Visiting BINTEL – M. S. Dnistryanskyi

Myroslav Stepanovych Dnistryanskyi

Ukrainian scientist in the field of political geography and geopolitics, historical geography, ethnic and demo-geography. Doctor of Geographical Sciences. Doctor of Socio-Economic Sciences of the Ukrainian Free University in Munich. Professor of the Department of Geography of Ukraine of Ivan Franko National University of Lviv.

In the sphere of ethnography, historical and political geography M. S. Dnistryanskyi has analyzed the formation of state borders, ethnic boundaries changes in Ukraine, justified the general trends of the evolution of administrative-territorial systems, socio-geographical principles and criteria for their improvement. Studying geopolitical problems, he has developed conceptual and methodological bases of geopolitics as scientific analytics and the general principles of constructive geopolitical activity. He grounds the optimality of the system of nation-states and ethno-national federations for the present and future world order, premises for balanced and conflict-free development of territorial-political systems.














“The Russian Propaganda has Mounted the Idea that Ukraine is a Temporary Artificial Formation,
and therefore, One Way or Another, the Question of its Division will Arise”

— Myroslav Stepanovych, Ukraine now has to solve many pressing problems, and, almost simultaneously, and in very difficult circumstances. One of the most pressing for it is the administrative-territorial system (ATS), which I would say is intertwined with issues of domestic and foreign policy.

ATS is a system that determines the basic territorial proportions of a society’s activity. It should perform certain functions necessary for the state. Is the current attempt to change such a system in Ukraine a demand of the time when there is need to adjust to the surrounding world, or is it just a need of some kind of movement “for the sake of movement?” How professional are these processes? If such changes are necessary, will they be evolutionary or revolutionary ones?

— Indeed, the question of changing the administrative-territorial system are quite relevant, but it is not so much the problem of changes in territorial structure, as changes in the distribution of administrative powers and finances. That is, there is a need for reform of administrative and fiscal components, rather than a direct territorial division into administrative units. At the same time, the proposed territorial changes really show the desire for “changes for the sake of changes”, and not for some improvement. How come? Because the current system, for all its shortcomings, is very firmly embedded in the society. Its transformation may end in great chaos, including the citizens’ massive discontent. It will not bring anything significantly positive, but there will be many problems. There are several common illusory approaches to this issue among politicians and authorities, and they can be traced in our media. In particular, the adjustment for enlargement of grassroots administrative units (village councils, districts), perhaps even regions. Such proposals have no serious justification, and they cannot be called constructive, because they do not take into account consequences of the enlargement. And where to could this lead? It will make distances between administrative centers and settlements longer. This will provoke a social phenomenon of peripherality. That is, the farther the settlement moves away from the administrative center, the greater will be the chance of its becoming depressed, with all the circumstances that follow. For example, if we double the size of the area, it will at least quadruple the area of peripheral (remote) territories, which are called wilderness by people. Peripheral development is a prerequisite for social and economic backwardness. Therefore, such an approach to reform of the ATS is socially destructive, and due to the fact that its implementation will cause great dissatisfaction of citizens, it is also politically dangerous.

We can often hear arguments that, say, poor village councils and districts do not have enough resources, so they would benefit from getting united. It is also wrong, because by mechanical mergence of two poor districts you cannot get one wealthy district. As well as a simple redistribution of taxes will not make such administrative units rich. Only strengthening of the economic base of grassroots administrative units through organization of production and services can improve their social status.

And if there appears a need to enlarge regions within the state?

