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The Donbas stalemate

01:14, 4-го січня 2021 · Джерело: institutedd.org

The Donbas stalemate
A stalemate has taken hold in the process of conflict settlement in Donbas in the context of Ukrainian-Russian relations. In fact, the reason underlying it is fundamental. It is a hallmark of modern politics, and as a whole is because the public interests are on the sidelines for the elites.

This situation is a consequence of the fact that political actors do not have an organic link with the societies they represent. And the use of clichés like freedom, rights and interests of the population are just elements of the “political language game”.

Today, the political declarations concerning Ukraine and its occupied territories are quite clear: there is no alternative to restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity. However, the national and international developments at present are that such restoring is unlikely to happen in the nearest future. There are both internal and external factors for this. But, despite the complexity of the situation, there are internal preconditions for reintegration and ending the conflict in Ukraine itself.

Internal preconditions for reintegration

All studies of the internal socio-political situation on the uncontrolled territories of Donbas have their limitations; however, they are also an important source of information. More than one study has been conducted on the non-controlled areas, so we will limit our analysis to the most revealing aspects.

There is not much open "internal" sociological data on the situation in the L/DNR. One of the first surveys were conducted by the so-called Center for Sociological Research “Special Status” in 2015-2016. Although the results of this center’s research were quite optimistic about the L/DNR, still in 2015 they showed low support for the “militia” and the DNR, as well as a small number of Russian patriots. At the same time, they confirmed the great importance of the “Donbas identity”, which has always been relevant for the region. In 2015, the Center presented the results of the research about the perception of the socio-economic situation, which has confirmed that there was a disastrous economic situation in Donbas at that time. Thus, according to the results of that study, the problems that required an immediate solution included low incomes of people, the restoration of peace and the end of hostilities, unemployment.

The “external” surveys were conducted by both foreign and Ukrainian companies. The research carried out by the Berlin Center for the Study of Eastern Europe (ZOiS) in 2019 looked even less optimistic for the L/DNR. The study was conducted by the method of telephone interview, according to sampling that reflected the characteristics of L/DNR. The results of the ZOiS showed a significant split in the L/DNR population over the status of these areas. The ratio was as follows: in 2019, 54.5% of respondents were in favor of returning to Ukraine in one form or another, and 45.5% of respondents supported joining the Russian Federation.

Table 1: Status of L / DNR in various studies (2019)

In addition, on both sides of the line of demarcation, there is a common demand for peace, the absence of armed conflict, security, stable and predictable future, and the opening of borders on the line of contact. The population of Donbas on both sides rally around the universal values and preservation of life, security, as well as prospects for economic development. Despite the differences in political views, the common socio-economic situation is a possible basis for reconciliation.

At the same time, the local resource DNR Live in 2019 published the following results of the study on unifying values ​​in Donbas: the main unifying factors for residents of “DNR” and residents of “South-Eastern Ukraine” are: common history (31,6 %), as well as Russian language and culture (for 29, 1%), 14,9% of respondents said that the mentality is the unifying factor. In turn, 12,6% of respondents said that residents of Donbas and South-Eastern Ukraine are united by family ties. 3,2% of respondents named other unifying factors, including common religion and general rejection of Ukrainian nationalism. This also includes a certain percentage of respondents who believe that the residents of the DNR and South-Eastern Ukraine are not united by anything. 8,6% could not answer. The survey was conducted on the streets of Donetsk and Makeyevka in November 2019. In total, 778 respondents were interviewed.

Despite the fact that the territories of Donbas are not completely ideologically lost for Ukraine and there is a great demand among the population to become its part again, the key problem of Donbas on both sides of the line is the delegitimization of political elites, which began in the 90s. It also identified the peculiarities of people’s perception of current events in the region. The dominant belief is that the central government does not represent the interests of society, and the political process is a struggle of various elite groups, and people are the ones who suffer from it. This complicates the promotion of the Ukrainian official agenda in the region. Therefore, for many people in Donbas, the war is not Russian-Ukrainian, but oligarchic. It is the illegitimacy of the central Ukrainian government and its inability to promote cultural policy acceptable to all regions that is the main obstacle to the reintegration of Donbas. And, according to I. Kononov1, it is not the matter of the Donbas being “unique”. Such a situation (conflict, separatism) is likely for Galicia too. It is a matter of not understanding the specifics of Ukraine, which has one of the most complex regional systems in the world. Therefore, the inability of political elites to comprehend this fact makes them incapable of implementing a unifying policy. This opens up the opportunities for various speculations on the part of the Russian Federation, in particular, playing on the historical memory of the region and regional cultural traumas. At the same time, the population of Donbas remains largely loyal to Ukraine and connects its future with it.

