"Local elections are on the line. The ratings of parties and mayors have faded into insignificance. Everyone is discussing, criticizing, praising or scolding the poll of Volodymyr Zelensky. The effect has been achieved. So, think out everything yourself", - the people's deputy from Servant of the People, who does not want to be named, said to OstroV with a smile.
A voluntary poll from President Volodymyr Zelensky will take place near polling stations on the election day (October 25). The head of state decided to ask five questions, which, in his opinion, we all discuss "on the street, in the kitchen, on the Internet, with friends, parents or taxi drivers". Namely:
1. Do you support the idea of life imprisonment for corruption in an especially large amount?
2. Do you support the creation of a free economic zone on the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts?
3. Do you support the reduction of the number of people's deputies to 300?
4. Do you support the legalization of cannabis for medical purposes - to reduce the pain of serious patients?
5. Do you support Ukraine's right to use the security guarantees defined by the Budapest Memorandum in order to restore its state sovereignty and territorial integrity?
The President's Office notes that this poll is not a referendum and will have no legal force, but is carried out to record the will of the people and build the statecraft.
Political analyst at the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiatives Foundation Maria Zolkina calls this initiative a "mass collection of responses" and notes that this has nothing to do with the survey.
"What they are going to do on October 25 has nothing to do with the survey. No procedure, no methodology, no sampling, no professional interviewers - nothing at all. What will we get then? … It will just be a mass collection of answers, and there is no guarantee that this will take place at all the stations, where no one will be responsible even for the questionnaires safety, apart from the procedure", - she wrote on Facebook.
The list of questions was kept low key until the last moment. One can only guess what questions were on the so-called "extended list". According to OstroV, only the entourage of Volodymyr Zelensky (2-3 people) was allowed to draw up questions. Even the people's deputies from Servant of the People did not know about the upcoming poll.
"There should have been no leak precisely because of the extended list of questions. According to rumors, there were such controversial questions as "restoring water supply to the Crimea to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe", about a special order of local self-government for CADLO (special status), about NATO, about judicial reform, funded pensions and so on. By the way, special attention and most of the questions were paid to the Donbas: starting from leaving "Minsk" to direct negotiations with the Russian Federation (as a parallel format). But we chose the simplest and the lightest options for questions", - a source in the team of Volodymyr Zelensky told OstroV.
Despite the fact that the poll is of an exclusively advisory nature (it is not enshrined in legislation in any way), the mono-majority have already announced its political consequences.
"There will be political consequences, because if we conduct a survey, and people decide about this or that issue in one way or another, we will have to implement what people gave their votes for, after they decided on a candidate in the elections", - people's deputy from Servant of the People Oleksandr Kachura said.
There are two issues devoted to the restoration of peace in Ukraine, so we will analyze them in more detail.
Free economic zone
The idea of creating a free economic zone in the Donbas is not new. A similar initiative was promoted by Petro Poroshenko in 2014-2015. He spoke about the possibility of establishing a special mode of trade relations with the EU and the Russian Federation in the Donbas. According to Poroshenko, holding of elections to local authorities in the Donbas in accordance with Ukrainian legislation should have been the condition for the creation of such a zone. This idea was rejected out of hand by Russia, using the mouth of the self-proclaimed authorities of CADLO. The idea quickly came to naught and was not raised again.
Nevertheless, our country has many years of experience in the functioning of a free economic zone. It has been operating in the occupied Crimea since 2014.
It lies in the fact that supplies of goods from the Crimea to the territory of Ukraine for the period of occupation are carried out in the customs regime of import, and from the territory of mainland Ukraine to the Crimea - in the export regime. In addition, national taxes and fees are not levied on the peninsula, individuals and legal persons registered there are considered non-residents. Resolution of the National Bank of Ukraine No.699 was adopted on the basis of this law; it discriminates against Ukrainian citizens with a Crimean residence permit, granting them the status of non-residents in their native country.
Back in 2017, interlocutors in the Ministry of Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons assured OstroV that amendments to legislation to facilitate crossing the demarcation line with the Crimea would be developed in the near future, and the law on the free economic zone would be canceled. However, none of this has been done so far.
The FEZ in the Crimea did not bring the reintegration of the occupied peninsula closer, but its operation, apparently, is quite beneficial for someone.
"One of the unsolved problems is the law on the "Crimea" free economic zone, which allowed a number of Ukrainian oligarchs to launder money and save their enterprises on the peninsula", - head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people Refat Chubarov said.
