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Mukachevo conflict: a local problem of nationwide scale

An interior ministry serviceman stands next to burnt cars following a shoot-out in Mukacheve, Ukraine, July 11, 2015. Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has instructed law enforcement agencies to disarm and detain those who staged the shoot-out in the town of Mukacheve, Zakarpattia region, which left several people wounded and some reportedly killed, local media reported. REUTERS/Stringer

An interior ministry serviceman stands next to burnt cars following a shoot-out in Mukacheve, Ukraine, July 11, 2015. Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko has instructed law enforcement agencies to disarm and detain those who staged the shoot-out in the town of Mukacheve, Zakarpattia region, which left several people wounded and some reportedly killed, local media reported. REUTERS/Stringer

Conflict in western Ukraine town of Mukachevo brings more questions than answers.

In course of the last day there have been many versions of the conflict, many of them are expressed by officials, many come from non-official sources.

In this article we present you publication issued by Tetiana Urbanska and Konstyantyn Goncharov published by Unian.

According to the journalists, the only thing that is clear is that the government will not avoid solving the problem. It will have to make decisions which might be not easy ones.


Mukachevo dived back in the 90-s

Mukachevo dived back in the 90-s

On Saturday, July 11, small town of Mukachevo in Western Ukraine suddenly returned into 90-s.

There was a skirmish between members of Trasncarpathian ‘Right Sector’ and people of Deputy Michael Lano. 13 people were wounded, 2 were killed.

In order to regulate the situation there began a special operation which involved Security Service and the National Guard.

While security forces keep trying to disarm the ‘Right Sector’, the RS insists on correctness of its actions and conducts protest actions in several cities of Ukraine.

In their turn, Transcarpathian people’s deputies – Micheil Lano and Victor Baloga (both are called redistributors of the smuggling market) – try to absolve themselves of responsibility for the conflict.


Meanwhile in Kyiv, during meeting of the Military Cabinet of the national Security and Defense Council President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko announced an obvious thing: conflict in Transcarpathia appeared due to redistribution of flows of contraband.

According to the head of state, events in Mukachevo have shown a number of urgent issues that require immediate solutions.

The president said that number of old problems like clanship, corruption and other things had popped up. ‘The image of what is happening now is not black and white. It is just stunningly black’, – he said.

The president also underlined that he needs decisive actions in the fight against smuggling by the law enforcement agencies. The head of state demanded tough and fundamental investigation against all who are involved in the conflict.

Among other demands of the president was to make conclusions in terms of staff.

‘Smuggling is not a purely Transcarpathian problem. As soon as we started to turn screws on them – all the scum jumped out immediately. Smugglers of Transcarpathia challenged all Ukraine. I want to declare that we accept the challenge’, – the president said.

Prime Minister Yatseniuk also made his move in terms of staff matters, he instructed Chairman of the State Fiscal Service Roman Nasirov to dismiss all employees in Transcarpathian customs service. Till the end of the day the fiscal Service reported that he had removed entire customs service management team from duties for the official investigation.


One step from clanship to federalization

Mukachevo conflict: a local problem of nationwide scale

Head of analytical center ‘Third Sector’ Andrey Zolotarev expresses strong doubts that such single solution will help to end with smuggling. One cannot decide problem of smuggling in Transcarpathia by simply dismissing all customs employees. It has grown its roots too deep in the region.

‘But firstly, it would be a great good to regulate flow of goods across the border’, – the expert said.

According to Zolotarev, 8-12 trucks of smuggled cigarettes go to Europe only from one region of Transcarpathia oblast.

In Ukraine a pack of cigarettes costs 80 eurocents, in Europe it costs 5 Euros. The profit from each truck is 450-500 thousand UAH. And these are not only cigarettes, add here drugs trafficking and illegal immigrants.

Some people get hundreds of millions $ every months and it is clear that these funds are not in the budget, they are not spent for strengthening of state and solving its problems.

‘We should slowly, though not very loudly, but with real action, turn the region to abide by the laws’, – Zolotarev says. Alas, currently region is controlled not by law but by clans of Lano and Baloga.

The expert firmly believes that events in Mukachevo have opened old Ukrainian problem which Kyiv sought to ignore – for more than 20 years Transcarpathia lived not by Ukrainian laws, it formally remained loyal to central authority, but it lived by its own style.

‘So that there changed presidents, prime ministers, government in Kyiv changed, but clans in Mukachevo didn’t change. But today the question is on edge – either the state subdues any private structures, volunteer battalions, public organizations to its will or these structures eat the state’.

