Three Scenarios for the Donbass


July 5, 2015

Three Scenarios for the Donbass

By Andrey Ivanov

Translated from Russian by J.Hawk

The specialists from the Russian International Affairs Council headed by the former foreign minister Igor Ivanov described three scenarios for the Donbass: confrontation, freeze, or continuing the peace process. How likely are they?

Life itself forces one to make forecasts. It’s clear that the unrecognized republics with a population of five million won’t be able to exist for long in the current suspended state. On the one hand there is a ceasefire, but the shelling of cities continues. Kiev continues to view Donbass as its territory, but doesn’t transfer money and fences it off with barbed wire. Poroshenko claims to adhere to the Minsk Agreements, but is against the constitutional reforms they require…

The first scenario is confrontation. The Council experts are of the opinion that full-scale combat operations can’t be ruled out. Kiev might decide to launch a new offensive with US support. Then the Donbass would suffer the fate of Serb Krajina which Croatia reconquered by force in 1995. It’s also possible that we’ll see the repetition of the events of August 2008 in South Ossetia. Russia was then forced to intervene militarily and then recognize the territory’s independence.

The second scenario is a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Analysts believe this is the least likely scenario. It would require the removal of anti-Russian sanctions and West’s recognition of Crimea’s unification with Russia.

The most likely is the third scenario–freezing the conflict. Ukraine doesn’t have the necessary resources to score a military victory, while Russia is not ready to acknowledge their independence. World powers will continue to exchange military warnings but there will be no heavy loss of life…

–Donbass’ return to Ukraine is hardly possible. Especially considering how Kiev views its inhabitants. Kiev wants to “integrate” Donbass using artillery–says the Moscow State University Center for Ukrainian and Belarusian Studies Director Bogdan Bezpalko–Donbass integration with Ukraine would only be possible in the event of its military defeat which might occur should the conflict escalate.

In actuality, the fate of Donbass depends mainly on major world players: US, EU, Russia. They can influence Ukraine’s elite and its relationship with Donbass.

The situation may develop in several ways. The majority of them are unfavorable. Both for Donbass, Ukraine, Russia, and even the West. Modeling the situation depends on the nature of relations between Russia and the West. Therefore the scenarios may change from quarter to quarter. Or even more frequently.

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Svobodnaya Pressa (SP): Are DPR and LPR viable?

–Yes, but only as long as Russia helps them. They are of limited viability as independent states. Incidentally, they never aspired to an independent geopolitical role. DPR and LPR are states which depend on Russia’s support. Just as South Ossetia and Abkhazia did earlier, whose official recognition by Moscow was of considerable help.

SP: Can the republics share the fate of Serb Krajina?
–It all depends on Russia’s position. If Russia helps LPR/DPR, including through military assistance, that scenario is out of the question. One has to keep in mind Ukraine would have to expend considerable resources to break Donbass resistance. Moreover, Krajina did not enjoy the support by either Serbia or by Republika Srpska, which was the Serb state in Bosnia. Abandoned to its fate, the Krajina became easy prey for the Croat army which was well trained by the US. But if DPR and LPR have Russia’s support, retain control over the border with Russia, it won’t share Krajina’s fate. Moreover, Donbass republics have their own record of success against the UAF. The Ilovaysk and Debaltsevo “cauldrons” showed how effective LPR and DPR armies are.

SP: How justified are the hopes that the Ukrainian state will soon collapse?
–Ukraine is descending into a state of socio-economic collapse. This is what makes it different from Croatia, a country with a small population which received powerful financial support from the West. Ukraine has a population of 40 million which is rapidly aging. Industry is degrading. Ukraine is a country on the brink of an abyss. It simply won’t have the resources for military operations. I’d like to remind that the Croatian operation Storm against Krajina took only a few days, but after a lengthy preparation. Therefore even though the operation was costly, its effects were perceptible. Ukraine, on the other hand, is conducting its ATO, it’s spending a lot of money, it’s in the midst of the sixth wave of mobilization. Donbass, which has nothing left to lose, may soon turn out the winner. If it establishes cooperation with Russia, restores control over the port of Mariupol, it will be able to restore its economy and social well-being. DPR and LPR would turn out to be more successful as states than Ukraine.
I want to note that Ukraine’s problems are not due to a bad starting position in economy, culture, human resources. Ukraine in 1991 had colossal resources which were squandered in the most incompetent fashion, which were stolen after the independence. This shows how Ukraine’s leaders view its sovereignty. Ordinary people haven’t gained anything out of independence other than impoverishment, depopulation, and aggressive nationalism.

