Despite the actualization of the Donbass topic, caused by President Poroshenko's advancement of the initiative to introduce the UN peacekeepers into the conflict zone, which has become a new subject for negotiations between the USA and Russia, and a reason for the activation of Berlin and Paris, there is no real progress in this matter. In fact, Kyiv and Moscow show lack of readiness for a real resolution of the Donbass conflict. The initiative to introduce the UN peacekeepers into the conflict zone is used by both sides to prolong the time and demonstrate their peaceable disposition and progress in implementing the Minsk agreements. However, in fact, both sides use the conflict to solve their internal and geopolitical problems. Russia augments efforts (both military and political) to establish the control over Ukraine in the future (more likely, after 2018 presidential elections). And President Poroshenko uses it to strengthen personal power. Against this backdrop, a favorable situation develops to aggravate the domestic political situation in Ukraine, the reason for which may be the expected adoption of a bill on changing the ATO format for defence from Russian aggression.
Despite the strengthening of sanctions against Russia and the Kremlin's demonstration of readiness to discuss the issue of introducing peacekeepers to the Donbass, Moscow has not dropped plans to subjugate Kyiv and prepares to use military power among other things. The army can be used by the Kremlin as an instrument of psychological pressure and political blackmail, as well as for the direct offensive operations.
In particular, the nature of the latest exercises of the Russian troops (development of attack scenarios), tactics, peculiarities of re-equipment and regular formation of armies, corps and brigades indicate that Moscow plans to use the armed forces exclusively in offensive operations. At the same time, the Russian Federation believes that presence of nuclear weapons guarantees it external military security. An example of the impunity of North Korea, which has a much smaller nuclear capacity, reinforces this confidence in Moscow.
Alongside Zapad 2017 exercises, which were supposed to demonstrate the danger of supporting Ukraine to the West, the FSB conducted "civil defence" exercises throughout the territory of Russia (selectively). Secret services of the Russian Federation carried out a sudden evacuation of citizens from administrative premises, theatres, schools and other public places without announcing that the alarm was educational. This indicates the preparation of the Russian Federation for a possible war with the enemy, capable of conducting rocket and bomb attacks throughout the territory of Russia including the regions of Siberia.
The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation prepared a bill on the call of citizens during the war. It is planned to amend the law "On Defence" and "On Military Service". The number of Russians who will be called into service during the war is not indicated in the bill. The General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation will determine the number of conscript personnel by itself, as well as the service branches of the Armed Forces where the call will be carried out.
Another demonstration of power of the Russian Federation and its pressure on Kyiv is that on the birthday of Petro Poroshenko, fires were set at strategic ammunition depots in his virtual motherland, in the Vinnytsia oblast. This "firework" indicates the ease with which Russians can subject to sabotage and terrorist attacks the entire territory of Ukraine. It is possible to suppose that this sabotage was demonstrative and was carried out with the aim of discrediting the idea of transferring lethal weapons to Kyiv, which Ukraine, allegedly, still cannot protect against destruction, in the eyes of the USA.
For the same purpose - discrediting Ukraine in Washington - another information sabotage was organized in the form of accusations of Kyiv in selling weapons to South Sudan. According to our information, Ukraine did not sell arms to Sudan, and no corresponding international sanctions were applied to Sudan itself.
Russia's purposeful attacks on the defence capacity of Ukraine, which are expressed in information subversions and direct destruction of ammunition and military equipment depots (there are four such cases over three years), - suggest Moscow's preparations for possible military confrontation.
At the same time, the Kremlin continues to insist on direct negotiations between Kyiv and the leaders of the puppet "DNR" and "LNR", striving for the de facto legitimation of the "republics" by Kyiv and strengthening the status of "internal" and "civil war" over the conflict in this way. It seems clear that this demand is unacceptable for Kyiv as it threatens with internal political crisis. It is this demand of Moscow that will lead to a dead end negotiations on the introduction of peacekeepers to the Donbass. The Kremlin, using the right of veto in the UN Security Council, torpedoes any initiatives of Kyiv and Washington, if they help to reduce Moscow's influence in the territories it had occupied.
