Donbass: The Never-Ending War

Donbass: The Never-Ending War
Image by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

On February 12, 2015, Russian, Ukrainian and European officials, as well as representatives of the Russian-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic signed the so called Minsk II accord in the Belarusian capital. A year earlier, the sides signed the Minsk protocol, but the documents did not bring peace to the Donbass. In fact, not a single provision of the Minsk Accords has been fully implemented. The conflict in the coal-rich region still goes on. Ukrainian officials recently aired proposals to revise the accords, but Russia strongly objected.

The Russian-backed republics and Western-backed Ukraine exchanged prisoners on a couple of occasions, although there are still inmates on both sides waiting for a prison swap. Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky met in December last year in Paris to discuss the settlement of the Donbass conflict, but their meeting did not result in a sustainable ceasefire. Instead, the low-scale positional warfare goes on and sporadic gunfire and shelling have become reality for the people living close to the front line. Russian and Ukrainian leaders are scheduled to meet again in April, but it is very unlikely that their talks will have a positive impact on the situation on the ground.

“Apparently, it is in the US interest to maintain the conflict in a controlled state in relation to the United States’ plans for the post-Soviet countries,” recently said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Ukraine refused to put on paper a plan outlining the disengagement of forces along the entire line of contact in Donbass because the US had firmly resisted it, Lavrov said in an interview. Ukrainian officials on the other hand, say that a military solution cannot be ruled out. At this point however, such an option does not seem very realistic, since Kyiv will unlikely start a major military offensive unless it has firm guarantees that Moscow will not intervene in an attempt to protect the Donbass republics.

Still, Ukraine insists on a revision of the Minsk agreements. For instance, according to the document, the region should hold local elections, but as a precondition the Ukrainian side calls for the right of internally displaced persons to participate. Also, Ukrainian leaders often point out their principle “security first, elections afterward”. In other words, they request from the Kremlin to transfer border control to Ukraine. Presently, the de jure border between Russia and Ukraine in the Donbass is de facto controlled by the Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic. If Russia agrees that Ukraine should reinstate full control of the border, it will lose the only trump card it currently has. That is why the Kremlin will unlikely agree to deal with the status of the Ukraine-Russia border in the territory controlled by the Russian proxies.

Russia is expected to keep insisting on the full implementation of the Minsk agreements, even though both Russian and Ukrainian leaders, as well as foreign powers, are quite aware that the documents signed in the Belarusian capital have no perspective. The war that erupted in 2014 will likely end only after Moscow and Washington reach a broad deal that should include Ukraine, Syria and potentially some other simmering conflict.

In the meantime, Moscow and Kyiv will keep publicly debating issues such as whether the Donbass should get special status within Ukraine or not, whose troops are in the region and who started the war. In addition, the Donbass republics will keep their cultural and economic integration with the Russian Federation. Unless the Kremlin changes its Ukraine policy, and decides to capitulate to Western demands by returning the Donbass to Kyiv, most residences of the self-proclaimed republics will eventually have Russian passports, and the region will be even further from Ukraine than it is now. 

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1 comment

Show me February 15, 2020 at 9:42 pm

Apparently Russia selling Ukrainian coal to cover the cost of military operations.
Further sanctions on the Russian economy would be a logical response, although Germany apparently getting more deeply involved with the Russian economy buying natural gas.
The Crimea lingers on in Russian hands, even being incorporated into Russia.
Russia is making efforts to isolate Ukraine’s economy and prevent Black Sea access.
Improving the Ukraine transportation net, improvements in rail and adding pipelines may be worth while responses.
Also investing in Ukraine’s economic development should become an even greater priority.
The overall intent from the beginning was to drive Ukraine into the Russian economic orbit.
making Ukraine more energy independent, and perhaps develop fracking technology to replace coal might enable Ukraine to survive.


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