17:51
Понеділок, 18 Грудня 2017

President turns toward citizens living in the occupied territories, Yatseniuk’s Narodnyi Front sticks to mainstream, Opposition Bloc carefully watches Kremlin

While in Kyiv elites were preoccupied with in the new feuds, mutual allegations and crises, others were using old but proved methods to corrupt voters under both pro-European and pro-Russian rhetoric in their constituencies. As a result government’s legitimacy was undermined while people were given role of the silent, subdued and , majority. Report on the government’s communication policy toward Donbas in September-October 2017.
President turns toward citizens living in the occupied territories, Yatseniuk’s Narodnyi Front sticks to mainstream, Opposition Bloc carefully watches Kremlin
President turns toward citizens living in the occupied territories, Yatseniuk’s Narodnyi Front sticks to mainstream, Opposition Bloc carefully watches Kremlin

Detector Media has been monitoring government’s communications with Donbas since March 2017. Monitoring’s methodology can be found here. This project is performed thanks to  support of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Previous reports can be found here: March-April, May-June, July-August.

Monitoring of the government’s communication policy toward Donbas in September-October 2017 detected such trends:

  • President has improved his rhetoric on the Donbas issues (which were traditionally covered in the context of his foreign policy and defence policy efforts) and made statements addressing Ukrainians who live in the occupied territories. It was real step toward national consolidation, which was not seen for quite long period of time.
  • President, his party in the parliament – Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc and their coalitional partner People’s Front synchronized their public support  of the president’s draft law on reintegration of Donbas;
  • Radical Party leader Oleh Liashko has made his messages toward people in Donbas more targeted and populist which can be a part of his preparation to parliamentary election campaign;
  • Opposition Bloc tried to consolidate its pro-Russian  constituents promoting Putin’s idea about “UN peacekeepers” in Donbas as a pretext for the “special status” of the occupied territories.

Poroshenko positioned himself as “peace maker” and addressed to Ukrainians living in the occupied territories

In September-October Poroshenko continued to follow his personal style of public communication. Lion’s share of his messages (24 out of 46) on Donbas issues covered his participation in the international negotiations and promotion of Ukrainian stance toward aggressive Russia. In September 18 news were released to inform about president’s visit and meetings in the venue of the UN General Assembly. Poroshenko’s main message was that multinational peacekeeping force must be deployed in the occupied territories.  5 messages attracted attention to the Russian violations of terms of the Minsk agreements and urged to keep international sanctions in place, increasing public pressure for the sake of release of Ukrainians, held as hostages.

Then, 12 news were reported about president’s defence policy and his command of the armed forces. Every time Porochenko repeated his main idea: only strong army makes peace possible, aggressor contained and sovereignty over Donbas restored.

The leading topic of president’s communication with all Ukrainian citizens was promotion of his two draft laws on Donbas issues. In his special address president described new legislation as important for “restoration of the Ukraine’s sovereignty over Donbas” and “one year extension of the force of the law about special order of the self-government in certain districts”.

This time Poroshenko started with direct reference to the Ukrainians who live in the occupied territories and remain loyal to Ukraine:

“Recently I have had awesome unforgettable emotional experience. I talked with our soldiers, when one of them asked me to take his cell phone, Mr. President this is my Mom and she wants to speak with you. She said with trembling excited voice: “My dearest, my sons, You wouldn’t leave us alone, would you? We ask you come back and bring us back to Ukraine” I thanked her for her son and my answer was strong: Yes, we shall regain Donbas”.

This message was very important, since president built a bridge between his own patriotically-minded voters and people who live in the occupied Donbas. Poroshenko used it to persuade people that despite his legislation included certain unpopular compromises it was required by the interests of common people who suffered from war. Thus he has made significant step toward national consolidation, a real change if compared with his revelations about who could be considered “true Ukrainians”.