In this situation, Kyiv and Washington should use the peacekeepers discussion to draw Moscow into unpromising negotiations, in order to gain time and use it to strengthen the Ukrainian army and purposefully weaken the enemy both economically and politically. At the same time, it is necessary to seek real mechanisms for de-escalating the military conflict and returning Ukrainian sovereignty to the territories, occupied by Russia.
Ukrainian domestic political factor
The unprecedentedly high activity of Ukrainian diplomacy and President Poroshenko personally in the discussion of the possibility of introducing the UN peacekeeping forces to Ukraine testifies that Poroshenko and his team made a conscious decision not to return the occupied territories by transferring the issue to the plane of diplomatic discussions with the gradual freezing of the conflict and the creation of an enclave of Russia in it.
Taking into account quite predictable position of the Russian Federation in the UN Security Council and the unpreparedness of the West to "fight for Ukraine", it is obvious that the "plan" with peacekeepers is deliberately utopian and pursues an internal political goal – to create the appearance of a struggle with aggression for agitation purposes on the eve of the election campaign. It is important for the authorities to demonstrate progress in solving the problem, which 68% of residents consider the main factor of social tension. 74% of the population blame authorities for it.
In other words, one should not expect the peacekeeping mission, envisaged by the UN Charter, in the foreseeable future, but there will be an imitation of the problem's solution with periodic "peace initiatives" at the international level.
Even the number of peacekeepers indicates the unreality of this plan. The Ministry for Temporary Occupied Territories of Ukraine estimated that there should be from 40 to 60 thousand of peacekeepers in the Donbass for the effective operation of the mission.
At the same time, according to Kurt Volker, the imitation of attempts to solve the problem after "three years of inaction" is used by Petro Poroshenko to strengthen his personal power. That, of course, causes antagonism of the opposition and exacerbates the internal political situation.
The main factor of this aggravation in the near future will be the draft law "On Certain Aspects of State Policy Regarding the Restoration of Ukraine's Sovereignty over the Occupied Territory of the Donetsk and the Luhansk Oblasts". The law was prepared in secret from the parliament, despite the fact that it was widely discussed at the international level. Now the President intends to submit it to the parliament for consideration "as urgent one". Obviously, the authorities are speeding up the adoption of this law until October 18, in order to have time to extend the law "On special order of local self-government in separate districts of the Donetsk and the Luhansk Oblasts", which gives the occupied territories a "special status". This law, adopted three years ago within the so-called "Minsk agreements", ends on October 18.
As usual, Poroshenko's administration, along with positive norms about the recognition of Russia as an aggressor, has introduced several positions in the law that make it unacceptable for the opposition and dangerous for democracy in the country. In particular, we are talking about the references in the text of the law to the Minsk agreements (which are not a legal act), and thus legitimize them. Also, item that allows the president to impose martial law and dissolve authorities in regions, not connected with the ATO zone, causes alarm. The secrecy with which the law was drafted and the time for parliamentarians to study and discuss it (the bill has not yet been published) can become a ground for organizing protests by opposition political forces. During the adoption of the law "On special order of local self-government in separate districts of the Donetsk and the Luhansk Oblasts" in late August 2014, the parliament experienced clashes, resulting in the death of four people.
In our opinion, it is necessary to force Petro Poroshenko to remove references to the Minsk agreements and an item on the possibility of dissolution of local authorities that are not related to the zone of military operations from the text of bill prior to the voting in order to stabilize the domestic political background of the adoption of this bill.
Situation in the "DNR-LNR"
Situation in the puppet "DNR-LNR" is characterized by the intensification of struggle for control over assets, which the republics "nationalized" in March, as well as the increased use of "terrorism" as a factor of mobilizing the population and creating information for the Russian media during the period of the weakening of military operations. The Ukrainian prolongation of the law on "special status" of the Donbass is also the most important activity of the "republics".