What will the FEZ in the Donbas look like? The president's office gives some specifics on this point. First of all, it will initially operate only in the controlled territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.
"It is necessary to create new motivation for the population, new jobs, new promising businesses and introduce special tools to attract investors to the Donbas and to catch the interest of people and businesses to stay in this particular territory. Accelerated economic development on our side of the contact line in the Donbas can also be the obvious argument for absolutely all residents of the temporarily occupied territory to choose Ukraine", - the President's Office notes.
Secondly, according to information from the Office of the President, the FEZ may consist in "a friendly approach to taxation" and "comfortable conditions of state supervision over business activities".
According to head of the Ukrainian delegation to the TCG Leonid Kravchuk, the FEZ may consist of tax holidays, deferral of some payments, benefits in the use of investments and investment guarantees.
"That is, the features of economic life in a general sense will be different there", - he notes.
Moreover, according to Kravchuk, a free economic zone is the way to end the war.
"We pose a set of questions, and it is already assumed that the shooting stops. That is, when it comes to a free economic zone, it cannot be that there is a war, and the zone is being created. Preconditions are being created to be no war, as well as conditions of governance in these areas at the level of local self-government and executive power. When all this works together, the war stops", - he said.
Talks about the creation of a special economic regime in the Donbas (both controlled and occupied) have been going on for several months. Thus, Vice Prime Minister and First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group Oleksii Reznikov spoke in an interview with OstroV two months ago about the development of a strategy for the economic development of Donbas, which should be presented shortly.
"After the de-occupation, the territory that is not under control now will have to receive a special mode that will allow it to revive and recover. Therefore, it is very important to launch a special economic regime with tax concessions in the controlled territory of Donbas, so that business would be interested in coming there and investing money. In order to start developing the controlled Donbas… Today, part of the donor or credit money is given to us by Western partners, but the ideal way is to raise investments there", - Reznikov said.
According to his idea, this model should be extended to CADLO after their de-occupation.
"We want it to work, if not this year, then at least from January 1, 2021. We are now completing the economic strategy for the development of Donbas, the creation of a fund is a matter of several months. The people living in the controlled territory of Donbas will see then what is changing for them. There are already different roads today. And the IDPs will want to return there, because they are mentally from there, they have ties back there, but the conditions should be created, so that they can see the benefits for themselves. When this starts to work, people from the occupied part of Donbas will even go to work to the controlled part and replenish the budget of Ukraine with taxes", - the Deputy Prime Minister said.
Whether this idea is the actual embodiment of the free economic zone that Zelensky wants to ask about is not entirely clear. Judging by Reznikov's words about "a special economic regime with tax concessions", we are talking about the same thing. Why then do we need a poll, if the Cabinet of Ministers is already working on this document?
According to OstroV, the poll is needed in order to reduce the possible degree of tension during the presentation and consideration of the document in the Verkhovna Rada.
"This is a guarantee so that there is no betrayal. The decision on a special economic regime in the Donbas has long been made, it is almost ready, and there is nothing terrible or revolutionary there", - a source in the president's team assures OstroV.
But this does not mean that the idea of creating a FEZ carries no risks. On the one hand, this is a chance for the controlled Donbas to raise investment and improve the region's economy.
"A FEZ is needed in the free territory of Donbas, because the territory is economically degrading and people are leaving - the motivation published by the Office of the President is quite understandable and acceptable", - representative of CADLO in the TCG Serhiy Harmash says.
On the other hand, the FEZ can become a special zone for "insiders", where certain companies (owned by certain people) will be enriched. According to expert Maria Zolkina, the FEZ can turn into another way of enriching the traditional "business executives" of the Donbas. Information that the free economic zone is being created in the interests of oligarch Rinat Akhmetov is already being spread in various Telegram channels.
Therefore, it is quite important to understand how this zone will function in detail: with specific figures and facts.
It is even more important to understand the possibilities of Russia's participation in it. Because the common practice in the regions, when local councils form city-forming enterprises for themselves, can become dangerous, if these enterprises are owned by Russian business…
Ukraine, Russia, the USA and the UK signed the Budapest Memorandum in 1994. According to this document, Kyiv joined the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and eliminated its nuclear capability, while Russia, the USA and Great Britain guaranteed Ukraine's security and territorial integrity. The Russian Federation grossly violated the memorandum in 2014, having occupied the Crimea and Donbas.
