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Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard

03:09:45
18/05/2017

strana.ua

The first parliamentary day after a long vacation stirred all of Ukraine. Firstly, on the presidential site a decree was published on the blocking of a number of Russian sites, including “Odnoklassniki”, “VKontakte”, “Mail.ru”, “Yandex”, and many others. Also falling under the ban are the programs 1C, Parus, and a number of antiviruses. Then parliamentarians – 244 people – stripped Deputy powers from the colleague Andrey Artemenko, who earlier was deprived of Ukrainian nationality by the decree the President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko.

In the evening the Rada banned the St.George’s Ribbon, providing a penalty for violating this law from 850 UAH to 15 days of administrative detention.

And on Thursday, May 18th, consideration of even more controversial bills concerning interaction between the State and Church, and threatening to ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) in Ukraine was announced. While some citizens came to terms with a whole heap of bans, other Ukrainians wondered what it is that their attention is being distracted from.

“Strana” also tried to understand this.

Pension demands of the IMF

One important piece of news that remained actually unnoticed in the information space of Ukraine is the visit to the country of the IMF mission. Prior to May 16, when in Kiev the work of the IMF special mission had to begin, the government didn’t publish a draft of the pension reform, which is a cornerstone in the cooperation of Ukraine with its main creditor. According to the Memorandum, the relevant bill had to be ready by the beginning of May. Experts already assumed that because of this delay the next tranche can be postponed. The S&P ratings agency already stated that “provided that Ukraine will make progress in carrying out key reforms – land and pension”, the next tranche, as well as the related funds from international donors, can arrive in the second half of 2017.

“Interfax Ukraine”, with reference to sources close to the negotiation process, reported that the IMF disagrees with the proposals of the government on the indexation of pensions and the abolition of their taxation for pensioners (as a reminder, this was already promised by Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman, who threatened to even resign if this doesn’t happen). As a reminder, the government promised to raise pensions, to carry out so-called “modernization” for the least protected categories of pensioners since October 1st, and also to cancel the taxation of pensions. 5.6 million pensioners will fall under the increase in pensions, and the implementation of this promise will cost 12 billion UAH.

At the same time the IMF insists that as things stands the pension system isn’t capable of existing. Also, it was made clear that the plan of the government to increase the minimum work service age to 25 years-old isn’t enough.

As the main goal of reform is to reduce expenses from the treasury on pensioners, the IMF insistently advises Ukraine to achieve it at the expense of an increase in the retirement age. Although this demand isn’t officially present in the memorandum, the Cabinet of Ministers assured that they aren’t going to raise the retirement age. But they won’t argue especially with the IMF.

Aleksandr Danilyuk said in interview to Reuters that the deadline for the adoption of key reformatory bills is the middle of July, when parliament goes on vacation. And it isn’t surprising that such reforms will not be liked by the public.

Fight for chernozems

One more reform that is already stated in the Memorandum of cooperation with the IMF is the opening of the land market. In the environment of the President and in factions of the ruling coalition (Bloc of Petro Poroshenko and People’s Front) there are a lot of lobbyists that are not against converting the bank notes earned during three years in power into Ukrainian chernozems. But they face resistance from the powerful agricultural lobby, and the idea of purchase and sale of the land is extremely unpopular, and that’s why the decision will be very difficult to pass before the end of May.

However, if Deputies resist, the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko prepared a backup option: the member of this faction Aleksey Mushak found the necessary number of signatures and gave a presentation to the Constitutional Court with a request to cancel the land moratorium. And if before that time Deputies don’t state the rules by which land will be sold, then they will start trading like any other goods – under the laws of the market. Among the options of opening the market that are supported by separate groups in parliament, and personally by the Prime Minister Vladimir Groisman – to allow sale, but no more than 200 hectares per customer. And also to forbid foreigners from buying up the land in Ukraine. This idea was already criticised by the agriculture ministry, which stated that it opens opportunities for the creation of other schemes. They will say that those who will want it will still buy it, but will simply issue these lands to tens small enterprises.

