Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
The leaders of the DPR and LPR are in Crimea, where their visit is organized at such a high level that there are no doubts about a sharp increase of the status of the Republics. The Kremlin once again showed its habitual tactics in the Ukrainian crisis and in general on the international arena: to work asymmetrically and to use the energy of the opposite side.
On March 15th, on the eve of the third anniversary of the Crimean referendum, the leaders of the DPR and LPR Aleksandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitsky arrived on the peninsula. In this event the most interesting thing is not so much the fact of the trip itself (information that the leaders of the Republics informally come to Russia appears in the media from time to time), but how this trip is presented.
Firstly, the visit is declared as official – to participate in the Crimean celebrations on the occasion of the reunion with Russia, and Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky are received on the peninsula at the level of the head of the region. In addition, the leaders of the DPR and LPR participated in a constituent meeting of the integration committee “Donbass — Russia”, which took place on March 17th in Livadia Palace.
Secondly, the trip is accompanied by a phenomenal level of exposure by the media and by the media activity of the Republic’s leaders themselves. The fact alone of their participation at the festive meeting and the holding of a press conference in Simferopol, and also the dense attention to this from the leading Russian media is extremely indicative.
Thirdly, the statements of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky impressed not only because of their radical pro-Russianness, but because of the open declaration of Donbass’ belonging to Russia. And the name of the structure that was created on March 17th openly hints at this.
In particular, the head of the DPR stated that Russia is the Motherland both for Crimea and Donbass, and the celebrated anniversary is a common holiday both for the Republics and the peninsula, and for all of Russia.
Such a level of the trip of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky doesn’t leave doubts that the Kremlin sharply lifted the status of the Republics. It became the second large-scale step of Russia after the temporary recognition of documents of DPR and LPR, which happened a month ago. Thus, the visit of leaders of the Republics was organized maximally demonstratively to cause extreme irritation in Kiev. This speaks volumes – the fact that the visit was dated for the next anniversary of the reunion of Crimea with Russia, and the fact that there were numerous hints that Donbass will go along the same path.
If recognition of the Republics’ documents by Russia took place against the background of a military aggravation in Donbass, and the demonstrative unwillingness of Kiev to change something in this regard, then the background for the visit of the Republic’s leaders to Crimea wasn’t less indicative:
1. The President of Ukraine transferred to the State level the actions of radicals, who blockade the connection between Ukraine and Donbass, and officially introduced the transport blockade of the Republics.
2. Petro Poroshenko approved sanctions proposed by the National Bank of Ukraine concerning five structures of the Russian banks – Sberbank, Prominvestbank, VTB, VS Bank, BM Bank. It became the transfer to the State level of the excessive actions of radicals concerning the Ukrainian “subsidiary” of Sberbank.
3. Kiev demanded to cancel the decree on the recognition of passports of the Republics of Donbass by Russia.
In essence, the trip of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky to the peninsula is a model example of “political judo”, which the Kremlin likes to use so much: economy of efforts and resources during a confrontation, and also using the energy of the enemy against itself. After numerous hostile lunges towards Russia, the Kremlin is making an asymmetric step in an absolutely different sphere, which shows the very serious consequences in reality and at the same time has a huge symbolical effect. Moreover, such a step is often destined to serve as a demonstrative “slap in the face” to the opposite side, and also to remind that it is useless to speak with Russia in the language of ultimatums.
Aleksandr Zakharchenko at a press conference in Simferopol stated that the blockade declared by Kiev against the proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics doesn’t incite the inhabitants of Donbass, and is an internal affair of Ukraine. However, it is already not so much a political decision, but just an assertion of reality.
The more the process progresses, the more it becomes obvious that it isn’t Russia who takes away Donbass from Ukraine. Kiev itself, step by step, tears off the Republics from itself (it is surprising that it prefers to do it in a masochistic style – “to cut the tail up piece-by-piece”, but this is a matter of taste), while the Kremlin simply adopts the decisions of Ukraine, taking the correcting steps for the compensation of the most negative consequences.
The visit of Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky to Crimea bears an obvious political signal: according to Moscow, Ukraine is on the path of degradation, while the Republics, on the path of development, passed the next critically significant point.
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