However, we have to admit that president still treats people in Donbas as a human resource or asset of his defence policy. For instance, during October visit to Avdiivka Poroshenko said that “the town became symbol of endurance of the Ukrainian spirit, symbol of Ukrainian national unity” and praised its inhabitants for “creating fantastic image of Ukrainians in the world” when they accepted numerous foreign delegations.

On the other hand, Poroshenko accidentally admitted that the central government badly manages local problemsm solving them only in case of emergency: president recalled that Avdiivka has got independent energy supply grid only when it was completely cut off by the Russian bombardment in January 2017.

To sum it up, in September-October president used public communication to test how public opinion reacted to suggested policy options of resolving conflict in Donbas and public attitude toward people who live in the occupied territories. At the same time he demonstrated that he expected readiness of the citizens in Donbas to sacrifice their well-being and keep their demands low for the sake of the national defence. Since the government failed to provide basic live support to people it looks like an example of president’s wishful thinking. Thus we will follow whether Poroshenko is really trying to change his policy toward Donbas.

Prime minister Hroisman burdens subordinates with bureaucratic instructions

Prime Minister Volodymyr Hroisman tried to use Donbas issues to build an image of capable national top manager. On September 27th, he suddenly called to immediate action to improve facilities for the people at the security entry checkpoints on the line of contact. Initially, this issue was brought up by another president loyalist Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko after inspection of the “Maiorsk” checkpoint. However, prime minister had no better idea than to re-direct responsibility for managing these problems to ministry for temporarily occupied territories without any precise time frame or specific funds.

Such attitude only confirms our previous concerns that Hroiman intentionally ignored Donbas issues. Moreover, as analysis of PM communication shows, Hroisman perceive Donbas as a remote formal problem. When he talked about it with parliamentarians from Canada and France he just used rigid bureaucratic clichés.

Clinging to bellicose rhetoric, NSDC Secretary Turchinov backed Presidents legislation of Donbas

In October Oleksandr Turchinov decisively sided with Petro Poroshenko on the new legislation drafted to promote Ukrainian position on reintegration of Donbas. However, Turchinov did not give in his hawkish style of communication when he publicly lobbied for this law.

Presenting the legislation in the parliament, Turchinov stressed defensive and security aspects of the new policy toward Donbas: “the law introduces efficient command of the military operation countering Russian aggression and liberating occupied territories”, “the single chain of command is established to plan, organize and control accomplishment of the defensive and security operations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, “approval of the law shall make conditions for the effective protection of the national security and defense against Russian aggression, and liberation of the occupied territories”.

When oppositional factions tried to block voting, Turchinov openly accused them in the crime of state treason: «this crime of the fifth column is impossible to cover up with populist slogans». Thus Turchinov sent a clear message to all parties, including his own People’s Front: any deviation from presidential policy toward Donbas would be treated as subversion against Ukraine.

Also, in October during his business trip to Donbas Turchinov had a chance to speak directly to the people. Inaugurating newly reconstructed bridge in the town of Rubizhne, Turchinov underlined the civil role of the armed forces: «Our military not only defend our country but also help to restore civil infrastructure». However, Turchinov did not find any comprehensive words to describe to the local people what they should expect soon, although people in Donbas are really concerned about possible policy options.

Ministry of temporarily occupied territories communicated with foreign audience and tried to push solving of the local problems

In September-October most of the MinTOT news informed about public diplomacy events with representatives of the foreign governments and international organizations (like forums, high level seminars, meetings, trips to locations in Donbas with EU parliamentarians, USAID officers, French senators, and UN representatives).

Although such activity is important, we continue to observe disturbing asymmetry when it comes to other direct obligations of the ministry. In two months there were only 4 relevant messages:  MinTOT and GIZ prepare joint program of the professional education for IDPs, Government explores alternatives to water supplies in Donetsk region, the working intra-governmental meeting has been organized on improving conditions at the checkpoints in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, MinTOT considers option of the water supply and sewage in the eastern Ukraine. In addition, most of these news reported no specific time framework or plan of implementing announced decisions, which also weakens people’s trust to another set of government’s promises.

