Part two. Read the first part HERE.
Putin's talks with Biden did not give the Russian leader a result that would satisfy him. Rather, directly at the summit, Putin received the hope that he was heard, but immediately after the Geneva meeting, the rhetoric of the Americans and the "European capitals, which caught the mood of the "big brother" showed Moscow: "The West wanted everyone to be clear: it is more united than ever and will do in international affairs only what it considers right, and will force others – primarily Russia and China – to follow the course set for them" (Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation S. Lavrov). The ensuing incidents with British and Dutch warships in the Black Sea only reinforced Moscow's conviction that the collective West did not intend to reckon with Russia's claims to power in the former Soviet Union region.
The New Atlantic Charter, signed by the leaders of the USA and Britain on June 10, as well as the Washington Declaration, which consolidated the joint principles of the U.S. and German foreign policy, signed on July 16, were an even greater signal of the West's unwillingness to give Moscow the post-Soviet space as its zone of influence. These documents are unambiguously regarded by Moscow as a challenge and an "unfair" attempt by the West to remove it from a new redistribution of spheres of influence in the world to which it claims.
At the same time, the West's reaction to the ongoing Russian aggression in Ukraine remains not painful enough for Moscow. A serious signal of the West's indecision in opposing Putin's policy of hybrid aggression for Putin was the June NATO summit, where, as a result of Russia's military blackmail, Kyiv received no clear prospects for membership in this organization.
The agreement between the USA and Germany on Nord Stream 2, which in reality deprived Ukraine of its energy shield from the threat of invasion, became even more inspiring for Putin.
This policy of the collective West has shown Moscow that statements and "principles" are just words which, if necessary, are forgotten under the influence of money or fear.
It is obvious that after this, Putin will not abandon such an effective aggressive policy, despite the sanction pressure.
Moreover, his article on the "unity" of the Ukrainian and Russian peoples, published by him on the day of the meeting of the Ukrainian President with the German Chancellor, contains, in fact, a threat to revise the borders in the post-Soviet territory and a demand to negotiate with Russia on the conditions of statehood of the former Soviet republics. Since he promotes the thesis of external management in Ukraine in the same article, the requirement to negotiate the conditions of its statehood does not apply to Kyiv for sure.
Convinced of the effectiveness of the use of military tool, Putin will definitely continue using war blackmail to achieve its geopolitical goals. Actually, the escalation of conflict in the Donbas is growing because of this, and most of the Russian troops have not yet been withdrawn from the Ukrainian borders.
At the same time, V. Putin's proposal to V. Zelensky to discuss the Donbas problem not with him, but with the "heads" of the puppet republics: Pushilin and Pasechnik, was an important and dangerous signal for Ukraine. This suggests that Moscow is disclaiming responsibility for a possible escalation in the Donbas.
Representative of the Russian Federation in the N-4 Dmitry Kozak echoed his boss in an interview with a French news agency published on July 13 (the day after Putin's "historical" article with claims to Ukrainian territory). "All attempts to impose the obligations of a party to the conflict or responsibility for the actions and negotiating position of representatives of the Donbas on the Russian Federation are absurd", - he stated.
That is, Russia a priori absolved itself of the responsibility for the actions of the "DNR"-"LNR", funded and managed by it. This suggests that Moscow reserves the opportunity for itself to carry out new aggressive actions in the South-East of Ukraine by the hands of the armed forces of CADLO. Moreover, against the background of reduction of the influence in Ukraine of Moscow's agents of influence and their media, such aggression is becoming a necessary tool for the Kremlin to coerce Kyiv into direct negotiations with its puppets in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The Minsk "chance… through the mediation of Russia"
Already at a press conference following Putin's meeting with the U.S. President, the Russian autocrat revealed a rather emotional perception of the "Ukrainian issue". Actually, the issue of the Ukrainian Donbas was the only one that triggered emotional reaction from Putin.
It was obvious that Russia did not intend to back away from the position which Putin later set out in his article dated 12.07.2021. He regards "Minsk" as "a chance to peacefully restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine by negotiating directly with the DNR and LNR through the mediation of Russia…".
The Russian Federation and its representatives from CADLO tie the solution of almost all issues in the TCG itself, from the checkpoints opening and the demining of 19 areas already agreed upon to the possibility of repair works of infrastructure facilities in the grey zone, to the issue of subjectivization of the "republics". They require direct official addresses to them as to the international entity, which is impossible for Kyiv and international organizations.
Actually because of this - Moscow's refusal to take responsibility for financing and managing the separatists of CADLO – the solution of almost all issues is blocked in the TСG.
