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Ukraine

'Federalism could be solution in Ukraine'

Separatists in eastern Ukraine will go ahead with a referendum despite international criticism. Ralf Wachsmuth, Ukraine expert at Germany's Konrad Adenauer Foundation, calls the poll an outlet for the rage against Kyiv.

Deutsche Welle: Mr. Wachsmuth, do you think we'll see a scenario similar to what happened in Crimea after the contentious referendum in eastern Ukraine about the region's autonomy?

Ralf Wachsmuth: I don't hope so and I don't believe so either. The motives for holding this referendum now and the consequences that will follow it still remain unclear, after all. The international community agrees that it is illegal, unfair and not free, and that the results are predictable.

We'll have to wait and see what the official results are and what conclusions the separatists in Donbas, who have initiated the referendum, draw. For us in Europe, Germany, the US, and the whole world, this vote is no way binding, but it could be an interesting reflection of the opinion in that area. Of course it all depends on how Putin judges the illegal referendum.

Ralf Wachsmuth. (Photo: Ralf Wachsmuth)

Wachsmuth lived and worked in Kyiv for three years

Before the vote, Vladimir Putin asked the separatists not to hold the referendum. Does he have no influence on them or was his call only for show?

You can't look into Putin's head. Today he says one thing and tomorrow he says the opposite. The insecurity about him is prominent at the moment, because no one knows what moves him, what motivates him and in which direction he actually wants to go.

Did the West misjudge the situation in eastern Ukraine under the influence of the Euromaidan?

It wouldn't be the first time. A similar thing happened during the Orange Revolution [protests against the results of Ukraine's 2004 presidential election - Ed]. We know relatively little about eastern Ukraine, about the people's mood, their emotional state. Enthusiasm about Euromaidan and its results wasn't all that great in that part of the country. I personally believe that the referendum is a kind of outlet for pent-up anger about the government in Kyiv. We mustn't overestimate the vote's importance.

Has this conflict between Ukranian- and Russian-speaking Ukranians only come up in recent months or has it been boiling for longer?

I think it has been boiling for a long time. It was already obvious during the Orange Revolution that something wasn't right between these population groups. This has to be a serious concern in the future, because the current situation isn't acceptable.

Surprisingly, a change in the constitution was mentioned in relation to the election on May 25. Rumor has it that the word federalism could be part of the new constitution. That's big news to me, because I remember the Orange Revolution, when President Yushchenko threatened to arrest anyone who even uttered the word federalism or decentralization. Now it seems to be an option.

Can the presidential election planned for May 25 go ahead under these circumstances?

It is assumed so now. There have been preparations as well, in case the elections cannot be held regularly in some areas. The elections would make sense, but the politicians that people can vote for are not really the new beginning that the Euromaidan movement had promised.

The main contenders in the running for victory, Petro Poroshenko and Yulia Tymoshenko, are by no means new to the game. They have a partly disreputable past. Euromaidan hasn't generated new personalities who would stand a chance of stabilizing the country and the economy so that people would see: things are getting better here. But the hope still is that the elections will return a little more peace and quiet to Ukraine.

Ralf Wachsmuth was the head of the Konrad-Adenauer-Foundation (KAS) in Kyiv from 2003 to 2006. Today he works at the KAS' regional office in Dortmund, North Rhine-Westphalia.

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