Poroshenko’s new pet legal project could mean war with Russia

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June 21, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

On June 19th, Ukrainian President Poroshenko announced plans to submit a bill on “reintegrating Donbass” to the Verkhovna Rada. For now the whole content of the document remains unknown to the general public, but Poroshenko’s administration will likely organize a leak of certain parts of the bill. Nevertheless, on the basis of information that has become known to the media, two conclusions can be drawn as to key provisions of the bill.

First of all, the document will spell out a new legal regime for the actions of Ukrainian troops. The current law part of the so-called “Anti-Terrorist Operation” gives the right-of-way to the SBU (the political police and counter-intelligence). According to this new bill, the leadership of the operation in Donbass will henceforth be the burden of the military, particularly the General Staff. All military and civilian organizations will be subject to them. 

If this document will be adopted, then martial law will also be imposed in certain territories in Donbass, i.e., the territory of the DPR and LPR uncontrolled by Ukrainian authorities. This would limit freedom of movement, assembly, the press, political freedoms, etc. All power would belong to the Ukrainian military.

Secondly, as far as can be seen, Kiev is proposing incentives and concessions to the residents of the self-proclaimed Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics to be given after Ukrainian control over these territories is re-established. Currently, the residents of the DPR and LPR are de facto deprived of their hard-earned Ukrainian pensions. The citizens of the DPR and LPR who won’t be exterminated during the imminent Ukrainian offensive and don’t flee might end up receiving such benefits, i.e., they would simply be given the money that Ukrainian authorities stole from them before, such as pensions and social payments. Let us recall in passing that the average pension in Ukraine is now 1,400 hryvnia, or approximately $50.

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Figuratively speaking, the plan proposed by President Poroshenko’s entourage means employing the carrot and stick approach to the people of Donbass. The stick is very real, while the carrot is stale and small. Yet Poroshenko needs a carrot for the people of Donbass insofar as Ukrainian authorities and Poroshenko himself have repeatedly promised only punishment. The president of “united Ukraine” himself is infamous for his threat to drive the children of Donbass into basements. Now, however, he needs to look like a benefactor for the very people who have been bombed and starved on his orders. This is required by the rules of decency in the international arena. It is probably no accident that talk of such a piece of legislation started literally right before Poroshenko’s visit to Washington. We will most likely hear Poroshenko’s argument from the mouth of Secretary of State Tillerson as proof of Kiev’s peaceful intentions. 

The reputation of a peacemaker is something that Poroshenko needs in the external arena. Domestically, the public is very militant and demands blood. Here Poroshenko’s “peacemaking” plan conflicts with the plan of his “sworn friends” from the People’s Front Party (which together with the Petro Poroshenko Bloc makes up the ruling coalition in the Verkhovna Rada). This includes the man who unleashed the war in Donbass, National Defense and Security Secretary Turchynov, and interior minister Avakov and Rada speaker Parubiy. Alternative proposals for imposing martial law and abolishing the ATO are coming out of this group, first and foremost from Turchynov’s lips.

Insofar as the scraps of information available and our knowledge of the workings of Ukraine allow, we can say that there are no fundamental differences between these two projects. The only difference is in the rhetoric. Poroshenko is forced to sit on two chairs and simultaneously act as a peacemaker (for Western public opinion) and as a militarist (for Ukrainians). The People’s Front leaders are spared from having to behave so hypocritically and can therefore look like more consistent, more militant punishers, and that is exactly how they look. Poroshenko’s plan is still a plan of genocide of the people of Donbass, only in a less militaristic packaging. 

All together, I believe that this speaks to the fact that Kiev is steadily preparing the legislative grounds for a new offensive operation against Donbass, and possibly for war with Russia. Control is being handed over from the SBU to the army, which means that the UAF’s enemy could end up being not only the Donbass republics (which the SBU and interior ministry are legally responsible for), but Russia. An army, after all, is used to fight an external enemy. 

It is no coincidence that Poroshenko’s circle is now no longer talking about fighting “terrorists”, but about “de-occupying” Donbass. Purely military preparations already began much earlier, such as concentrating manpower and military equipment and vehicles near the demarcation line, and the endless seizures of “grey zones” like the recent fighting near Zhelebok. Of course, not everything depends on the Ukrainian government. What Poroshenko is told in the White House is very important. However, the chances of peace are slim, as Poroshenko’s legislative project clearly shows. 

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