Geopolitics

The Un-United States of Ukraine

Ukrainian politicians are united on the idea of more regional autonomy, but they seem to draw a red line on the question of federalism. That, they fear, would play right into Moscow's hands.

Kiev's Ministry of Justice in January 2014
Kiev's Ministry of Justice in January 2014
Sergei Strokan

MOSCOW — Preparations for Ukraine’s presidential elections are taking place against the backdrop of a major disagreement over the country’s future. The presidential favorite, Petro Poroshenko, insists that the planned constitutional reforms should not fundamentally change the current model of a unified government. In the plan Poroshenko favors, the new constitution would greatly increase the responsibilities and powers of local authorities — but it doesn’t mention “federalism.”

That is also the position favored by the current leaders in Kiev. Faced with protests in Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv, interim President Oleksandr Turchynov has promised to change the constitution to give the regions more authority to choose their own leadership. But there has been no talk about instituting bona fide federalization.

Reviewing the platforms of Ukraine’s presidential candidates, it’s also clear that supporters of a federalist system are in the minority. Of the well-known candidates, only two openly support federalization: Mikhail Dobkin from the “Party of Regions” and Community Party head Petr Simonenko. They both argue that only federalization can save the country from collapse. But they are also both outsiders, and have no chance of overtaking any of the three frontrunners.

The position held by Serhiy Tihipko, who is currently the third most-popular presidential candidate, is particularly interesting. As recently as 2009, he was calling on people not to fear federalization and saying that “well-designed federalism could do us good.” But judging by his recent comments, his position has changed dramatically. “Just bringing up that question is criminal,” he said recently. “Trying to solve our problems through federalization will only lead to a break-up and possible liquidation of our country. That is a terrible scenario, but there are powers that very much want to make it come true.”

Why is it that Ukrainian politicians, who acknowledge the need for more regional autonomy, have drawn a red line when it comes to federalization?

The answer is related to Russian-Ukrainian relations. A significant part of Ukraine’s elite considers federalism a “Russian project.” They think that Moscow is trying to encourage it so it can pressure regional leaders to prevent the central government from taking steps towards integration with Europe.

“Federalization is one of the ultimatums that Putin has given us for a peaceful co-existence,” Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister and the candidate with the most experience dealing with the Kremlin, recently said. “We are told: Turn the eastern and southern regions into something like Crimea, in terms of rights and opportunities, and we will take advantage of that federalization to turn the rest of your territory into something resembling the autonomous republic of Crimea.”

Although Moscow denies trying to rewrite Ukraine’s constitution for its own purposes, it does not hide its support for a federalist Ukraine. “The centralized government of Ukraine no longer works,” Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov recently said. “It was destroyed by political cataclysm.” In his opinion, “federalization is the way to allow each region to feel comfortable.”

Federalist models

The Ukrainian media reports that Andrei Luev, who was vice director of government administration under fallen President Viktor Yanukovych, is trying to write a constitution that would please Russia. According to the leak, the German constitution is being used as an example. That document holds that there is no right for a territory to secede, although there is a provision for territorial changes between the German Bundeslands after a referendum. But there is no right for a region to leave the federation.

Germany isn’t the only potential example. There are 24 federal systems in the world that could serve as models for Ukraine. Another European example is Belgium, which is a unique type of multi-level federal state. It’s also constantly teetering on the brink of disintegration due to conflicts between the Flemish-speaking and French-speaking parts of the country.

Another post-Communist example from Eastern Europe is Bosnia and Herzegovina, which includes the Serbian Republic and the Muslim-Croat Federation. There, the central government controls monetary policy and international relations, while the two separate parts of the country have their own presidents, parliaments and law enforcement agencies — as well as the right to separate agreements with neighboring countries. But that model hasn’t ensured stability in Bosnia, which continues to suffer from a dysfunctional government and periodic protests.

Of course, the United States is another federalist example. But during his recent visit to Kiev, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden made no mention of federalism in Ukraine. Biden characterized the upcoming presidential elections, which should bring one of the opponents of federalization to power, as the “most important elections in Ukrainian history.”

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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