–The current peace plan, based on Minsk Agreements, is unviable–says Geopolitical Problems Academy Vice President Konstantin Sokolov–The agreements pertain only to the separate parts of LPR and DPR and only regulate the relationship along the frontline. What is more, Kiev is actively torpedoing the agreements. Therefore the conflict can only be resolved through an armed clash. What form will it take? Kiev planned an offensive for May, but it was thwarted. Ukraine today is the center of attention of US, EU, and Russian foreign policy. It’s clear that the offensive would encounter political resistance by BRICS and Shanghai Organization countries.

Right now Ukraine is in a state of unstable balance. There are large groups of foreign mercenaries in the country. But will Kiev decide on a major attack? I think that will become clear by the end of summer.
In my view, the West is coming around to the idea of blaming all the crimes on Poroshenko’s team. It could be replaced by other people.
The state of balance will continue for some time. But ultimately the situation will resolve itself through a social explosion in Ukraine. The country is almost bankrupt and the inconveniences of the war are growing more acute. A group of senior military officers recently defected to the republics. It means that the Kiev regime is losing control even over its means of violence.

SP: But Ukraine is continuing to exist, in spite of the dire forecasts.
–Up to 2004, up to the first “orange revolution”, Ukraine compared well to other post-Soviet republics. Now its living conditions are falling to a level which for some might be below the threshold of survival. If earlier one could have patience, today it’s impossible.
The default could be used by the West to change the country’s leadership.

SP: How will the situation unforld?
–The most likely outcome is Ukraine’s break-up into parts. There are forces in the West interested in seeing it happen. In general, the West’s strategy revolves around breaking up countries. We’ve seen it in Yugoslavia, Libya, Syria. But I wouldn’t draw analogies between Donbass and Krajina or South Ossetia. Donbass is a big region, therefore it’s of greater significance. One also mustn’t forget Russia cannot stand aside in this conflict. I believe that ultimately the West’s strategy will suffer a defeat. National forces in Russia and Ukraine always rise up when the situation is on the brink. Ukraine is the trigger that will change the global strategic situation.

–In order to make forecasts, one first need to examine the present–says Novorossia State-Building Committee Chairman Vladimir Rogov–Poroshenko introduced legislation proposing not decentralization, but legalizing the unfolding lawlessness. The president would get the authority to fire elected officials, which he currently doesn’t have.
On the other hand, we see growing conflicts within the ruling Ukrainian elite. The US are preparing Lvov mayor Sadovyy and former SBU head Nalivaichenko as Poroshenko’s replacements. If Sadovyy comes to power, Ukraine will get a “soft”, Baltic, version of nationalism. If Nalivaichenko, Ukraine will become a “euro-ISIS.”
The new head of the SBU is Vasiliy Gritsak who’s devoted to Poroshenko but utterly incompetent. It’s enough to recall his contribution to the Ilovaysk disaster! Poroshenko is trying to place loyal individuals in key positions. And those who have nowhere to run.
Nevertheless, the “main rat” of Ukraine’s politics Yuriy Lutsenko submitted his resignation from the Poroshenko Block chairman in the Rada. We remember that Lutsenko changed his party affiliation more than once. He always left this or that part on the even of its loss of influence.

SP: Can the Donbass wait long enough to see Ukraine collapse?
–We must wait until the Kiev elite falls apart. There is no doubt that Odessa, Kharkov, Zaporozhye, Lvov, will see the founding of their own people’s republics. Donbass simply needs to get stronger, restore its economy, and push the front line far enough so that the UAF can’t shell its big cities. Soon the people in Kiev and Lvov will be able to free their lands from the current authorities.

SP: What is influence do world powers have on the situation in the Donbass?
–We are entering the phase of direct interaction between the major international players: Russia and US.
But the most important thing is that DPR and LPR model is more attractive than Ukraine. People’s republics have far lower utility rates. People in Ukraine will gradually realize that the Donbass has a more just state than they do.

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