— This will be a total disaster. Firstly, this will result in negative social consequences. Distances to the newly created centers will increase, people’s access to administrative services will worsen, and costs of getting to them will grow. Also, due to the loss of their status, former regional centers will decline. For example: after the uniting of Drohobych and Lviv regions, Drohobych, which had had the socio-economic potential of a regional center, degraded to the level of an ordinary district center. The same thing happened to the city of Izmail after the merger of Izmail and Odesa regions. And instead of strengthening social and economic life in small and medium-sized cities, we, on the contrary, deprive them of prospects, and developing a few newly formed centers, again cultivate peripherality. Secondly, there is a geopolitical law: increasing the size of administrative-territorial units of the highest level — their claim to empowerment grows, and later — their demands in the issue of autonomy or federalization of the state as a whole also grow. Sometimes the proposal to enlarge regions covers evil plans to create territorial conditions for federalization. After all, what will the enlargement areas result in? It will result in creation of administrative units of the highest level, whose sizes are comparable to the size of an average European country, which is not typical for a unitary state.

What are your suggestions for improving the administrative-territorial structure? Given current events in Ukraine…

— Taking into consideration today’s realities, deep administrative and territorial changes in Ukraine today should not be carried out! Once again, I repeat: it is inappropriate to enlarge territorial units — either village councils or districts, or, especially, regions. It is possible to agree to some changes, but only if they are necessary. And only after all the effects have been calculated. For example, if due to demographic or economic turmoil some area becomes deserted, it is obvious that very small villages will have to be united into one village council. For this we do have all necessary tools.

I can offer another real option of improvement. I mean the desirability of uniting cities of regional subordination and administrative districts the centers of which they are, but to which they do not belong, into one administrative unit. To date, these are two administrative units of the same level (for example, the city of Sambir and Sambir district, the city of Stryi and Stryi District, etc.).

And there are two different administrations, aren’t there?

— Yes, and there are two different administrations. The very existence of such administrative units contains social and geographical contradictions: 1) the city and the surrounding area are administratively separated. And if we raise the question of providing greater economic powers to administrative units, another question arises — how have rural districts to survive without a city — a main center? 2) the centres of districts are settlements which do not belong to these districts. Therefore, taking into consideration the fact that a city as a center of the area it serves should not be torn off, desirability of uniting the cities of regional importance and the relevant administrative districts is logical and cost-effective. Such changes would clearly contribute to saving public funds and would improve relations between the center and the serviced area.

At the same time the status of cities of regional subordination should be retained for the cities that have special industrial, recreational or transport functions and are not district centers (for example, Truskavets, Morshyn, Chop, Chervonograd, etc.).

With regard to the distribution of powers, it is necessary to raise the question not so much of decentralization as of a balance of interests. That is, empowering local governments, we should not forget about the need to build the national vertical. Otherwise, there will be not just decentralization, but also a complete loss of state influence in some areas.

Not without reason you emphasize that the ATS must contribute to strengthening of the territorial unity of the state, optimization of the costs of administrative services and the like. Can we now carry out effective administrative changes? And does it not depend on the positions of big financial business groups?

— Many reforms in Ukraine should be carried out promptly and without delay. This applies to health care, business, tax, education and others. However, administrative-territorial changes must be approached very carefully. Even in stable developed countries, reforms take several years. And the preparation period had lasted for another several years. In general, are constructive changes possible in this country? Of course, they are. But it is necessary to separate the political activities from the business. That is, in decision making there should not be a commercial component of individual business groups. This is very important in all spheres, including in matters of territorial administration. Of course, the idea of ​​self-management of large regions that would consist of several current regions is of great benefit to financial, economic, oligarchic groups seeking to increase their inter-regional influence. This refers, in particular, to Donetsk, Dnipropetrovsk and Odesa large business environments, dreaming to establish their influence, respectively, for the whole Donbas, the Dnieper Region and the Black Sea Region. But their ambitions, as I have pointed out, are dangerous to the integrity of the state and socio-economically feasible.

But how in this context, do you consider the attempts to create in the East of Ukraine the so-called DPR and LPR?

— DPR and LPR are, first of all, the Russian Federation’s special services’ projects, special instruments of pressure on Ukraine and its policy. It is obvious that there is no objective justification for their formation. At some point, these projects had been supported by different Donetsk economic and political formations, but at the moment it is the Kremlin who completely controls the situation there.