Any form of the opening of the purchase and sale of land will become an extremely conflicting topic.

70% of families will be dependant on subsidies

Besides these projects, which the Verkhovna Rada only has to accept, there are also other ideas that are guaranteed to cause pulses of negativity in society. For example, that only there is a change since May 1st in the rules of receiving subsidies – they will be recalculated taking into account the new, reduced rates of consumption. And those Ukrainians who will have a two-month debt on the payment of housing and communal services, won’t receive a subsidy for the next period at all. The main innovation is a reduction of the social norms in consumption of heat, electricity, and gas energy. Last winter the subsidy covered 330 cubic meters of heating an apartment of 60 square meters, in the following heating season the discount will only apply to 300 cubic metres. At a stable consumption the surcharge will amount to 204 hryvnias. And here’s one more example. In an 60 square meter apartment with central heating the subsidy will cover 3.28 Gcal of heat, but now it will cover 2.5 Gcal of heat. If consumption is not reduced, it will be necessary to pay 1411 hryvnia for the difference.

This year, according to the estimates of the Cabinet of Ministers, the quantity of subsidiaries in Ukraine will increase to nine million families (15 million households are registered in the entire country). That’s why it isn’t surprising that the Cabinet of Ministers looks for all ways to save on payments and to eliminate the recipients of subsidies.

In addition, the creeping increase of tariffs for utilities proceeds. So, for example, water tariffs were raised.

Inspectors will haunt enterprises

One more piece of news went almost unnoticed against the background of the humanitarian bans. The government gave local authorities powers to carry out inspections on the observance of labor legislation. In other words – the payment of salaries in envelopes.

The powers of inspectors are off the scale: checks can be carried out at any time, checks can last 10 days. Any reason can become the basis for a visit of inspectors, for example, the dismissal of two employees. The small number of workers, debt or non-raised salaries during the year can also be the basis for a visit of the State-labour inspectors. They have the right to enter any rooms and to become acquainted with any documents on the basis of certification.

For the non-admission of inspectors into the enterprise and other violations a business is dazzled by grandiose penalties – up to 320,000 hryvnias.

“They distract people from infernal life”

Against the background of such a toughening of State policy in a diverse range of spheres, the experts interviewed by “Strana” say that the appearance of the decrees of the President on the blocking of websites and the Rada starting consideration of controversial church projects are not accidental.

“I think that the ribbons and sanctions were cover, and decisions that have to remain maximally unnoticed – the same inspections of enterprises, reduction of subsidies, adoption of bills complicating life for people – are made in parallel. This is the first reason. The second is that on Tuesday the Verkhovna Rada gathered for the first time since May 9th, after the ‘Immortal Regiment’ in Kiev and after events in Dnepropetrovsk, which unbalanced the authority’s ideal image of the world. The decision on [banning – ed] St. George’s Ribbons and social networks is a curtsey to right-wing radicals. The authorities are afraid of losing the support of the right-wing and is compelled to get their support. In addition, the authorities are afraid of the growth of anti-Maidan moods – the high potential of this was shown on May 9th. In any case, this so conveniently distracts attention from tariffs, pension reform, and land reform. From corruption, from the creeping increase of tariffs. Pay attention – for a long time nobody speaks neither about Nasirov’s case, nor about Martynenko’s case. You throw an irritant into society and quietly you count money in the corner, mastering flows,” said the political expert Ruslan Bortnik to “Strana”.

The political scientist Andrey Zolotarev is sure that the Ukrainian authorities especially creates a reason for discussion in society to hide their own mistakes. “They are interested in the people discussing the color of the ribbon of May 9th, arguing about the ban of VKontakte and Odnoklassniki, so that there is a permanent conflict in society that will distract people from more vital issues: why there is tariff genocide, why in the country social revolts are ripening, why corruption not only doesn’t disappear, but also increases to astronomical levels. They distract people from infernal life”.

