October 3, 2016 –
By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – translated by J. Arnoldski –
On October 2nd, citizens of the Donbass republics voted in primaries to determine candidates for local elections. In the DPR, 1095 people are competing for candidate status to participate in local elections. Today it became clear that the final turnout for voting in the primaries in the Donetsk People’s Republic alone was more than 370,500 voters. The turnout for primary voting in the Lugansk People’s Republic on October 2nd was more than 61,000 people. This was reported by the Provisional Election Commission after the completing of the vote county. Earlier, LPR head Igor Plotnitsky called on citizens to take active part in the primaries, which he called “training elections,” to determine the most deserving candidates to occupy local government posts and wield state power in the future.
In my opinion, these “training elections” are important for the republics first and foremost for foreign policy goals. First of all, they show the international community that the self-proclaimed republics can hold elections on their territory that meet all democratic standards. Secondly, they send a clear message to Kiev and the European members of the Normandy Four (France and Germany): “Look what will happen if Ukraine continues to delay fulfilling its part of the Minsk Agreements.”
While in Kiev on September 15th, French Foreign Minister Ayrault announced a “road map” for settling the conflict in Donbass. The order specified in it meant that first the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine should adopt a law on granting “certain regions of Donbass” a special status and their holding of elections. Then Ayrault’s plan contained a clause on transferring the border with Russia, currently under the control of the DPR and LPR armies, over to Kiev.
It is so far unknown how the foreign ministers of France and Germany have reacted to the holding of primaries in the Donbass republics. Earlier, I suggested that the preliminary vote would be condemned by Paris and Berlin as contradicting the Minsk Agreements. In turn, the republics of Donbass could rebuke France and Germany for Ukraine’s lack of progress in realizing its part of agreements, including matters relating to elections.
In September, Ukraine announced that it was concerned by the organization of primary elections in the DPR and believed that this does not correspond with the Minsk Agreements. On September 20th, the first deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Irina Gerashchenko, stated that elections in the DPR and LPR could take place only after the onset of a “lasting peace,” complete disarmament of the militia, and Kiev’s control over the border between Ukraine and Russia. In other words, the Rada’s vice speaker turned Ayrault’s plan and the Minsk Agreements, which clearly specify the order of steps to be taken by each side of the conflict, upside down.
I had previously forecasted that Ukraine would rush to blame the Donbass republics of no more nor less than disrupting the Minsk Agreements. This is precisely what has happened. Rada Vice Speaker Gerashchenko has stated that “the Ukrainian side considers all of these ‘primaries’ to be yet another attempt at insolently disrupting the Minsk process…Pseudo-electoral bodies have been created on the occupied territories without observers and media, without Ukrainian politicians and parties…What is happening is a farce.”
But what Gerashchenko said does not correspond to reality. In the LPR alone, a total of 84 observers from 17 countries, including France, Germany, Finland, Italy, and a number of other countries, monitored the preparations and holding of the primaries. Accreditation for covering the vote was granted to 164 media outlets’ representatives. This means that more favorable conditions for holding democratic elections were created in the republics than in the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine, during which bothersome candidates were beaten and polling stations were seized by force.
The opinion of the Ukrainian side does not in fact interest the republics of Donbass. Quite another matter is the position of the international community. Despite the biased opinion of Western countries, the Donbass republics are least of all interested in doing anything for which they can be blamed of disrupting the Minsk Agreements. Hence why on September 22nd, Lugansk People’s Republic head Igor Plotnitsky did not rule out that local elections could be postponed to spring of 2017.
As my sources from the LPR have reported, the elections will most likely be postponed to a later date. No active election campaign has been held to this date and there is little more than a month until the previously announced election day of November 6th.
Yet another postponement of elections is a clear and predictable but unpleasant process. The West should not be given any reason to accuse the republics of Donbass of disrupting the Minsk Agreements, but I still consider postponing them to be a mistake. The elections, if scheduled for spring 2017, could be postponed further to autumn 2017, and so on and so forth. This would mean that Ukraine dictates the rules of the game and that only it has the right to violate the Minsk Agreements. This is hardly a correct strategy or tactic.