Negotiations between the USA and Russia on the UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbass nearly deadlocked. Moscow’s conditions expose that rather than making peace on the territory of Donbass, the Kremlin’s objective is to use a UN peacekeeping mission to legitimize a pro-Russian enclave there, thereby destabilizing the entire country.
At the same time, state relations between Ukraine and its western neighbors (Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria, Romania), continues to be aggravated on the basis of national historic policy. This situation strengthens Russia's activity in these countries; fomenting and maintaining anti-Ukrainian sentiments and political forces. In turn, this aggravation of interethnic hostility will make the governments of these countries hostages to anti-Ukrainian electoral sentiments, threatening to turn them into Moscow’s long-term "clients". This will result in an increase in anti-Ukrainian information and extremist provocations in Poland and Hungary, as well as in Ukraine - against the citizens of these countries and historical sites, associated with them. The right-wing governments of these states, yielding to the domestic political conjuncture which has been fomented by Moscow, have practically become an instrument of Russia in opening the "Western Front" against Ukraine. The opening of the "Western Front" against Ukraine, reflects Russia’s intention to divide Ukraine as voiced by Putting to the Prime Minister of Poland Donald Tusk in 2008.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in the territories occupied by Russia and controlled by its puppet "republics", continues to deteriorate. This is reflected both in the reduction of social payments to the population and in the cessation of water supplies to the so-called "LNR".
Concurrently, the struggle for the resources of the occupied territories has intensified between the Kremlin’s own power houses. This has led to internal crisis within the "Luhansk republic" and aggravation of its relations with the "Donetsk republic".
The deterioration of economic, humanitarian and domestic political situation in the Russian-occupied territories of Donbass, will certainly continue to increase the number of refugees and internally displaced persons.
The third meeting of U.S. Special Representative Kurt Volker and Aide to the President of Russia Vladislav Surkov showed the parties have "different concepts of peacemaking". Out of 29 proposed clauses on the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbass, only three were agreed upon by Russia. The content of the clauses has not yet been made public. The Kremlin continues to deny it is a party to the conflict assigning that role to the "DNR" and "LNR". Minister Lavrov announced there is a need to made direct negotiations with the so-called republics for the deployment of peacekeepers. Since such a step is unacceptable and unreal for Kyiv due to the internal situation, Moscow has practically blocked the realization of a peacekeeping mission. Vladimir Putin has recently announced at the Valdai Club that this situation is understood perfectly by the Kremlin.
As Moscow imitates peacekeeping efforts and protracts negotiations with the USA, Putin continues the policy of conferring political subjectivity to its puppet formations in the Donbass. This was expressed in a direct call by the Russian president to the "heads" of the "DNR" and the "LNR", during which he "convinced" them to unblock the process of prisoners exchange with Ukraine. This signals the Kremlin’s position regarding "political recognition" of the "republics" and reflects the same pattern used within other Russian fomented regimes in the Black Sea Region.
Moscow is apparently trying to manipulate Kurt Volker in these ways in order to put pressure on Ukraine and resolve the conflict on its terms. By calling to the "heads" of the so-called republics, Putin not only provided an "example" for how it wishes Poroshenko to act, he demonstrated the possibility of Moscow's recognition of the "Donbass republics" to the West. Such a development would be unequivocally regarded as the failure of Volker's mission foreseeably leading to the preservation of the conflict preservation; unfavorable for the entire West.
Thus, the Kremlin is provoking a situation where - in order to save face - Volker and the USA will be forced to urge Kyiv to a "middle" course of the "conflict resolution". This course is likely to be detrimental to Kyiv and benefit Moscow.
For example, it could be an introduction of peacekeepers by degrees, i.e. a gradual deployment of the UN mission first, on the line of demarcation followed by its subsequent advance into the occupied territories - after the announcement of elections in certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine (CDDLR) by the Verkhovna Rada. Such a plan can become a mechanism for the conflict preservation, since Poroshenko does not have the power to force the parliament to adopt such a decision. Such an attempt, particularly now, with the ATO veterans camping out around the Ukrainian parliament building, will lead to a very intense confrontation and political crisis throughout country. The Kremlin can easily manipulate the situation not only to accuse Ukraine of disrupting the crisis settlement plan, but also to justify a military invasion into other parts of Ukraine.
The fact that Moscow has monitored Ukraine's readiness for a possible large-scale war evidences that such plans remain relevant to Moscow. It is noteworthy that Russia’s special services carried out the same kind of population war readiness on its own territory through a wave of the mining airports, railway stations, schools and other places of mass gathering. Now this wave has come to Ukraine, and according to the Security Service of Ukraine, "most of the calls about mining come from Russia, as well as from the occupied part of Ukraine".
There can be no doubt that the possibility of a large-scale war against Ukraine remains a real possibility for the Kremlin. It depends on the development of a favorable situation, which it is actively forming paarticularly by stirring up interethnic and interstate hostility between Ukraine and its western neighbors (Poland, Hungary).
According to our information, the budget of the Foreign Intelligence Service and the FSB of the Russian Federation already has sections on stirring up interethnic hostility of the Poles and the Hungarians – to Ukraine, of the Ukrainians – to the Poles and the Hungarians.
In this way, one should expect an increase in the:
- Financing of "cultural" projects (especially in Poland): films, books, research activities, exhibitions and conferences with a certain focus.
- Constant "throwing" of "hate information" in regard to Ukraine in the media and social networks of the target countries of information aggression.
- Active work (financial, informational, political, etc.) and support of Polish, Hungarian and, possibly, Ukrainian parties of extreme right and/or xenophobic orientation by Russian special services.
- Encouraging and supporting Hungarian separatism in Ukraine.