The People’s Deputy from the Opposition Bloc Mikhail Papiev considers that the adoption of scandalous decisions is a political strategy of the authorities.

“It’s not a mere coincidence, but a political strategy, it is pure derivation of people from important problematic issues, political crisis, the need of new elections to the Verkhovna Rada, bills that fall under IMF obligations. Society is being taken away from pension reform, and the government secretly from parliament develops a new pension bill,” said the Deputy.

“The closing of social networks has much more in common with authoritarian regimes than with the fight against Russian propaganda,” considers the People’s Deputy Sergey Leshchenko. “Poroshenko understands better than Yanukovych the personal risks that stem from the Internet. Elections approach. That’s why having subdued television, the time came to cleanse the main channel of mobilization of the people”.

According to Leshchenko, Poroshenko’s idea is “to transfer the focus of public discussion: from the fight against corruption to the topic of their pseudo-patriotism“.

“He will invent newer and newer ideas summoned to create the illusion that it is exactly he who is the main barrier from Russian aggression. Also in parallel he will advance the scenario of the destruction of NABU and the discrediting of anti-corruption officials. In the language of political strategies it is called ‘replacing the agenda of the country’. To be in time for elections of 2019, it is necessary to start already now,” assumes Leshchenko.

However, the ruling coalition denies the toughening of State policy, and the fact that a lot of bans occurred in one day is considered as a mere coincidence.

“The decree of the President appeared long ago. Deputies don’t influence decrees of the President, that’s why it doesn’t make sense to speak about a connection to it, because the President himself decides when to issue the decrees. And the vote on the St. George’s Ribbon was influenced by May 9th, the decision is quite crude because it allows different readings and different interpretations of this law. That’s why it will be to be improved,” said the deputy from the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko Grigory Shverk.

Strategic course

At the same time, an influential Deputy of parliament who “Strana” spoke to noted that attempts to distract the public’s attention from corruption, poverty, the forthcoming unpopular reforms and other problems, is only a side task.

“Of course, the scandal with the t-shirt of the son of the President, the pension reform, and the large-scale celebration of May 9th that unpleasantly surprised the authorities are an important incentive moment for the adoption of tough laws for the derivation of the public’s attention, but they are not the most important,” said the People’s Deputy.

“For example, the fact that the decision of the National Security and Defense Council on the ban of websites that was enacted now by the President Poroshenko, was adopted already before the May holidays. Here there are two key moments. Firstly, Bankova Street finally agreed with the concept according to which the total rupture of communications with Russia, with our common past, and in the long term also with the Russian language assists in the strengthening of the positions of the authorities. That, apparently, the less ‘Russian spirit’ there is, the stronger Statehood is, and the larger the chances to as much as possible prolong the existence of the present power. Secondly, the technology of intervention of the State in the private life of citizens and the restriction of their freedoms is being fulfilled. Now the popular social networks and websites were banned, tomorrow they will try to ban the largest religious faith. And if it will be adopted, then there will be more. They will also start to ban Ukrainian sites, to forbid political parties, to switch off or remove TV channels and other media under the threat of closure, in large quantities to put in prison political opponents and so on. I.e. this is a technology of the creeping introduction of such a ‘hybrid dictatorship’ under patriotic slogans of ‘saving the country from aggression’. The path, however, is dangerous for power. It can seed such great discontent in society that it will simply swept away already before the dictatorship will be established”.

By the way, on social networks it is actively being discussed that the authority’s policy of banning websites etc gifted the opposition millions of voters (for example, nearly 16 million users of VKontakte). The opposition has already picked up on this topic.

One of the leaders of the “Opposition Bloc” Sergey Larin wrote on FB yesterday:

“My electoral program.

• we will bring back VKontakte to the youth!

• we will bring back Odnoklassniki to mothers!

• we will bring back Kinopoisk to film fans!

• we will bring back 1C to accountants!

• we will bring back St. George’s Ribbons to veterans !

• we will return a conscience to officials!

• we will return force to the law!

• we will return memory to the people!”

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