Ministry of information policy pre-occupied with self-control and self-ads

Despite signing resignation minister of information policy Yuriy Stets continue to increase presence in the national media and report about activities in Donbas.

In September-October MIP released 8 news about its own Monitoring mission in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, headed by Oleksandr Bryhynets, a close friend of Stets and MP of presidential BPP parliamentary faction. Although the composition (members loyal to MIP management) and objectives (to review and assess what has been done without independent observers) of the Monitoring mission were very questionable, some of its reports were quite informative. For instance, head of village in the Luhansk  region told MIP mission that “satellite TV is available for majority of population. But devices were brought from Russia before the war and it appeared to be coded to receive only Russian channels”; in other village in Donetsk oblast MIP mission found out that during planned technical repair of the TV tower “Ukrainian channels are immediately substituted by the Russian and separatist channels”.

In other 8 news about Donbas representatives of MIp higher management (like minister Stets, first deputy minister Dzhaparova, state secretary of ministry Bidenko) we have seen only reports about “successful accomplishments”. Only once minister Stets made a clear promise about construction of TV tower in Pokrovsk: “In the nearest future I will talk to prime minister about disbursement of funds for this project”. Thus we are going to watch closely how minister Stets would keep his word and what his ministry would do except boasting meager achievements.

Pavlo Zhebrivskiy was carried away with his “tranquil Ukrainization” of Donbas

Communicative activity of the Head of Donetsk civil-military administration rapidly increased in September and October. This could be explained both by several important celebrations (Day of knowledge on September 1, Day of Teacher in the end of September, Day of ) and necessity to demonstrate achievements to the central authorities.

Self-promotion dominated in Zhebrivskiy’s communication. He opened football lawns for schoolchildren and blood donor station for patients, observed construction of gas supply pipelines and kindergarten. In total we found 21 news and posts about such matters. They dwarfed reports about meetings with foreign delegations (9 posts) and consequences of Russian bombardment of the Donbas cities (5).

However, there was one topic in Zhebrivskiy’ communication with people, which drew our special attention. Head of Donetsk CMA continued to promote his vision of Ukrainiazation of Donbas. He praised towns of Druzhkivka and Pokrovs’k for winning additional state funds after local authorities succeeded in getting all public signboards translated into Ukrainian:  “As I promised Druzhkivka will get 30 mln UAH and Pokrovs’k - 20 mln UAH from regional budget. All other towns which follow their path will have 10 mln. of additional funds. The eligibility for funding will be checked by the special commission”.

However, we are not sure that such approach will be helpful for Zhebrivskiy’ cause: if money are distributed only the formal change of signboards further without control how they are used to address communities’ interests, it will not make local people more loyal or tolerant toward Ukraine.

Furthermore, Zhebrivskiy showed that he is proponent of the administrative, Soviet-style methods of working with certain social groups. For instance, he simply ordered how many agricultural cooperatives must be established in the region next year without any kin of rational explanation, how these quotas had been determined and distributed. 

Thus we can say that head of Donetsk CMA did not use his extensive communication skills and resources to explain publicly his actions when it came to redistribution of the public funds. In our opinion, it is not the policy which will result in growing trust toward authorities.

Yuriy Harbuz continued to make promises and orders

As we observed in previous report Head of the Luhansk civil-military administration is true believer of the more traditional, bureaucratic ways of communicating with common people. In September and October Yuriy Harbuz followed his track, treating citizens as silent and comfortable majority. He positioned himself as a top executive who delivers given promises: if in September he forecasted successful preparation for the winter season, in October he reported that communal services are completely ready for the winter.

However, we did not find any information about commitments he made in summer. There was no information how he managed reconstruction of regional highways, which is an important issue for Luhansk region. Thus in the coming months we will closely monitor whether Harbuz reports on this or covers his failures with the new promises.