In this context, gradual dismantling of corruption vertical in Transcarpathia and after it in other border regions of Ukraine is the step which Kyiv will have to do.

‘Situation in Mukachevo is dangerous because it can detonate change of events which in combination with future economic and social problems and, apparently, accompanied by very conflictive local elections, can lead to process of feudalization.

According to political consultant, the first step in solving this issue is following the law. That is, on one hand, ensure that public offices cease to be ‘a place of feeding and making money’. On the other side, they should ensure that armed people don’t walk freely in hundreds of kilometers from ATO area.


Society and government need answers to difficult questions


In his turn, co-director of programs of foreign policy and International security of Razumkov center Olexiy Melnyk said that conflict in Mukachevo has to be regulated peacefully, without further bloodshed. ‘The sides that are negotiating should outline preliminary, clear conditions’. In particular, they need to close the issue with illegal armed groups, with Transcarpathian ‘Right Sector’ formally being one of them, or such situations would repeat.

According to the expert, a small amount of radical part of society cannot put all Ukrainian authority on knees. Especially give the threat of large scale destabilization. ‘Leave out the patriotic contribution of ‘The Right Sector’, but if there are reports that soldiers of RS block roads at the entrance to Kyiv, there appears a question: do we have power structures here in the state?’, – he said. Melnyk also underlined that it is the state that should have monopoly for use of force.

However, according to Olexiy Melnyk, president as Commander in Chief and the guarantor of Constitution will have to answer embarrassing questions. ‘I am afraid that it will be quite unpleasant conversation. I mean that people haven’t got what they expected from new government. People have got frustration when there are no real reforms, there is no real fight against corruption and there continues everything which existed under Yanukovich’, – he said.

According to the expert, situation in Mukachevo is an example of ‘abscess that has broken’. And such situations can repeat.

‘There is concern that there will be chain reaction or domino effect throughout Ukraine. Because it is not a secret to anyone that smuggling continues, all these schemes keep functioning, and they cannot work without protectors in high places in government’.

Olexiy Melynyk believes that fight against corruption and smuggling should have started if not immediately after Maidan then after election of Poroshenko for the post of president.

‘More that year was lost. And during this time an immense number of mistakes were done, both in staff policy and in the fact that threes was imitation instead of real reforms… facts of corruption scandals in court – it all continues. And expecting that another series of arrests will be perceived by society as real fight against corruption is quite naïve. Let someone convince people in Mukachevo or throughout Ukraine that senior management people in the state, heads of Security Service and Ministry of Internal Affairs didn’t know about all these (large scale smuggling on western border of Ukraine). If they say that didn’t know than continuation of dialogue makes no sense, if they knew – than there will be another question that would be even more difficult to answer – why nothing was done to avoid events in Transcarpathia’, – the expert summed up.


Eliminate not causes but reasons

Political scientist, director of Institute of Global Strategies Vadym Karasev says that events in Mukachevo might serve as a collapse of domestic policy of state. According to him this is half-criminal commercial conflict by form, and in fact it is a conflict that has involved military-political movement.

‘This conflict leads to a general militarization and ‘empowering’ of policy when they can start resolving any problem – from commercial to political – by force of arms, not by legal process of law’, – he said.

At the same time, in his opinion, it is naïve to rely on bureaucratic form of conflict solution, in particular changes of personnel in Transcarpathia oblast, which sounded from the lips of senior officials.

‘This is not conflict of Mukachevo or Transcarpathia, it is more profound. And authorities need to think hard to eliminate not just causes but reasons for such conflict’, – Karasev says.

‘Systematic solution of contraband issue – this is European integration. When all tariff and non-tariff barriers are removed that smuggling would lose all sense. We have to understand that if we don’t stop smuggling, they will look at us as a hole in Eastern Europe and we won’t get no-visa regime. We need to restore order in the customs, gain control over the flow of goods. This should be the task of the government’, – the political scientist believes.


The journalists mention that smuggling is not a Ukrainian know-how and there are beneficiaries on the other side of the border.

In this regard we hope that temporary investigation commission of Verkhovna Rada, whose report presentations is scheduled for July 17, gives answers not only for question who covers up contraband of cigarettes and drugs in Transcarpathia, who covers up sales of tens of kg of amber from Rivne, Zhytomyr and Volyn regions, but it also answers the question who illegally buys it in European Union.


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