Russia considered Ukrainian politicians who did not recognize Russia's aggression and openly advocated a politico-economical union with it one of the tools for subjectivizing CADLO and forcing Kyiv to comply with the Minsk agreements in Moscow's interpretation. Godfather of President Putin's child and business partner of ex-President Poroshenko Viktor Medvedchuk is the leader of this group. He exercised his influence on the electorate in the interests of Russia through the TV channels and other media under his control. After the blocking of these TV channels and charges of high treason against Medvedchuk, this influence diminished. The loss of this tool makes Moscow, which aims to retain influence in Ukraine, to strengthen the use of the only tool that remained at its disposal – the military. Therefore, it is not difficult to predict the further intensification of military confrontation in the Donbas and the continuation of isolation of the CADLO population from Ukraine.
Russian internal political factor (election to the State Duma of the Russian Federation)
Occupied part of the Ukrainian Donbas has become an active factor in the internal political life of Russia for the first time since 2014. Moscow has not only officially announced the participation of the residents of Donbas who have received Russian passports in the election to the State Duma, but is also purposefully creating conditions for increasing the number of such "voters".
This is expressed in:
- compulsory issuance of passports to security officials and state employees of CADLO;
- mass registration of insurance number of individual personal account (SNILS), which will allow holders of Russian passports in Donbas taking part in electronic voting without leaving CADLO;
- organization of special polling stations for voting of "Russian citizens" from CADLO in the border regions of the Russian Federation;
- conclusion of electoral alliance between the Union of Donbas Volunteers and United Russia;
- conduct of election campaigning in the occupied Donbas by the Russian United Russia party of power;
- organization of the process of admission to the United Russia party on the territory of CADLO.
All these steps indicate that the hybrid annexation of the Donbas will lead to an even greater radicalization of Russia's policy towards Ukraine. The fading popularity of Putin's party of power in the Russian Federation forces the Russian regime to focus on the electoral strata that support the radical policy of the Russian Federation towards Ukraine.
In turn, Moscow will have to give reasons to the rest of the population for this radicalization and increasing immersion in the "Ukrainian issue", using its own propaganda machine for this. Through a contagion effect, this will strengthen anti-Ukrainian sentiments in the paternalistic part of Russian society. As a result, this radicalization of society will generate a demand for radical actions in relation to Ukraine…
If earlier Putin was restrained from widespread aggression against Ukraine, first of all, by the ideological unpreparedness of the Russian electorate for mass casualties in the war with "fraternal" Ukraine, then the Kremlin actually began to form such an ideological basis by the publication of Putin's article "on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians". From Putin's point of view, such aggression can be justified by a "fair" revision of the post-Soviet borders and the return of "stolen" "historical" territories to Russia. That is, Russians are being prepared to fight "for their own". The order of Minister of Defenсe of the Russian Federation Sergey Shoygu to study this article during political studies in the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation only confirms the conclusion about the creation in the Russian Federation of a motivational ideological basis for aggression against Ukraine. The lack of transit of Russian energy resources through Ukraine is an added incentive for such aggression.
Other trends in the development of situation in the Donbas:
Against the background of all this, essential factors affecting the socio-economic and humanitarian situation in the conflict zone remain and will increase their influence: the coronavirus pandemic; deterioration of the economic situation, which caused non-payments and delays in wages and social benefits; self-isolation of CADLO from Ukraine.
Due to a lack of funds in Donetsk, the number of departments in healthcare facilities specializing in the treatment of COVID has been reduced (from 3 to 1). At the same time, the incidence of coronavirus is not decreasing. The economic situation in CADLO does not allow the occupation authorities to introduce a set of restrictive measures to curb the spread of the disease. That is, all anti-epidemic measures actually boiled down to wearing face masks in shops and public transport. There is no prohibition even on holding mass events.
At the same time, despite the deterioration of the epidemiological situation with COVID in Russia (the 1st place in Europe in terms of the virus spread as of mid-June), the "authorities" of CADO opened free transport link with Russia at the end of June. A significant part of those leaving were going to the Crimea, which becomes in the summer the main place of rest and seasonal work for the CADLO residents. In turn, the occupied Crimea is breaking records for the death rate from COVID. This makes it possible to predict an increase in the incidence of coronavirus in CADLO in August-September, when vacationers and guest workers will return to their places of permanent residence.
Deteriorating economic situation
ZAO Vneshtorgservis, to which the Kremlin transferred the control of the industrial enterprises of CADLO, brought the situation to the point that "wage arrears have become chronic". Occupation authorities of the "republics" had to admit this, and they simultaneously "made a decision" to change the "investor". Ukrainian enterprises in the occupied Donbas were handed over to Russian businessman Yevgeniy Yurchenko. He was given the task "to retire all debts, including to corporates, by the end of this year". This was reported by the press service of the "DNR" leader D. Pushilin. At the same time, the change of the "investor", not supported by significant financial resources, does not carry prospects for improving the economic situation in the CADLO industry. And the deliberate depletion of labor resources from the region to Russia (including by issuing Russian passports) only aggravates socio-economic problems in it…
Serhiy Harmash, Center for Research on Donbas Social Perspectives, for OstroV