Iryna Herashchenko hesitated between the roles of ardent presidential loyalist and determined negotiator

Monitoring of the communicative activity of the first deputy chairwoman of the Verkhovna Rada deepened impression that she was in the middle of internal struggle between commitments to her important role in the peace process and her obligation to back president’s policies. In fact, 12 her posts were about Minsk process negotiations, including issues of hostages release, while 9 posts were written to cover Poroshenko’s decisions positively (like president’s address to UN General Assembly or his visit to Avdiivka). Herashchenko also used opportunities to attack Putin as a chance to promote Poroshenko (criticizing Putin’s peacekeeping mission plan).

Additionally, Herashchenko had to join “hawks” in attack against opponents of the president’s law of Donbas reintegration, using quite harsh words and manipulative accusation that opposition “did not value live of Ukrainian soldiers”. Just a day before she was more prudent and moderate when spoke about political dissenters: “I respect my colleagues’ critical viewpoint about Minsk agreements”. In the end of the day it seems that Iryna Herashchenko had to play as a loyal teammate of her party, even when it demands turning herself in the instrument of the partisan propaganda.

Party “Solidarity”: law for Donbas or Donbas for the law?

Analysis of the communicative efforts of the presidential political party “Solidarnist” in September and October only proved our previous observations that the Donbas issues have been used to promote partisan interests an agenda. “Solidarnist” continued to produce messages (31) endorsing Poroshenko’s image as peacemaker, top diplomat and commndar-in-chief. 20 news were released in connection to the president’s draft law on reintegration of Donbas. It was not surprising that speakers of “Solidarnist” depicted opponents as “Russian puppets” (Iryna Fryz) or condemned their alternative draft laws as containing “elements of federalization which is used by the Russian Federation to put Ukraine under control” (Ivan Vinnyk).

At the same time “Solidarnist” was very active (16 news) in attracting media attention to party’s activities in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Deputies elected in Donbas majority constituencies, Dmytro Lubinets and Oleh Nedava lobbied for protection of right to vote and freedom of religion of the Ukrainians living in the occupied territories. they also actively disseminated information about party’s efforts to prevent violations of property rights of the petty landowners in Donbas, support of civil infrastructure reconstruction, and sustainable water supplies in the region.

There was also particular message that stood distinctively out of others. Iryna Herashchenko used news about release on home arrest of the former Sloviansk mayor Nelia Shtepa, who has been accused in collaboration with separatists in 2014, to call for “bringing to justice all mayors who facilitated occupation of Donbas”. She blamed opposition which abstained from voting for judicial reform laws as responsible for impunity of alleged separatists.  However, it seems that she just used this event to transfer negativism from president, who is in charge of judicial reform, on others.

People’s Front: “hawks flocked together with “doves”

In September-October “People’s Front” maintained its one-voice communication. Its speakers persistently repeated Turchinov’s messages about importance of the law on reintegration of Donbas. they also used this opportunity to emphasize their disgust about Russia and disdain for the opposition. 

For example, Viktoria Siumar linked struggle in the parliament with Saakashvili’s smear campaign and Russian subversion: “It is an evidence of the plans to destabilize the country? Qui prodest? Russia. If the law is not voted anti-Russian sanctions could be lifted”. Then, in two weeks chairman of the “People’s Front” faction Maksym Burbak accused Saakashvili in deliberate actions to delay approval of the law about reintegration. However, since PF speakers did not give any facts in support of their allegations, it seems that they just used Saakashvili protests to cover their own reluctance to vote for the law, which would drastically limit power of Arsen Avakov, minister of interior affairs.