Due to the problem of reforming the territorial structure of Ukraine, people often refer to the experience of other countries, such as Spain, Germany, and the UK, where regions already have great autonomy powers. Russia also allows itself to give advice to Ukraine over the alleged necessity of its federalization.

— When approaching the state-territorial structure, we must first of all take into account the situation in our country. You cannot look for analogies, mechanically transferring without rethinking someone else’s experience into the Ukrainian realities. Our historical, geographical, ethnic and political background, differs from that of, say, Spain, Germany or the UK. For example, autonomous regions of Spain such as the Basque Country and Catalonia — they are actually distinct separate countries, in both, ethno-cultural and historical aspects. Therefore, their autonomy is quite logical. At the same time, the federal structure of Germany was forced upon by countries-winners after World War II. The same can be said of Austria. That is, it is not an initiative of these countries. They were made federal, preventing the possibility of formation of an excessively centralized unitary state. This way the victors tried to prevent possible revanchism. At the same time the UK has its own distinctive background. Scotland, for example, has a great historical experience of statehood. Ukraine does not have such preconditions. Therefore, all these options are not good for Ukraine. We have a different situation, so the approach to changes in the territorial management must be based on realities such as the distribution of the population and location of settlements, peculiarities of railways and the like. It must be remembered that, insisting on federalization of Ukraine, Russia itself sticks to a policy of rigid centralization. But in general, we may say: all the talks about federalization of Ukraine are uniquely destructive. It is obvious that this federalization is sought first of all by Putin, who wants to mark the limits of the subsequent split, and potentially to trigger almost legal disintegration of our country. I am also against the formation of administrative units on the basis of historical regions (Halychyna (Galicia), Volyn, Slobozhanshchyna, Tavria) because their formation was the result of interference mainly from the outside, and the present renewal in no way will help unite the nation.

And now a few questions on the topic of domestic and foreign policy. In particular, many now say that financial-oligarchic groups can block progressive changes. How do you feel about this issue?

— This problem does exist, because the influence of financial-oligarchic groups in the political life is too noticeable. This applies to the control of the media, political parties and even government agencies. But again, all these issues should not be exaggerated. And here I remain optimistic. It is obvious that defending the interests of our state, it is necessary to limit such their influence, including in the economic life, but still we should not raise the question of destruction of their business, because behind it there stands a real sector of economy. Therefore, using all the levers of influence of civil society institutions, big business must be put in such a framework where it would work for the sake of the whole society’s interests. That is, the funds should not be transferred to the offshore, taxes must be paid properly, investments should be made, and the appropriate social policy should be led. In parallel, it is necessary to raise small and medium business. But the problem of reforms refers not only to big business. It is worrying that neither on the part of Verkhovna Rada, nor on the part of the Government, there are positive impulses to improve the social situation in Ukraine.

How do you assess the internally-geopolitical situation in Ukraine?

— Despite the positive moments connected with the general countering the Russian aggression, the problem of the integrity of the Ukrainian society and its consolidation remains relevant. And it’s all due to the fact that the state throughout the period of independence did not lead a policy of cultural, social and political rapprochement between the different regions. On the contrary, since 2000, have been purposefully taken measures to deepen inter-regional alienation. The media kept publicizing materials, exploiting cultural characteristics of different regions of Ukraine with a view to alienate, to oppose them. At numerous political shows a space was provided for marginalized politicians, primarily pro-Russian ones, who systematically proclaimed destructive slogans that divide society. Artificially were overused themes causing different reactions in the society.

Well, they were doing their best to get the reaction which suited them.

