Donbass: the end of the war is near?

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A view of the Victory Day parade in Donetsk. “IMMORTAL HEROES of the DONETSK PEOPLES REPUBLIC”
The crowd at the Donetsk May 9 Victory day parade

Sputnik Italy, May 13, 2016
Tatiana Santi interviews Eliseo Bertolasi. 
Translation from Italian by Tom Winter, May 15, 2014

The totals for the war in the Donbass, happily ignored in the West, are extremely serious: an estimated 10,000 victims of the bombings and millions of refugees left without a home. For now, the truce is holding; is the end of the war near? The fighting in the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk has entered a phase of low intensity compared to previous months; snipers exchange shots on the front line between militia and Ukraine forces. Despite a complex humanitarian situation in many areas of Donbass, the cities of Donetsk and Lugansk are returning to pre-war rhythms. Sputnik Italy reached the reporter and analyst at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Geopolitics (ISAG) Eliseo Bertolasi, who takes stock of the situation directly from the Donbass.

– You’ve been at the front lines, is the fighting continuing? What is the situation on the front?
– I was on the front line, on the side of the People’s Republic of Lugansk, in a suburb called Sokolniki. There, the front and the border are along the North Donets River. The positions are taken up in the ruins of the utterly destroyed houses — the village is abandoned. 

The fighters I’ve met in the country have told me that there is no intense fighting in recent days, there are only spot battles, then simply an exchange of shots between the snipers on the respective parts of the front. The situation has improved, there is no doubt.

– The positions though stabilized, have not been abandoned by the combattants. The war is not over, then?

– Of course, although this war has entered a phase of low intensity, still, the situation is uncertain, one can not know how it will end.

– You are now in Donetsk, tell us how life is in the city. Has it resumed the pace of the past?

– The districts at the north of Donetsk remain destroyed and more or less abandoned. It will take years to rebuild them and bring them back to their pre-war state. The rest of the town is back almost to way the city of Donetsk was before the war.

Today everything is working, restaurants, pharmacies, I have not seen a shortage of anything. Nothing is missing. The only problems are related to the banks: because they are closed, it is complicated to make transitions.

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– What currency is used today in the Donbass?

– Both in Lugansk and in Donetsk they are using the ruble. You just don’t see hryvnia any more. The official language is Russian, the time zone is that of Moscow, and also the calendar of civil holidays is the Russian one. 

In fact, the May 9 Victory Day was celebrated with even more emphasis than in the past. I was present at the celebrations of Donetsk, I had to get a permit to film, but there weren’t any problems getting it. If I can describe it with an adjective, the Donetsk parade was great [grandiosa!] the way it was organized, the number of departments marching in it, there was even a platoon of women.

– What struck you most about it?

 – The vast popular participation in this event, I’m talking about thousands of people who flocked to the barriers to be able to see the parade of their armed forces, with the greatest joy and enthusiasm. 

This should give pause to those who continue to say, especially in the West that the regions are under military occupation. It is unfortunate that these people were not present at these events, because it is impossible to assume an occupation of a foreign military force and at the same time to see such a great popular enthusiasm.

– How might the situation develop, in your opinion?

– You can not even talk about a definitive peace any more. There is a situation of truce, which by definition is a suspended war. I am convinced that this war can only be resolved at the level of international diplomacy with the most important actors, I’m saying Russia on one side and the US on the other. Pondering as a geopolitical analyst, I consider that the war in Donbass should be included in a broader context, a situation now of great tension between the United States, NATO and Russia on a front that essentially starts from the Baltic Republics and extends to Turkey and Syria.

The civilians obviously want peace, but they also want their independence. It’s amazing how the Lugansk and Donetsk regions have now become a real country with functioning government structures and ministries. The administration and local leaders have made great strides in transforming the regions and structuring them into an independent country. In two years they did this miracle from a political and administrative point of view of the internal management of the territory. This regardless of international recognition, which is a whole different issue.

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