In addition, the President's Office believes that the guarantees given to Ukraine were violated long before 2014. For example, it recalls the border confrontation with Russia in 2003 in the conflict over the Tuzla Island, which threatened the territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the so-called gas wars with the Russian Federation, which are "a manifestation of conscious economic pressure aimed at subordinating Ukraine to its own interests".
"We have to remind you that the then Ukrainian government did nothing to prepare for the de-occupation of the Crimea for five years since 2014. The Crimean and the Donbas cases were also separate in the negotiations", - the OP notes.
Zelensky's people believes that updating the provisions of the Budapest Memorandum can help Ukraine to restore the opportunities lost during that time, creating stronger negotiating positions simultaneously in Donetsk, Luhansk and the Crimea.
The topic of the Budapest format is also not new. It was raised by opposition politicians (for example, Yulia Tymoshenko) on a regular basis, saying that this is the only effective format of negotiations for the de-occupation of the Donbas and the Crimea.
Moreover, the team of presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelensky appealed to the Budapest Memorandum in 2019.
"Our position does not change, we are talking about expanding the Normandy format at the expense of signatories of the Budapest Memorandum. Russia, which is currently a participant in the Normandy format, Great Britain, which is more than tough with regard to Russia, and the USA, which is exerting more than serious sanctions today, international and geopolitical pressure on Russia", - speaker and expert on general-political issues of Zelensky's campaign headquarters Dmytro Razumkov said.
Ex-head of the Ukrainian delegation to the TCG Leonid Kuchma spoke most clearly about why the negotiations on the Donbas did not take place in the Budapest format. According to him, the US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin opposed this.
"Do we all think that (Petro Poroshenko) would not want the Budapest format? But Obama and the same Putin did not want this at that time", - he said in 2018.
The position of the Russian Federation has not changed today. Answering the question how the Kremlin will react to Ukraine's initiatives to return to the security guarantees stipulated by the Budapest Memorandum, press secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov stated that "the Kremlin is ready to respond to Ukraine's initiatives…" only within the framework of "… the implementation of the Minsk agreements".
When asked again whether the Kremlin is ready to return to the Budapest Memorandum, Peskov stated: "I have said everything that I wanted to say on this topic".
The Ukrainian party was not embarrassed by this rather predictable reaction from the Russian side. For example, Leonid Kravchuk believes that Ukraine can start negotiations without the Russian Federation.
"I do not see the need to listen only to Russia. Well, Russia does not want to fulfill the Budapest Memorandum. But we can start negotiations with other signatories, who also guaranteed the security and territorial integrity of Ukraine", - Kravchuk said.
Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine Oleksii Reznikov agrees with him.
"We should now consider a return to the Budapest format. At first, consultations should take place without the participation of Russia, given that Moscow has abandoned its guarantor status in order to become an occupation force. However, the Budapest format will subsequently provide an opportunity for new interaction with the Kremlin", - he said in early June.
Thus, it all comes down to the fact that Ukraine can initiate a format of negotiations parallel to "Minsk" with the participation of Great Britain and the USA, which are already our strategic partners and support our country in the confrontation with the Russian Federation (sanctions, military aid).
What can return to the Budapest format give Ukraine? The signed memorandum says that Russia, the USA and Great Britain undertake to immediately resort to consultations in the event of a threat of aggression or the use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine. Such consultations took place in Paris on March 5, 2014, however, without the participation of the Russian Federation. No further guarantees are provided by the document. Although, there are still opportunities for more serious steps. In particular, international lawyers have been arguing all these years whether the title of the document is part of it. And the Budapest document is called "Memorandum on Security Assurances…". That is, the format for using this document and how far it can go beyond the framework of "consultations" is just a matter of the political will of its signatories. Especially - of Ukraine and the USA.
P.S.: According to OstroV information, the President's Office expects to receive positive answers to all of the five questions.
"In an ideal scenario, the team of Volodymyr Zelensky wants to see more than 60% to all the questions. Problems can arise only with the legalization of medical cannabis - this issue was discussed most of all. Therefore, the minimum task is at least 50 to 50, because even in this case, the president or Servant of the People will be able to bring in a bill to the Verkhovna Rada and say: "Decide for yourself". There should be no surprises with the rest of the questions. At least that is what the President's Office thinks. Interest can be a surprise (whether pleasant or not). That is, the poll is interesting not because of which answer will get the most votes, but to what extent these questions divide the society (50 to 50 or 80 to 20)", - an interlocutor in the president's team told our agency.
Vladyslav Bulatchik, OstroV