— For example, they stated that our regions’ historical experiences and traditions differ so greatly that it is virtually impossible to find some common values. But this is a great hypocrisy! Anyone who knows the history will say that most of the historical events unite Ukraine. Yes, indeed, the regions have evolved within different states, but the commitment to the sovereignty and uniting into a single state, was common. This was observed in Volyn region, in central Ukraine, in the Trans-Carpathians, and in the East and South of Ukraine. Remember, Kharkiv more than once had been the center of cultural and political self-assertion of Ukrainians in the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, we have a single historical process and the same views on most of the points in history. For example, in history no one denies the role of Kievan Rus and Galicia-Volyn State. The outstanding phenomenon of the Ukrainian Cossackdom is positively assessed by all. The whole society supports Ukrainian activists of the cultural revival of the 19th century: — T. Shevchenko, I. Franko, L. Ukrainka, representing different historical regions. I think no one has any warnings. The majority positively perceives creation of the UNR, reunion of the UNR and ZUNR, proclamation of Carpathian Ukraine. These essential principles were enough to produce an all-national approach to understanding our history and state’s interests in this matter. These common values ​​needed to be developed and put into the basis of the information policy on consolidation of the state. But we, on the contrary, constantly exaggerated individual moments of the Second World War and hastened to make speculative conclusions. Moreover, the victory in World War II was presented as the glorification of Stalin’s regime, when in fact it was a victory, first of all, of the Ukrainian people over Nazism.

Therefore, if different political forces, primarily pro-Russian ones, did not work on construction of some artificial barriers, oppositions, today we would have a very different result.

Do you think that positive productive steps have not been taken? Or have they been taken, but not enough?

— Firstly, there was Russia’s great pressure. After coming to power, Putin has chosen a course for resumption of the USSR. Propaganda of this course was held rigidly and purposefully, political forces were organized which were directly fulfilling orders from the Kremlin. They received the main task — to split our society. For this purpose, they used a crazy information pressure.

And, secondly, irresponsibility of Ukrainian politicians had become the basis on which successfully blossomed anti-Ukrainian propaganda. This is what I have written repeatedly in my articles.

Is it still possible in today’s Ukraine to identify the ideology and political forces capable of consolidating the society?

— One may have an impression that the Ukrainian society is so different that to find some ideological basis is almost impossible. In reality it is not so. Yes, Ukraine is now noticeably differentiated politically. But it’s not so much the effects of objective processes as the purposeful influence of the Russian special services and subversive ideological centers for the last 14 years, seeking to create, on the one hand, a large pro-Russian bloc, on the other — Ukrainian radical nationalist groups, localized only in the West. At the same time, developments in the late 1980s and early 1990s testified to the great influence of national-democratic forces (Rukh, the Republican and Democratic Parties), as well as of some centrist and left-centrist parties that have received support in all regions of Ukraine. Unfortunately, in the next period, these political forces were by different methods virtually eliminated from the political arena. But this confirms that the national-democratic and patriotic left-centrist ideology is still able to consolidate the Ukrainian society.

About what cultural and information priorities of Ukraine can we talk today?

— Creating a new quality of Ukrainian statehood requires a new information and cultural revolution. The primary task is an exclusion from the Ukrainian information space of Russian ideological stereotypes, and in the first place — of historical ones. Anti-Ukrainian propaganda (films and even humor included) is unacceptable. Moreover, the editorial policy should address not only modern Russian, but old Soviet films too. There is an acute shortage of Ukrainian books of different genres, created at a high intellectual level. It is important not only to track the enemy’s informational provocations against Ukraine, but also to be proactive. Promoting multilingual Ukrainian patriotism, we must prove at the same time that the identity and distinctive character of Ukraine is determined primarily by the Ukrainian culture. Forceful should be the popularization of natural, non-violent transition of Russified ethnic Ukrainians into the Ukrainian language cultural environment in order to expand in large cities Ukrainian-speaking cultural cells.

Leafing through your “Political Geography and Geopolitics of Ukraine”, published back in 2010, I found many interesting things that can be called political foresight of today’s events. Even the illustration on the cover coincides with the current military maps, where Donetsk, Luhansk regions and the Crimea are marked with different colours…. Myroslav Stepanovych, this edition should have been given four years ago to each our People’s Deputy, each member of the Government, military General Staff, and they would probably have been ready for the development of the current events! Moreover, we would have prevented today’s military operations, would have avoided many serious problems. Here is just one sentence: “The most threatening is the groundless propaganda of ideas of federalization of Ukraine and creation of large administrative regions, which are constantly being pushed forward by different business and political groups of some largest regional centers and which from time to time are voiced by different political scientists and economists.”

