If you change nothing, nothing will change.
We change little or nothing in the Donbass. Yes, we changed ATO to the JFO, but how did this affect the situation?
We do not change anything radically: we do not fight (the Minsk agreements do not allow), and we do not agree. The conflict has reached a deadlock.
Meanwhile, life behind the line of demarcation changes quickly and purposefully.
The main trend of the last two years in the occupied Donbass is self-isolation from Ukraine.
"Nationalization" of the economy, ban on travel to the free territory for public employees, artificial creation of problems for carriers and displacement of Ukrainian mobile operators…
And most importantly, the children grow up there. They no longer remember another, peaceful life.
When we rejoice in the data of sociologists on the growth of patriotism and sense of national identity on the free territory of Donbass, we should take into account that the same thing is happening in the occupied territory, just in the reversed direction – regional patriotism is growing there, and national identity all the more becomes Russian. Time does its work!
"Fight or agree. It is impossible to live like this!" – say residents of the front-line territories, who have to live under bullets and shells flying from both sides of the front line for years.
For them, the worst thing is not war, but the absence of prospects for its end.
At first, we listened for three years about the lack of options of the Minsk agreements, now, another year, –about the UN peacekeepers.
But both are just a delaying, as each party to the conflict sees both the first and the second in completely different ways.
The impracticability of the Minsk agreements lies in the contradictions of the text itself. The peacekeepers are impossible, if only because the parties that must agree to them are not identified.
Even if Putin says "okay" and withdraws his "holidaymakers" from there, what will prevent him from not letting peacekeepers into the occupied territory by using Zaharchenko or Pasechnik, who formally do not obey him?
At the same time, it is both unacceptable and foolish to negotiate with Donetsk and Luhansk (as Moscow demands).
Although, if you set the goal not to outwit the enemy, but to get out of the military impasse and bring peace to the Donbass, then there is a way out...
Putin admits that Donbass is Ukrainian territory, but (fairly) does not believe that the Ukrainian state is able and willing to implement the political part of the Minsk agreements, which he is interested in.
Therefore, he does not stop the conflict in the region, because he does not see the possibility to solve it with benefit for himself under the current political situation in Ukraine.
The main public arguments of Putin to justify the support of the "republics", that is, the conflict's continuation, are fears that if the Ukrainian state returns to the occupied territory, a "massacre... as in Srebrenica", will begin there.
At the same time, the Russian president agrees to the introduction of the UN peacekeepers, but only as a security mission for the OSCE Monitoring Mission, what cannot change the situation in the warring region.
Putin will be interested in ending military conflict in the Donbass, only if he has the opportunity to continue using the Donbass to influence Ukraine. That is, if he sees the prospect of implementing political part of the Minsk agreements.
In turn, Kyiv is interested in holding local elections in the Donbass, which would create a legitimate subject for dialogue, not related to the "DNR"-"LNR".
At the same time, the Verkhovna Rada will not settle for holding such elections, while the border with Russia is open, and Moscow controls the occupied territories.
Kyiv also cannot settle for direct negotiations with illegitimate "authorities" in Donetsk and Luhansk and recognize them as a party to the conflict, because the Law of Ukraine has already called Russia the aggressor and occupier, and the authorities of the "DNR"-"LNR" – "occupation administrations".
This makes it impossible for Kyiv and leaders of CDDLO to interact socially and economically in order to support the region in the event that the UN peacekeeping mission to be deployed there.
Who and how, in this case, will pay pensions, social benefits, ensure the protection of human rights and social guarantees after the entry of peacekeepers there?
The idea of the UN peacekeeping mission, discussed today, does not answer these questions even with the component of the International Provisional Administration.
In this situation, the main danger for Ukraine is that President Trump wants to resolve the issue of establishing peace in the Donbass already during the meeting with Putin on July 16.
Given Trump's desire to establish partnering relationships with Moscow and fact that the issue of peace is more important to him than the domestic political consequences of such a peace for Ukraine, he can agree to peace on the terms of Moscow. That is, to force Ukraine to implement the Russian vision of Minsk.
Kyiv should offer Trump such an option for establishment of peace in the Donbass, which would be really acceptable in the eyes of Trump in relation to Russia, but would also give chances and opportunities for Ukraine to regain its jurisdiction over the territory that is now occupied by Moscow.
This middle course is designed to keep Putin confident that the ending of war in the Donbass will not deprive him of the opportunity to influence Ukraine and its Euro-Atlantic aspirations, otherwise he will simply not agree to it.
Such a middle course is the introduction to the Donbass not just of a peacekeeping mission, but, – we shift the focus (!), – of the International Provisional Administration with the component of the UN peacekeepers as its protection and tool for ensuring its mandate.
The change of control over the region to the international mediator with the UN mandate consisting of the countries that signed the Budapest Memorandum and are members of the UN Security Council, will make the "genocide" impossible, but will create conditions for establishing peace, stopping humanitarian catastrophe and holding elections to the local councils.
This option may be acceptable for Moscow, as it gets the opportunity to implement the political part of the Minsk agreements and, at the same time, to withdraw some of the international sanctions and financing commitment to the now-controlled "republics" of Donbass from Russia.
It also fulfills Putin's demand for the absence of NATO military personnel in the peacekeeping mission. He said nothing about the IPA's composition.
And Kyiv is interested in this option, since the introduction of the IPA will allow peacekeepers to establish control over the border, disarm illegal armed formations and withdraw Russian troops from the territory of Donbass.
Holding legitimate local elections and restoring financial and economic ties will also give Kyiv the leverage to influence the legitimately elected local authorities and economic elites of the region.
