Wednesday, 23 September

The recently announced initiative to stop railway connection with Russia has gained a great deal of network discussion. Although such a proposal by the Minister of Infrastructure Volodymyr Omelian is still far from realization, there are a lot of those, who are willing to criticize it. Opinion has found out at what phase the “loud” initiative is now, what are the reasons  “for” and “against” it, what are probable consequences, whether all the financial losses are being solved on this issue, and what problems Ukraine may face.

What do the initiators of the railway change say?

Minister of Infrastructure Volodymyr Omelian explained that his department has prepared a number of initiatives to resist the actions of the aggressor country and to stop the railway connection is a part of this plan.
“We have prepared a series of countermeasures on what is happening on the part of the Russian Federation in our occupied territories and in the Azov Sea. This complex of measures includes the stop of the railway connection with Russia. The issue was discussed at interdepartmental working meetings at the Ministry of Infrastructure. We want it to be placed on the plane of the Government or the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine so that a corresponding decision was already passed at the state level”, the minister explains.

Volodymyr Omelian also explained that now it is only a matter of stopping passenger connection since there are a number of problems with freight traffic, which includes not only the financial losses of “Ukrzaliznytsia” but also international law.

“At this stage, we are talking about a regular rail passenger service. As for freight traffic, the problem is not only that “Ukrzaliznytsia” will lose significant revenues to its budget, but also with international law, in particular with the commitments, that Ukraine has assumed within the framework of the World Trade Organization. And so we are currently studying this topic, but we are not pushing it”, Omelian summed up.

What are the “pros” and “cons”?

Commenting on the possible stop of the railway connection with Russia opinion, Yurii Samoilov, Chief Editor of the Ukrainian Tourism magazine, tried to highlight the positive and negative consequences of such a decision of the authorities. Among the theses in support of the initiative of Omelian and the ministry are national security and the preservation of valuable property. But among the arguments “against”, the profits, which “Ukraraliznytsia” can lose, appear.

“For” reasons: issues of national security, freedom and life of Ukrainian citizens – crew members of international trains. Vehicle teams are protected by numerous international conventions while performing their professional duties, however, Russian security services have already arrested the leader of the Kovel – Moscow group of cars Serhii Buhaichuk, as well as two drivers of the international bus on Vinnitsa-Moscow route. All of these citizens of Ukraine are accused of terrorist activities. In addition, it is possible that in the future Russia will begin to capture the Ukrainian carriage rolling stock (wagons and locomotives), which go to the territory of Russia. Therefore, another reason “for” of the stop of passenger traffic is the risk of loss of valuable property, that is, rolling stock.

The reason “against” is that trains to Russia generate significant profits: according to Ukrzaliznytsia, only one train No. 5/6 Kyiv – Moscow brought the profit of 145 million UAH for the whole year. This situation has arisen due to the mechanism of the application of tariffs in international traffic, in which transportation simply can not be unprofitable. At the moment, domestic railway transportation is generally deeply unprofitable. So, with the abolition of trains to Russia, it is necessary to foresee a compensation mechanism of “Ukrzaliznytsia”’s lost profits. Otherwise, the program of updating the rolling stock and station complexes will be substantially complicated, the salaries of railwaymen will be frozen, etc.”, Yurii Samoilov commented.

Instead, Mykola Melnyk, a political expert and general director of the “Leviathan” analytical group, said that such initiatives do not belong to the authority of the Ministry of Infrastructure. Moreover, before cancelling the railway connection, according to the expert, it is necessary to denounce a number of agreements with Russia. But even after that, the decision can have both positive and negative consequences. “The decision of Omelian is a clear populism. When a high-ranking official does not have positive changes in his own work, he tries to focus society’s attention on a decision that is not within his competence. After all, the decision on rail communication with the Russian Federation is still under the authority of the Government, and not the Ministry, headed by Mr Omelian.

First of all, it is necessary to denounce with the Russian Federation a number of international treaties, which were signed in the 90’s as a part of the CIS partnership programs, as well as the Partnership Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. If the termination of the connection will actually take place, for “Ukrzaliznytsya” it will end with bankruptcy. It’s enough to just look at the structure of Ukrzaliznytsia’s revenue, to understand, that without the revenue from the transportation of goods from Russia and to Russia, the Ukrainian railway will turn into a rather unprofitable project.

Positive may be the reorientation of Ukrzaliznytsia to the EU market and the reduction of dependence on the aggressor country. In society, such a decision is likely to receive positive feedback until the release of employees at Ukrzaliznytsa begins, but then it is unlikely that public condemnation of this decision by society is to be expected. Ukraine will not make this step as long as it depends not only on Russian gas but also on coal for the thermal power station”, is said in the comment to Opinion.

But an independent journalist Mykhailo Andiiovych explained to Opinion, that the topic of stopping the connection with Russia was raised too late and should have been announced for the first time at the beginning of the hybrid war. Moreover, the journalist believes, that stopping the work of passenger trains will simply translate the entire passenger traffic on the shoulders of carriers.

“To talk about the probability of” stopping “the railway connection with Russia” at the 4th year of the war looks ridiculous. If this decision was taken at the beginning of the hybrid war, then society would take it with understanding – now it clearly generates more negative perception, generates dissatisfaction with the actions of the authorities. At the same time, such a draft decision announced by the Minister of Infrastructure can be regarded as a unique response of Ukraine to the fact, that the Russian Railways has transmitted some of the directions of passenger traffic around Ukraine. It should be taken into account, that most transit destinations have significantly reduced the path to European countries. Now, the Moscow-Belgrade (Sofia) train route is being built by the territories of Belarus and Poland, which in turn affects both the time on the road and the fare.

