Why Ukraine’s New “Reintegration” Law Means War is Coming – Part 2


January 24, 2018 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

Continued from Part 1 

Ukraine’s new “reintegration” law has been unambiguously perceived as an act of preparation for war in Donbass not only by Russia, but also some European countries. In a special comment on the matter, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the Verkhovna Rada’s new bill on “reintegrating” Donbass confirms suspicions that Kiev wants to resolve the “problem” of the territories not under its control by military force. The reintegration law contradicts the Minsk Agreements and gives Ukrainian President Poroshenko “unlimited, close to dictatorial powers to suppress dissent and discontent.” The foreign ministry’s document additionally stresses that there is no other way to see this law other than as an act of preparation for war. Russia’s legislators have offered similar evaluations of the bill.

Kiev’s new law has also been met with suspicion in Germany, which is one of the official guarantors of the Minsk Agreements. The German government, represented by its head of information, Steffen Seibert, stated that Berlin intends to “check” the new Donbass reintegration law. According to Seibert, the reason for the need to carefully inspect this law and its implications is that the bill puts the Minsk Agreements on the back burner. 

Meanwhile, in Ukrainian expert circles, the view is widespread that the the “reintegration” law is geared towards the domestic political situation as a means of temporarily appeasing the Nazi street movements. This view, however, is discredited by an analysis of the political and military situation in the Anti-Terrorist Operation zone, which can summarize as follows. 

Ukraine’s military command has concentrated all of its manpower and vehicles along the borders of the Donbass republics. Over the course of all of 2017, Ukrainian, DPR, and LPR information resources periodically published reports on the movement of Ukrainian army units out of Ukraine’s interior districts and towards the frontline to the point of even leaving Ukraine’s border with the West, i.e., the EU countries of Eastern Europe, practically exposed. 

We also know that in 2017, UAF units that had been serving along the border with Russian Crimea were deployed to Donbass. Reports have also suggested the presence in the ATO zone of military vehicles and equipment from the quarantine zone of the Chernobyl disaster. First of all, the use of such equipment threatens the health and lives of Ukrainian soldiers, which is either a sign of desperation or preparation for loss of life – or both. Secondly, the technical condition of such hardware should also be taken into account. The employment of such equipment produced in the 1980’s and long outworn its use suggests that Ukraine is mobilizing all available resources for a concentrated assault, a blitzkrieg, against the republics of Donbass. Equipment from the Chernobyl quarantine zone and other unsuitable hardware might be intended as a first wave to break through the DPR and LPR’s first line of defense. As far as we can tell, the lion’s share of these weapons (and the combat crews operating them) are thus pawns to be destroyed in the first assault wave. From discussions with my friends in Donetsk, I’ve also heard of the arrival to the demarcation line of Buk anti-aircraft rocket systems. 

In addition, in 2017, Ukraine is known to have worked on improving its mobilization plans, such as accelerating the training of junior officers, whose deficit has been keenly felt in the ATO zone. The graduates of the military departments of civilian universities are to receive accelerated four-month programs, upon the completion of which they’ll achieve the ranking of junior officers. Thus, the UAF aims to eliminate the shortage of officer corps in Donbass, and the graduates of military departments are to be mobilized in the event of a new conflict. 

More resources for mobilization have been found in the face of ATO veterans, who have completed their military service or gone into the reserves.  Meanwhile, President Poroshenko has announced that the Ukrainian military budget’s expenditures in 2018 will increase by 37%, or to $732 million. This sharp increase in military spending is to come at the expense of cuts to social programs.

Important reports further confirming that Kiev is brewing militaristic plans arrived at the end of 2017 and over literally the past several days. In late 2017, it came to light that the US and Canada have decided to supply Kiev with lethal weapons. In January 2018, first a speech by President Poroshenko and then the words of an employee of the US State Department revealed that the United States intends to afford Ukraine military aid at the expense of the US’ own budget. In an interview with the Russian news agency TASS, an American diplomat confirmed that Kiev will be given defensive anti-tank weapons, including Javelin missile systems. These missile systems are called “defensive” only in order to avoid accusations of militarization in the region and suspicions of aggression against Donbass. But this does not change the fact that Javelin systems have been desired in Ukrainian military circles for offensive operations for quite some time. A number of expert publications in Russian media, as well as the Russian foreign ministry, have pointed out the “coincidence” between Kiev’s adoption of the “reintegration” law and the news that the US will be supplying offensive weapons.