— Thank you for such a kind assessment of the book. In fact, many experts and journalists had been monitoring the threat from Russia, but, unfortunately, they were not heard. Everything was drowned in the struggle for mandates, positions and so on. Unfortunately.

Now we can state with regret that we did not want peace, because we were not getting prepared for the coming war. To be exact, we were getting prepared somewhat lopsidedly, being afraid to annoy Russians. For example, the location of military units in accordance with security tasks of the state, reforming of the military administration — this is a topic that does not require further explanation. You write a lot about this in your book.

— Yes, in the book are mentioned some of the problems of organization of the Armed Forces. And although I’m not an expert in military matters, but from the standpoint of political geography I did make proposals to reform the military command and control, optimize location of military units. And I did express concern about the excessive reduction of our army, which occurred during the last decades. I could not agree with a decrease in the Ukrainian military forces on strategically important directions, such as the Russian one. I did point to the asymmetry formed in military proportions in our South, even in the Crimean Peninsula. I also wrote about the dangers of Russia’s direct military invasion. But at that time it somehow was not taken seriously.

I am interested in your idea in the book that the President of Ukraine had to be a representative of Eastern Ukrainian regions. You wrote about it in 2010. Have your views on this issue changed by now? By the way, recently one of our analysts in an interview said that V. Chornovil also stuck to this idea.

— We must look for different opportunities for inter-regional convergence. And consolidation of different parts of Ukraine around the figure of the President of Ukraine is urgently needed. Obviously, his regional origin does matter in these processes. Therefore, taking into consideration the historical and geographical background and territorial proportions, I expressed an opinion on the feasibility and optimality of this format: President comes from Central and Eastern regions, and is a supporter of Ukrainian national-democratic ideology and of the socio-market policy.

In such difficult conditions for modern Ukraine, the position of other countries, particularly its neighbors, is very important. And here we sometimes hear about direct or indirect territorial claims. What in the basis of these claims is more important: history, ethnic composition of the population or economy?

— My answer is this: one of the sources of territorial claims to Ukraine on the part of political forces of neighboring states was, and partially, still is lack of faith in its glorious future. The Russian propaganda has mounted the idea that Ukraine is a temporary artificial formation, and therefore, one way or another, the question of its disintegration will arise. And, accordingly, “good neighbors”, putting forward territorial claims, always sought to “stake out” their interests in anticipation of the moment of disintegration. There are no objective grounds for territorial claims to Ukraine. Only its comprehensive strengthening will help to stop those claims. We need to be an authority, which they will not just respect, but will also be afraid of our negative reaction.

Do you think the foreign support of Ukraine is sufficient?

— The external support of Ukraine, to my mind, is massive and significant. But not always sufficient, as influential political forces, and even leaderships of a number of states are directly influenced by Russian special services. Understanding of dangers posed by the Kremlin has not been proper from the very beginning.That is why, if the West immediately after the invasion into the Crimea had applied radical economic sanctions against Russia, we would not have had such numerous victims. But there were few effective sanctions, just a “statement of concern.”

And finally a few words about our prospects in the confrontation with Russia.

— My proposals are not very original, because opportunities are few. Now the main thing is to keep the situation. This is possible if we strengthen the security forces, the economy, restore basic order in the government. And then we should do everything possible to consolidate all regions of the state, using the large, yet not actually involved, potential of information policy, including in relation to the outside world. And we should count, first and foremost, on our own strength. And if in Ukraine do take place positive economic developments and cultural revival, then we will be able to successfully resist the Russian imperialism. The return of the Ukrainian occupied territories should take place as a result of Russia’s collapse, which will be ensured by economic sanctions and the national liberation movement of the non-Russian peoples.

Thank you, Myroslav Stepanovych, for answering my questions.


Recorded by Oleg Makhno

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