Two recent studies cast interesting light on urban life and Regionnaire policy in Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, most of the cities they misrule are sorely neglected slums, while the only two that matter to them politically—Donetsk and Luhansk—are recipients of government largesse. As it turns out, President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions would be better termed the Party of Two Cities.
In Kommentarii magazine’s livability rating of 45 Ukrainian cities, those in the bottom half, the 22nd through the 45th, are, with but three exceptions, in the southeastern provinces that support the Regionnaires. The top half, the 1st through the 21st, are all in the central and western provinces that support the national democrats, with the exception of six major Regionnaire-run cities—Sevastopol (3rd), Dnipropetrovsk (5th), Kryvyy Rih (10th), Simferopol (14th), Donetsk (16th), and Odessa (18th). Note the pattern. The Regionnaire-run cities that do relatively well are all large; the provincial cities they misrule are all in the dumps.
The Regionnaire record looks worse if we exclude Sevastopol and Simferopol from the list (the former, as the site of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, gets big bucks from Moscow, while the latter is relatively near the Crimea’s beaches) and look at the number of points the cities score. The highest possible point total is 1,125 (with 45 points per 25 criteria). Kyiv, which is 1st on the list, gets 896 points, or 80 percent of the total. The Regionnaire strongholds, Donetsk and Luhansk, get only 57 percent and 43 percent, respectively. And the cities that score under 50 percent are, with but two exceptions, Regionnaire bastions.
The Regionnaires know where their bread is best buttered and obviously feel free to condemn the rest of the provinces they run to stagnation. These findings are consistent with a study I cited last year that showed that the quality of life is lowest in a coherent swath of territory running from south to east. Of Ukraine’s 27 provinces, Zaporizhzhya was 22nd, Mykolaiv was 23rd, Kherson was 24th, Luhansk was 25th, Donetsk was 26th, and Dnipropetrovsk was dead last.
Keep these ratings in mind as we look at some other data, on state budget transfers to provinces. As it turns out, Donetsk province, which is Yanukovych’s power base and contributes 12 percent of Ukraine’s GDP, received 21 percent of budget transfers in 2010 and a whopping 27 percent in 2011. Luhansk province, which is a Regionnaire power base and contributes a mere 4 percent to Ukraine’s GDP, got 8 percent in 2010 and 11 percent in 2011. The capital city, Kyiv, contributes 18 percent of GDP and, justifiably, received 15 percent of outlays in 2010 and 18.3 percent in 2011.
Several conclusions follow from these data.
First, the claim made by Donbas residents that they “feed” the rest of Ukraine is clearly false. If anyone is being fed, it’s them.
Second, in light of the fact that most southeastern cities are dumps, it’s clear that the subsidies being received by Luhansk and Donetsk provinces are going to Luhansk and Donetsk cities, and not the towns and villages in the provinces. In other words, the Donbas provinces are feeding Donetsk and Luhansk.
Third, and most interesting, the money going to Luhansk and Donetsk is obviously not having the intended effect. Kyiv gets a lot of cash, but it contributes its share to the total pot and is highly livable. In contrast, despite being the targets of Regionnaire lucre, Luhansk and Donetsk rank relatively low on the livability scale.
Part of the answer may be that they suffered disproportionately from Ukraine’s economic collapse in the 1990s and must therefore catch up more to reach Kyiv’s level. The problem with this explanation, however, is that the Donbas has been highly subsidized by Kyiv since independence in 1991. Every Ukrainian president has known that he must win the region’s loyalty, or at least neutrality, by buying it off with goodies.
So the more convincing answer for Luhansk and Donetsk’s continued underdevelopment must have to do with the nature of their rulers—the Regionnaires (and pre-Regionnaires) who pocket state expenditures with a wild abandon that would make Al Capone’s head spin. Is it pure coincidence that Kyiv’s subsidies to Donetsk exploded at precisely the same time that Yanukovych’s dentist son, Oleksandr, became one of Ukraine’s 100 richest individuals?
The lesson is obvious. Were the Party of Regions a city, it would be at the very top of the heap, with a 200 percent rating. Were the Yanukovych clan a city, it would score even higher.