Despite the contradictory situation on the uncontrolled territories, people feel that they have fallen victim to the political game and that their interests are being ignored. This is the result of deep social inequalities and is a sign of social division between elites and the population.

The foreign policy pat

Despite the fact that the situation inside Donbas itself provides ample opportunities for reintegration policy, the foreign policy is less favorable. It seems that the main opportunities for the reintegration of Donbas and the return of Crimea are connected with the hopes for Russia’s becoming weak. The negotiation process is not yet focused on the normalization of relations between Ukraine and Russia. The reasons for this are obvious. This is both the domestic political situation in Ukraine and the aggression and hypocrisy of the Putin regime. At present, Ukraine’s focus on reconciliation with Russia is dangerous. Russia is also limited in its ability to cut a deal with Ukraine. Therefore, at first glance, it is paradoxically, but the unfulfilled Minsk agreements are currently quite convenient for both parties. Today, no one doubts that the Minsk agreements, in principle, do not create opportunities for resolving the conflict.

In this context, many questions arise about why Ukraine has agreed to sign and implement these agreements. The main precondition for Ukraine to enter the first Minsk talks was the difficult situation at the front. But not only Ukraine found itself in a difficult position, but also Russia, which was under unprecedented economic pressure from the EU and the United States, which threatened it with internal problems. In addition, it was crucial for Russia to demonstrate its commitment to a peaceful settlement, again, given the policy of Western sanctions.

One of the most controversial points of the Minsk agreements is the so-called “Steinmeier formula”, according to which the conflict was to be resolved by holding local elections in Donbas under the supervision of the OSCE mission, as well as granting temporary special status to certain Donbas territories, an later the permanent special status of these territories. Ukraine does not agree to these conditions, as it sees this as a threat to federalization, which Russia looks forward to.

Thus, the Minsk agreements have a dubious impact on the negotiation process and on the conflict settlement process in general. But it is worth noting that the situation around “Minsk” is quite difficult. This is primarily due to the international significance of the Minsk agreements, which consists of two main aspects: the connection with anti-Russian sanctions, and the condition for Ukraine’s international support.

The most significant reason why Ukraine continues to adhere to the Minsk agreements is that they allow to maintain the policy of sanctions against the Russian Federation as an aggressor country. The importance of the Minsk agreements for Ukraine’s international support was also influenced by Russia itself, which managed to include the agreements in the UN Security Council Resolution 2202, adopted in 2015. Thus, non-compliance with the Minsk agreements is a violation of the UN Security Council resolution.

The Minsk agreements also include an important diplomatic platform, the Normandy format. The Minsk agreements are also linked to the Tripartite Contact Group consisting of Ukraine, Russia and representatives of the People’s Republic of China. With regard to this negotiating platform, it is worth noting that Russia is trying to reduce the role of the “Normandy format” by giving more subjectivity to the “republics”.

Another important aspect of the fundamental non-implementation of the Minsk agreements is the following: they allow Ukrainian elites to always have an excuse for an ineffective reintegration policy. Procrastination of the negotiation process makes the occupied territories permanently “temporary”. This becomes the basis for non-compliance of social obligations too, which deal with the internally displaced people who are also “temporarily” displaced.

But in addition, the most important obstacle to ending the conflict and restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity is that the main problem has not been resolved – Ignoring the interests of the population. In fact, the perception of the population of this conflict as a struggle of elite groups, complete distrust for the government, the social division between it and the rest of society reflect the nature of the social system of both Ukraine and Russia. Political elites in both countries are guided by other goals and interests, which surprisingly rarely coincide with the interests of the people. At the same time, patterns of interpretation of events are imposed through aggressive propaganda campaigns that affect the traumatic experience of the population.

This fundamental contradiction is the main obstacle to peace. The social structure of Ukraine and Russia determines bilateral relations, the nature of which currently does not meet the interests of society. And it seems that the prospects for resolving this contradiction are rather vague. The problem of Donbas is a symptom of common disease, which is a consequence of the contradictions of the modern world system. Thus, resolving the existing conflicts and preventing the new ones involves little more than negotiating between the key players. Today there is a demand to reform social regimes, in which politics is a tool to serve the interests of ruling groups, rather than protecting the interests of society. And this problem is complicated by the fact that we are not talking about individual countries, but about the global economic system, which is derived from the existing format of international relations.

1. Mass consciousness in the zone of military conflict in the Donbas/ ed. I.F. Kononov; DZ " Taras Shevchenko Luhansk National University" - Vinnytsia, LLC "TVORY", 2018. – 230 p.

Olekdsandr Kovtun
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