clear up this mess. These ‘governor generals’ are, respectfully, General Kihtenko (former Internal Troops commander during Yuschenko’s time) in Donetsk and General Moskal (militsiya general and onetime governor of literally half of Ukraine’s oblasts from Zakarpattya to Luhansk) in Luhansk Oblasts. While there is some suspicion Kihtenko got bought by Akhmetov, you pretty much can’t buy Moskal – because if you try to, he’ll probably tell you to go fuck yourself and call you a walrus dick, and do it on live television. This is part of the reasons people just love Moskal.
Going back to President Poroshenko’s particular Georgian affair in Odessa, the reason (besides causing spontaneous anal discomfort in vatniks) probably has to do with Kolomoyskiy, again. Kolomoyskiy and the government aren’t in the best phase of their relationship right now, what with Ukrnafta (a state-owned company), and Odessa’s former governor, Ihor Palytsa, was affiliated with Kolomoyskiy to the point Kolomoyskiy actually asked the then-Acting President (Turchynov, better known as the Bloody Pastor) to appoint Palytsa in the wake of the May 2 incident. I’m not really qualified to judge Palytsa’s tenure as governor, only that recently he apparently went and called the ongoing war a ‘civil war’, and in Ukraine, that’s a big no-no. Poroshenko probably seized on the chance to put someone reliable at the head of a key region, scoring some points with the people in process. Ukrainian public is all over Saakashvili for some reason, which mostly boils down to ‘but Georgian reforms!’ and pointing out how bad our government is. When the news came Poroshenko was putting Saakashvili in charge of Odessa, an eerie silence lingered in Twitter; I’m pretty sure quite a few of the ZRADA-infused crowd suffered critical template failure after hearing that.
I’m not a Saakashvili worshiper, but I don’t particularly have anything against the man. If he excels at his job, more power to him, but I’m not sure that I, being in Kyiv, would be qualified enough to judge that.
The golden rule, though, is that if Moscow cries bloody murder over something, then you’re probably doing that something right.