At the same time, such logic manoeuvres of Minister Omelian clearly favor car carriers. A significant part of the cargo will be translated on their shoulders – which will clearly increase their revenues and will affect the cost of transportation. The passenger flow between Ukraine and Russia is currently quite significant (10-15 million passengers per year), primarily due to the migrant workers. They are the most affected by such changes, therefore one should expect the dissatisfaction of the masses. As well as the fact, that deputies of the Verkhovna Rada do not dare to vote for such “unpopular” law. And if it will be enough to accept the number of votes, the president may impose a veto on it”, the journalist is convinced.

Are financial losses our everything?

Political expert Oleksii Minakov, reflecting on the possible stop of the railway connection with Russia, agreed, that Ukraine could lose a lot of money, but the specialist is sure that not everything should be valued by money. After all, Ukraine will profit from all other points of view – strategic, ideological and foreign policy.

“The air communication with the Russian Federation could be stopped yet in 2015 – so we can stop the railways. Moreover, trains from the Russian Federation ceased to go to Ukraine at the end of 2014, so what prevents us from finally making on a symmetrical step? The main thing is to competently explain to Ukrainians, why it is important and necessary. Certain criticism will be, especially from the side of “vatniks”, it just needs some time.

And in order not to have any speculation – yes, we lose tactically from an economic point of view. The most profitable Ukrainian train in 2017 was “Kyiv – Moscow”. Two more trains entering the top 5 most profitable – “Odessa – Moscow” and “Kyiv – St. Petersburg”.

Therefore, we must convince people, that not everything is measured by money. From all other points of view – strategic, ideological, foreign policy, etc. – Ukraine will profit. In general, from the point of view of the future of Ukraine, this is correct. So that people become disaccustomed from the Russian Federation”, the expert wrote.

Instead, the transport expert, Oleksandr Kava, believes that stopping the railway connection with the aggressor country will not happen precisely because of possible financial losses. At the moment, according to the expert, one must concentrate on actions that harm not Ukraine, but Russia.
“Exports to the Russian Federation should increase, including in the occupied territories. The more we sell, the better for us. We have to do the same as it is more profitable for Ukraine. Already when we exhaust our rational capacity to weaken the Russian Federation, then one can think of actions that harm both them and us. To do this you need to take a hundred measures that harm only the RF.

The prohibition of passenger transportation will end with the fact, that they will just go to Minsk, then to Moscow. Belarus will earn. It is possible, that there is such an agreement at all. Definitely, they will take their part from us. In addition, more will fly through Belarus or the Baltic States. It will harm Ukraine, the economy and the budget of the Ukrainian family”, Olexandr Kava commented.

What problems should be expected?

Political scientist Vladyslav Serdyuk explained to Opinion, that in case of stopping of the railway connection the state risks getting a large number of citizens, who worked in the Russian Federation, and therefore they will need to provide new work. As a result, according to the expert, socio-political sentiment may deteriorate.

“The main question, that arises in this situation, is why Ukraine prohibits the railway connection with the Russian Federation? After all, we continue to supply gas and coal to the Russian Federation, i.e. it follows that we need to ban heat in the batteries because it is “Russian”? At the same time, we have not formally settled the question of what is happening in the east of Ukraine and what is the role of Russia here? At the level of a simple citizen, we all well understand, that Russia is an aggressor, but the state is obliged to create a legislative basis for the introduction of such kind of follow-up decisions, otherwise it turns out a kind of “schizophrenia” in which the government plays the role of pathogens of the disease.

Also, think of the question what the state will do with millions of citizens, who worked in the Russian Federation, took money there, returned home with them and kept their families on the earned funds? After all, they need to be provided with work, otherwise, it will lead to a boom in the socio-political situation of the country, which is already quite tense due to the results of fresh sociological research. That is, there are at least two negative consequences: economic (loss of Ukrzaliznytsia, loss of state from the lack of money of migrant workers) and as a consequence of the boom of a sociopolitical situation”, –the political scientist commented.

However, Serdyuk also noted the possible positive effects, namely, the reduction of Russian “agents of influence”. Everything else, according to a specialist, is only emotions. “From a positive point, one can note that if any intersection of the border with the Russian Federation is prohibited, then Russian” agents of influence “(spies) will cease to fall into Ukraine under the guise of the same tourists, or with forged documents. This, of course, is unlikely, because I am sure, that our SC is not able to answer the question of what number of Russian spies is in Ukraine today. In any case, this is the only positive aspect of this solution, which I can name as really adequate. Everything else is dull emotions, in which there is no constructive part “, Vladyslav Serdyuk said.

Yurii Samoilov spoke about the possible negative reaction in society. According to him, negative sentiment is noticeable now, when the initiative is only at the stage of the announcement.

“A negative reaction of a part of Ukrainian citizens is already observed now when the idea of stopping communication is only announced. In the future, on this subject, the political forces of the left and the pro-Russian tendencies can be speculated. But, in my opinion, there will be no disobedience in mass actions in case of realization of the decision, although some manifestations of sabotage or provocations are quite possible”, the journalist believes.

At the same time, Samoilov said, that it is impossible to completely stop the flow of passengers to the aggressor country: only the reduction of the number of those, who wish to cross the aggressor’s border is real. However, this is a kind of victory, which, of course, will have its price.

“Under any conditions, in case of stopping passenger traffic, Russia will become less accessible to Ukrainian citizens. Fully passenger traffic will never stop there, just as it did not stop with the Crimea, with which it stopped not only the railroad but also the bus connection. However, going there will be significantly less than our fellow citizens. This is definitely the gain from the point of view of the hybrid war, but, like any action under such conditions, it will have its price”, the chief editor of the magazine “Ukrainian Tourism” said.

Text by Dmytro Zhuravel

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