Unexpectedly, People’s Front paid some attention to the problems of the common people living in Donbas. Party’s MP and Chairwoman of Committee on social policy Liudmyla Denisova presented the law about de-regulation of pension payments for the retirees, who live in the occupied territories. During her visit to Donetsk region Denisova also promised  to cancel special administrative checks for such people. Moreover, she distributed “humanitarian aid” under auspices of her party. In September People’s Front informed that it forced regional civil-military administration to pay more attention to the environmental situation in Donbas. In forthcoming reports we will see whether these are rare “dovish” deviations or new communication trends and how People’s front would react to president’s intentions to cut Avakov’s power.

Oleh Liashko championed in hammering out money for Donbas

While coalition political parties struggled with opposition and distributed promises, leader of the Radical Party Oleh Liashko showed how populist can implement his slogans. While visiting Mariupol’, Liahsko claimed his active role in making positive changes in the lives of local inhabitants: “Radical party faction has got finance for the new kindergarten”, “Radicals hammered out 30 mln UAH for reconstruction of the House of Arts and 15 mln. UAh for IDP’s housing”, “Together with Mayor of Mariupol we worked out huge money for reconstruction of temporary shelters for IDPs”.

In our opinion, this kind of bold PR illustrates that Liashko is going to compete with all other parties, including Opposition Bloc, for Donbas voters. In his speeches about Donbas reintegration he mixed anti-Russian, anti-presidential and anti-Western messages targeting all kinds of voters in Donbas.

Batkivshchyna and Samopomich made Donbas issues a tool of personal attacks against president

Two oppositional political parties Samopomish and Batkivshchyna completely stopped their communication with people in Donbas (the only message came from Hryhoriy Nemyria about protection of IPDs civil rights). Both parties decided to use Donbas issues, especially topic about reintegration of the occupied territories, in their smear campaign against president. the main message was that Poroshenko conducts foreign and security policies only to enrich himself: “President goes (to UN General Assembly - ed.) to suggest something without consulting parliament or Ukrainian people. President behaves like entrepreneur, although Ukraine is not his private enterprise” (Oksana Syroiid, Samopomish). “I wonder how long will we tolerate cynicism and corruption of the commander-in-chief? Let me be frank with you: until he is in power making fortune out of war we will not achieve peace” (Yulia Tymoshenko). 

It is possible that the new direction of the public communication of the mentioned parties was chosen due to the events, surrounding return of Mikheil Saakashvili an preparation o the anti-presidential protests. However, according to the recent history, citizens in Donbas are very anxious and negative about political turmoil in Kyiv. Thus Batkivshchyna and Samopomish radicalizing their rhetoric risk losing approach toward Donbas.

Opposition Bloc rallying among pro-Russian voters

Opposition Bloc also has changed its communicational priorities. In September-October this party release no less than 31 news and posts in support of Putin’s peacekeeping initiative as a pretext for “special status” for Donbas (Yuriy Boyko: We demand to approve political clauses of the Minsk Agreements); criticizing president’s draft law on reintegration (Vadym Novynskyi: Law on reintegration of Donbas will not facilitate regaining territories but make things worse); accusing government in protracting the war for the sake of  vested interests (Aleksandr Vilkul: Certain people in power do not want to stop the war because it makes them more popular and richer).

At the same time there were just 8 messages about urgent needs of people in Donbas and all of them belonged to Natalia Korolevska and her husband Yuriy Solod. Korolevska cared about reconstruction of the social infrastructure, protection of the civil and social rights of  IDPs, retirees, and children who suffered from war; Solod argued about problems of the landowners living near the frontline. Sometimes Korolevska did and said just the same that was said and done by “Solidarnist” MPs which posed difficult questions what is the difference between pro-presidential and oppositional politicians.

Absence of substantive differences among politicians, who are expected to have competing agendas and support alternative policies but in reality use the same methods of political propaganda in their communication with people for the sake of personal power, results in deterioration of public trust and  leads to passive attitudes toward politics. Such alienation is very dangerous since it makes people careless who will rule, even if it will be a foreign power.

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Andrey U. Chulkov
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