Another important event took place on January 21st. The 128th Mountain-Infantry Mukachevo brigade left their positions in the ATO and returned – with all their weapons – to their permanent base positions in the Transcarpathian region. It is still unknown whether these Carpathian troops did this on their own initiative, or on ATO orders, but if this was indeed their own “mutiny,” then this might serve as indirect proof that the conflict will escalate in the near future – whether in the next 2-3 weeks or months – and that some Ukrainian troops are aware of and want to avoid such a fate. 

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Now allow me to express my own understanding of the aims of the “reintegration” bill. The Poroshenko Administration which prepared the “reintegration” bill, has with this document in effect established the legal foundations for war with Russia. 

Poroshenko himself is not objectively interested in escalating the conflict insofar as he perfectly understands the disparity between Ukrainian and Russian military capacities. Hostilities between the two countries would result in a very rapid defeat of Ukraine and, in the best case scenario, the fleeing of the head of the Ukrainian state. The recent scandal surrounding Poroshenko possessing spare passports confirms that he is prepared to flee Ukrainian territory if or when the time comes. 

Nor is Poroshenko interested in Ukraine reasserting control over the territory of the Donbass republics, as in this case, Poroshenko would automatically face the threat of a third, Nazi Maidan. With no “external enemy,” Ukrainian Nazi groups would turn their weapons on what they call the “internal enemy” – the Poroshenko regime and the Jewish oligarchs. This scenario is even more dangerous for Poroshenko, since his chances of survival are reduced to a minimum.

Nevertheless, despite all the obvious risks, Poroshenko opted to push this law through even the most grueling parliamentary procedures. Most likely, this was done under strong pressure from the Americans, who are not satisfied with the excessively “peace-weary” Ukrainian president. These aims probably also explain the adventure with the defective Maidan coordinated by Saakashvili, whose aim is not overthrowing, but intimidating the existing government. 

Why might the Americans need or want a new war in Donbass, especially with the prospect of it developing into a full-fledged war with Russia? What are Russia’s projected retaliations to Ukrainian and American provocations? It is not difficult to see that Russia’s being drawn into a conflict in order to prevent genocide in Donbass – about which President Putin warned last October – would, no matter what, be portrayed by the US and European countries as an act of Russian aggression. This, after all, was the case with the operation to save Russian peacekeepers and the population of South Ossetia from Georgian aggression in 2008, which Western media presented as a Russian military invasion of Georgia. In this case, now gradually improving Russian-European relations would be thrown back again far and for long. The US needs and wants this. 

Another possible motive could be disrupting and discrediting the Russian presidential elections set for March 18th.

Finally, a full-fledged war between Russia and Ukraine would make any rapprochement between the two countries psychologically impossible at least for the next few decades. 

I think that, no matter what, there are only two options: either Russia will refrain from involvement in the conflict in Donbass and allow Ukraine to blitzkrieg the DPR and LPR, or Russia will enter the conflict and defend the population of Donbass. The strategic advantage is on the Americans’ side. Russia is in the position of having to react and play according to someone else’s rules.

I believe that the second scenario is the only realistic option if Ukraine does unleash full-scale military aggression against Donbass. Any withdrawal from the situation in Donbass would fundamentally contradict Putin’s foreign policy and would destroy the political results of the “Crimean consensus” over night. It is difficult to predict what the presidential elections’ results would be after such an outcome to the Donbass drama. 

It should not be forgotten, moreover, that the Ukrainians (and their American patrons) are not content with regaining Donbass. Having taken Donbass, they will prepare for a rematch in Crimea as well. Therefore, Russian President Vladimir Putin has no other options besides realizing the stand he took in October of last year when he declared that Russia would not allow a massacre in Donbass. 

Russia was not afraid of challenging the United States in the latter’s stomping ground – the Middle East – where Russia won an important, albeit intermediate victory. Moreover, Russia is not afraid to challenge the American Empire in the region most important for her – Donbass. The economic and other (not military!) disparities between the US and Russia will be balanced by Russians’ determination to take extreme measures. 

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War in Donbass is not a question of “if”, but “when.” 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation. 

Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Research Masters in Religious Studies and Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 

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