Economic situation in the occupied territories continues to deteriorate, although Moscow deliberately allows leaks in the media, showing the integration of the Donbass economy with Russia. The purpose of such an information campaign is to persuade the Ukrainians to resume economic ties with enterprises, which are now controlled by the so-called "DNR-LNR". This, in fact, will mean the recognition of the "republics" by Kyiv and leaving to it the issue of stabilizing the socioeconomic situation in the territories, occupied by Russia.
So, according to the Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine, in September, the number of internally displaced persons increased by almost 6 thousand people, what indicates the deterioration of economic situation in the "republics". According to the UN, the level of food insecurity doubled as compared with September 2016 – almost a third of those living in the occupied territory believes that they do not have enough food.
To maintain their power in the controlled territories, current leaders of the "republics" are forced to toughen the struggle not only with those who express their dissatisfaction with the situation, but also with those who can use it in the struggle for power in the upcoming elections of "heads of the republics" in autumn of 2018.
In particular, the head of the "People's Council of the DNR" Denis Pusilin got out of favor because his ratings, thanks to his participation in the Minsk process and media activity, appeared to be higher than ratings of the "DNR's" leader Alexander Zakharchenko. There is also a growing conflict between Zakharchenko's team and "Interior Minister of the Republic" Alexey Dikiy.
In turn, to overcome the discontent of population, the authorities of the so-called "DNR" ordered that all Internet users in the occupied territory of the Donetsk oblast become personally registered.
According to our information, Moscow ordered to lower the military escalation on the front line in order to remove the Donbass topic as a source of negative news from the information space of Russia before the presidential elections.
In their turn, the leaders of the Donbass militants are not interested in reducing the attention of Russians to the Donbass. In this connection, they are increasingly using the topic of "Ukrainian" terrorism instead of military topics, which allows mobilizing the population, justifying the restrictions on human rights and keeping the attention of Russian viewer. Against the backdrop of "terrorist" Ukraine, Putin will be represented as a peacemaker and defender of the Russians. He needs the topic of peacekeepers, including for this. Such an information policy is one of the reasons for the increased number of "Ukrainian" terrorist acts in the occupied territories.
Along with that, the intensification of military escalation as a form of pressure on Kyiv with a view to extend the law on "special status" of the Donbass is possible prior to October 18. This law is needed by the separatists in order to be legitimized by diplomatic means. Vladislav Danego, the "LNR" representative in Minsk: "Minsk still remains the main and the most important direction, which should eventually lead to the full recognition of the Republic as a party to the political process".
Conclusion: the emerging trends suggest that the armed confrontation in the Donbass will noticeably decrease in the coming six months. However, this does not mean that Russia has changed its line towards Ukraine. Rather on the contrary, Putin, who will have his last presidential term, will want to remain in the history as a man who has revived the Russian Empire. Therefore, more likely, Russia will use the Russian army in the coming year not for the direct invasion, but for the pressure and blackmail in order to force Kyiv to implement political part of the Minsk agreements and bring the pro-Russian government into power in Ukraine. Concurrently, the weakening of fighting capacity of the Ukrainian army will continue via sabotage and terrorist acts.
If this occurs, the outlined at least six months of de-escalation should be used for maximum strengthening of the Ukrainian army and weakening of Russia. It is not allowed to fall for the illusion of Moscow's pacification. All Russia's actions and the actions of its puppets in Donetsk and Luhansk suggest that plans for the destruction of Ukrainian sovereignty remain priorities for the Kremlin.
Having the world's first nuclear capacity gives Russia confidence in the absence of military opposition from the West after the example of North Korea's impunity. At the same time, implementation of the Kremlin's plan for political subordination of Ukraine can lead to the dismemberment of the country and the civil war, what will significantly destabilize the situation in Europe.
Centre for research of Donbass social perspectives