The presence of Russia in the IPA (not in a military component of the mission!) will allow the Kremlin to save its face and part of control, and Kyiv – to avoid collision with Moscow's reluctance to recognize itself as a party to the conflict.
Unlike Kyiv, the IPA, through Russian representatives in it, will be able to decide on the fulfillment of its mandate, directly with the "authorities" of Donetsk and Luhansk.
The "DNR"-"LNR" militants have repeatedly stated (most recently on June 28) that they would consider armed peacekeepers as "another enemy" and "target". At the same time, they will not be able to provide armed resistance to the Civilian Peacekeeping Mission – the IPA, especially if it includes Russia.
The armed opposition to the UN peacekeeping mission is unlikely, since the mere fact of the introduction of the IPA into the occupied Donbass secures the prospect of its transfer to Ukraine, confirmed by Russia. And the loss of illusions about the future recognition of the "republics" by Moscow, or the integration of the "DNR"-"LNR" to the Russian Federation, will deprive their resistance of any meaning – there will simply be nothing to fight for.
Furthermore, if they resist this mission, it will mean entering into a conflict not only with Ukraine, but also with countries that are permanent members of the UN Security Council (the IPA must be composed of their representatives).
Positioning military component of the mission as the mechanism for securing the IPA and its peacekeeping mandate, not as an independent military force – will not allow the occupation propaganda to present peacekeepers as occupiers and agents of Kyiv.
According to opinion polls, the main fear of residents of the occupied territories of Donbass (81%) is the resumption of active hostilities. Therefore, active armed resistance to the peacekeeping mission will deprive the militants of the support of local population and, consequently, of a possible political future.
The main tool for the activity of the IPA should not be military force, but the establishment of its control over all financial and material flows coming to the "DNR"-"LNR", including the ones from Russia.
The IPA should also distribute the renewed payments of pensions from Kyiv, humanitarian assistance from Russia and international humanitarian assistance.
Gradually, it should restore the functioning of the objects controlled by it, banking and financial systems of Ukraine, notary, registration of civil acts...
In practice, this may look like opening in the places of deployment of the IPA and its local bodies of bank branches (Ukrainian or Western), registration office of property rights, civil acts, business registration and taxation, notaries and other services required by the population, which are rendered in the Ukrainian legal field and are necessary for citizens of Ukraine residing in the occupied territory.
Thus, the IPA should become the main distributor of benefits for the population, a mechanism for realizing the rights of citizens, which they had in Ukraine before the war, a guarantor of peace and a symbol of economic improvement. This will allow it to get local residents' support.
For this, it is necessary for the IPA to control the border and obligation of Russia and Ukraine to direct all financial and resource flows to the region exclusively through the IPA.
The conflict in the Donbass has neither ethnic, nor religious, nor social background.
It is completely inspired and paid for by Russia. Therefore, without a financial and resource supply from Moscow, it will die out by itself.
Russian Federation can keep supporting the Donbass, but the IPA should allocate these resources. And the list of objects of this distribution should not include illegal military and pseudo-law enforcement entities. This should be enshrined in the UN mandate.
The IPA also introduces its temporary taxation system in the territory of its mandate, so that business entities (not the "DNR"-"LNR") can pay taxes to it.
At the same time, the amount of such taxes should be less than in the "republics", and their payers get the opportunity of legal economic relations with Ukraine.
If necessary, the IPA protects such business entities from the illegal armed formations.
Such tax revenues must be spent on social payments in the region and counted as deductions from the budget of Ukraine.
If the function of alternative taxation is prescribed in the mission's mandate, and the received funds are spent on social needs exclusively in the region where they are collected, the current "authorities" of the "republics" will have no grounds to openly oppose such taxation.
After the "DNR"-"LNR" armed formations lose the sources of financing and material and technical support from Russia, they will begin to disintegrate.
On the basis of the UN mandate and specially adopted Ukrainian law on the IPA, the IPA issues normative and legal acts on the abolition of external management at enterprises, disbandment of the army corps of the "republics", etc.
The subjects of operation of these acts may or may not accept them, but all who are concerned will already know that the army corps and "nationalization" are illegal in the eyes of the world community and will not be able to operate legitimately, not even in Russia.
That is, the peacekeepers and IPA do not apply force, but turn civilian authorities over to their command through their financing, and makes the illegal military bodies to degrade by blocking their financing sources.
Deprived of financial, administrative, and military resources, the "DNR"-"LNR", from quasi-states, will gradually transform into purely political organizations.
After the IPA establishes control over the currently occupied territory, it begins to prepare for elections to local authorities under Ukrainian law and with participation of Ukrainian political forces and media. The IPA facilitates the return of internally displaced persons.
During this time, Ukraine adopts the law "On Forgiveness" (on amnesty), which guarantees that those who have not committed war crimes, crimes against humanity and were not involved in the creation of illegal armed formations, will not be prosecuted.
After the elections are held according to the Ukrainian legislation and the legitimate local authorities are formed, the IPA transfers its powers and authority to local councils and terminates its mission.
This option does not guarantee the end of Russia's hybrid war against Ukraine, but brings the Donbass conflict out of the current impasse of a protracted armed confrontation and gives both parties (Kyiv and Moscow) the chance to implement their goals through political and diplomatic means.
It also gives President Trump the opportunity to implement his peacekeeping aspirations and to get clarity on whether Putin wants peace and whether he is prepared to compromise in order to improve relations with the United States.
Serhiy Harmash, Centre for Research of Donbas Social Perspectives
Specially for Ukrayinska Pravda