- Encouraging and supporting the "claims" of Poland to Ukraine (albeit at the level of social organizations or individual politicians).
- Organized destruction and desecration of historical monuments of one of the three nations in the territory of the other (for example, the destruction of Ukrainian monuments in the territory of Poland, and vice versa).
- The organization of murders of citizens and/or public officials of one state in the territory of the other.
Recent history shows that some of the aforementioned are already "working". Even if the parties officially agree and remove all "problems" in their relations, Kyiv, Warsaw and Budapest should be prepared for imminent and intensifying provocations.
Ukrainian domestic political factor
Domestically, the most significant political factor which can possibly influence decisions on issues related to the Donbass by the Ukrainian government is the worsening of relations between the two parliamentary factions within the ruling coalition, i.e. the Petro Poroshenko Bloc and the People's Front. Essentially, between the President himself and the leaders of the People's Front.
Disputes between the two pro-government groups are primarily connected to the opportunities of their respective politicians, members of the government, and oligarchs to obtain large, illegal financial profits. In particular, the attempt of President Poroshenko to redistribute financial flows for himself at the expense of partners witin the coalition. Including in the sphere of the military-industrial complex.
The conflict manifested itself in the proceedings of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office. A two-year-old case was brought forth in which the son of Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov (the People's Front), was accused of being involved in a crooked business deal which cost the state a $570, 000 loss. A source from Poroshenko's entourage claims the president personally instructed the team to resume investigations in the case against Avakov's son. The fact that the Prosecutor General's Office, which is controlled by the president through Y. Lutsenko, did not accuse the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office of violating some laws in response, supports this assertion.
The infighting within the coalition delayed the adoption of the law declaring Russia an aggressor state, and CDDLO as territories occupied by Russia. Although it was passed at its first reading in the beginning of October, two thousand amendments were added to it which will either block its adoption, or cripple it, making it virtually useless in the case of the return of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. It is noteworthy that after the removal of references to the Minsk agreements from the text of the bill (which would have introduced them de jure into the Ukrainian legal field), this law ceased to be beneficial for President Poroshenko.
Situation in the "DNR-LNR"
The struggle between the Kremlin’s curators for the material resources of the Donbass "republics'" resulted in a serious crisis of power in the so-called "Luhansk People's Republic" and a public worsening of relations between its leadership and the establishment of the so-called "Donetsk People's Republic". In essence, this is a confrontation between Putin's aide Vladislav Surkov and the FSB.
This confrontation resulted in a public conflict between the "LNR" law enforcers (the so-called Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of State Security) and the "head of the LNR" Igor Plotnitsky. Plotnitsky has publicly evicted the "Minister of Internal Affairs" from the house, which he had illegally been occupying for three years, and demanded his resignation. In response, the MIA has actually refused to obey the "head of state", accusing him and the head of his administration (through the Minister of Agriculture) in staging a coup d'etat, which resulted in the death and arrest of other leaders of the "republic". After that, Plotnitsky left Luhansk for Russia, but soon returned to the "LNR", probably having received guarantees for his security. The security forces of the neighboring "DNR" and the official media of the "Donetsk republic" actually supported security forces of the "LNR", i.e. opposed Plotnitsky.
According to our information, the conflict arose as a result of Plotnitsky's attempt to reassign contraband flows of coal from the "LNR" to the "DNR", Russia, and, Ukraine. Currently, these flows are supervised by the republic's security forces under the auspices of the Russian FSB.
It should be noted that it is not in Moscow’s current interest to eliminate Plotnitsky. His signature (as a private person) stands under the Minsk Agreements. Accordingly, his death or resignation will foreseeably cast doubt on the participation of the "LNR" delegation in the work of the Tripartite Contact Group in Minsk. Consequently, the confrontations between Plotnitsky and the security forces of the "LNR" and the "DNR" will continue, and relations between the "republics" may continue to deteriorate.
Internal, armed showdowns do not contribute to a sense of security for the population of the "republics". The humanitarian situation continues to worsen. The reduction of social payments to vulnerable citizens, and the water supply deficit in the "LNR" are contributing factors. There, a private energy company, providing electricity to water supply facilities to the occupied territory, cut off power for non-payment. This caused a decrease in water supply in some cities of the occupied territory, where the water supply is limited to several hours a week.
Donetsk social workers are explaining the termination of social payments (pensions excluded) to their wards by the reduction of funding from Russia. Such an explanation looks plausible, since it coincides with the logic of development of the events, described in the interview of the "Foreign Minister of the LNR", Vladislav Danego.
"The task is to build all logical process based on the premise that the territories of the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics should have complete independence within the state of Ukraine. We need to reach this level of interaction with Kyiv, and then decide the future of the republics. But in order to get European and world recognition, we must go exactly along this path... Whether we will be an independent entity, or apply to be a part of the Russian Federation is a question for tomorrow", - the "minister" said.
Indeed, why should Russia finance the territories, which it intends to return to Ukraine as a "Trojan Horse"? Russia is not interested in preserving the population of Donbass. Several tens of thousands of militants and members of their families, who may be the initial threat to Kyiv, are enough. They can also be a mechanism for destroying the territorial integrity of Ukraine in the case of implementation of the "Minsk agreements".
Conclusion: Under the current conditions, the UN peacekeeping mission in the Donbass is either not possible due to the different concepts of Russia and the USA, or it can become a mechanism for preserving the conflict for years to come.
Unfortunately, the political and diplomatic path of compromises with the aggressor and the pressure on the victim of aggression only leads to an increase in the appetite of the aggressor and the expansion of aggression's geography.
Centre for research of Donbass social perspectives
The review was prepared with the support of GPD Charitable Trust