“Kiev Is Running Out of Time”: Why Donbass Expects Serious Changes in 2017

Translated by Ollie Richardson



The Minsk agreements were automatically extended for the next year. When the year ends, not a single point will have been fulfilled. In Donbass the armed conflict hasn’t stopped, and Ukraine didn’t adopt the law on elections and the special status of the uncontrolled territories. Despite this, the unrecognized republics live in expectation that the situation will change for the better. The material of RT discusses this optimism.

The present situation with the fulfillment of the Minsk arrangements of February 12th, 2015, looks to be in a very sad state. The work of the contact group in the Belarusian capital has practically stopped. The economic subgroup hasn’t worked for the last half a year, and the other three are occupied with setting the agenda. As a result, the DPR and LPR are forced to curtail further cooperation with Ukraine.

These are the results of the Minsk process, which were outlined by plenipotentiaries of the unrecognized republics Denis Pushilin (DPR) and Vladislav Deynego (LPR) at a press conference of the TASS agency in Moscow. Last week practically on all the frontline fighting with the use of heavy equipment resumed, but on December 21st the Minsk group reached an agreement on the renewal as of December 24th of the ceasefire regime, although it has to be observed constantly.

“Odds were low”

The most violent confrontations happened in the so-called Svetlodarsk arc, 20km from Debaltsevo. From December 18th to December 20th, with the assistance of artillery (the use of which is forbidden by “Minsk-2”) the 54th separate mechanized brigade of the Ukrainian Armed Forces were able to push aside the 2nd corps of the LPR people’s militia. The Ukrainian military occupied several settlements in the demilitarized zone.

The Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine claims that from December 19th to December 25th, near Svetlodarsk, 18 militiamen were killed. UAF losses amounted to nine people killed, 35 wounded. The LPR believes that Kiev hides the real number of those killed. On December 21st, the representative of LPR people’s militia Andrey Marochko reported about 40 killed soldiers of the Armed Forces.

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The following day the head of the Lugansk People’s Republic Igor Plotnitsky reported that “about 150 Ukrainian servicemen paid with their lives and health for Poroshenko’s adventurism”. According to him, the UAF more than 20 times stormed militia positions. Houses of Debaltsevo weren’t damaged, but four shells landed within the city limits.

According to Denis Pushilin, the UAF sought to occupy the commanding heights and to take under their control the M04 highway (Znamyanka-Krasnodon): “The odds there were low, I.e. the leadership (of Ukraine), naturally, understood that there would be big losses. Nevertheless it was never considered. I regard this provocation as an attempt of the “party of war” to become involved in full-scale hostilities”.

Vladislav Deynego believes that the situation at the Svetlodarsk arc was comparable to what developed in the winter of 2015 when the UAF and militia met in combat at Donetsk airport and then Debaltsevo. Anna Soroka, the Lugansk human rights activist who is engaged in recording the attacks in the LPR reported that three areas of the proclaimed republic and the city of Pervomaisk now suffer from exploding shells.

Public figure and businessman Boris Rymar noted that in 2016 Kiev strengthened the economic blockade, compelling local businessmen to break business connections with their Ukrainian partners. “Ukrainian checkpoints at any time can stop, deploy, take away at any time (freight) or charge a fee for the admission of people and goods,” he noted.

“Old approaches don’t work any more”

Despite the lack of progress in negotiations on “Minsk-2”, the envoy of the DPR Denis Pushilin assumes that in 2017 the situation can change for the best because of the arrival to the White House of the new President:

“Kiev doesn’t have a lot of time. The USA closed its eyes and encouraged all the thoughtless and brutal acts from the leadership of Kiev. In my opinion, the situation, if not dramatically, will unambiguously change with Donald Trump’s inauguration”.

Pushilin said that Ukrainian diplomats at negotiations of the contact group can’t hide their nervousness. In his opinion, they “perfectly understand and realize that old approaches don’t work any more, and they still don’t have any new ones”. The head of the Center for Current Politics Alexey Chesnakov participating together with him in the TASS conference added that Ukraine is a “slave state”, and therefore changes in the West can’t but be reflected in the behavior of Kiev.

“We have already seen the results of elections in the US, Moldova, and Georgia. The attitude to the settlement of the conflict in Donbass and the conflicts in all the former Soviet Union will change. This year we witnessed the failings of Eurointegration of Ukraine. In April there was the Dutch referendum, a disaster for Kiev, and in December Brussels made the decision not to accept Ukraine to the EU in the course of European integration,” said Chesnakov.

Political analyst Denis Denisov agreed with his colleague. He is sure that in 2016 the European elite started to reinterpret relations with Ukraine. “Actions of the European politicians on the Ukrainian issue were in many respects a derivative of US policy. But a number of significant events shows us a reversal from Ukraine. Brexit became a painful blow for Kiev. A successful European state made the decision to leave the EU. How to explain this to their own citizens?” asked Denisov.

“The proposed conditions for the introduction of a visa-free regime, it is possible to say, are a manifestation of the rudeness towards Kiev. Whatever Europe had as excuses, all this reduces Ukraine to a state in the category of not understanding its type. It seems to me that the extension of sanctions against Russia this year, which Kiev stood up for, may be the last. Europe itself perfectly understands that the sanctions didn’t fulfill the task for which it was introduced,” he continued.

Waiting for Trump

Of course, in 2017 many things in implementation of the Minsk arrangements can change. Two member-countries of the Normandy Format (France and Germany) will hold elections, and in these states the probability of a change of leadership is great.

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Political analysts predict the coming to power in France of right-wing forces, in particular, a victory of the Republican party and its candidate in the presidential elections François Fillon, who is distinguished by good relations with the Russian President Vladimir Putin. In Germany the situation is not so unambiguous, but the left-wing party and chancellor Angela Merkel have already included conservative ideas in their pre-election rhetoric, and refrain from criticising Russia.

The emergence of Donald Trump in the White House will become the main event that is undoubtedly capable of seriously changing the situation with “Minsk-2”.

Before the November elections in the USA, the Ukrainian media, political analysts, and some government officials launched a campaign in support of Hillary Clinton. Ukrainian journalists and politicians quite often laughed at the extravagant Republican, and even insulted him.

For example, in July the Interior Minister of Ukraine Arsen Avakov published a harsh post on Facebook, which was removed after the news of Trump’s victory.

It is unknown how attentively Trump’s staff followed events in the Ukrainian information and political space, but it isn’t excluded that such attacks will be considered or are already being considered in a new strategy of American-Ukrainian relations.

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