Moscow realized its mistake, which it made having officially taken up the cudgels for its puppets from CADLO. It was possible to supply weapons, leave men and rubles to the Donbas the same as now and direct military actions against Ukraine in the same way, but not to be afraid for them in Minsk and the Normandy Four. Subsequently, Kyiv and the West would have fewer reasons and leads to impose sanctions on the Russian Federation and demand something from it in general. But, having entered both formats (the Minsk and the Normandy), Russia literally committed itself to their documents and accordingly assumed certain obligations. In what role? The West and Moscow interpret the answer to this question differently: the first – as a party to the conflict, the second – as a mediator. But what obligations can a "mediator" have? Who "appointed" Moscow for this "mediation" besides itself? And why does the "mediator" always take the position of one side, perhaps because it is this side itself?
The answers to these questions are so obvious that the Kremlin got tired of being perverted in inventing its "versions" of these answers and decided to simply throw off the bonds that it had put on by mistake. Moreover, if both "Minsk" and Berlin together with Paris helped Moscow to subdue Ukraine in 2014, under the conditions of Washington's withdrawal from the Ukrainian issue, today the position of the Americans is more intelligible, and the influence of the eternally "deeply concerned" Western European capitals on Kyiv decreased noticeably. In short, the Kremlin just no longer needs the N-4, and it decided to pause "Minsk" until the Ukes become more accommodating. Hence the logic of all the events that have taken place in the Donbas and around it in recent months.
Those who do not like to read long texts and become aware of the news from the headlines can read the next 10 paragraphs and get a full picture of the basic points of this article. Those who are interested not in conclusions, but in arguments – will have to strain and read on.
Russia continues to distance itself from its obligations under the Minsk agreements. To that end, all of its actions in the Minsk process are aimed at reformatting the trilateral format into a five-sided one, in which it positions itself as a "second mediator" and calls "Donetsk and Luhansk" a party to the conflict.
Its actions in relation to the OSCE fall into the same strategy. Starting with the rejection of the OSCE observation mission on the Russian-Ukrainian border and ending with actions to block the SMM in Donetsk. By exposing the "republics" as subjects of pressure on the OSCE, Moscow is seeking to increase their subjectivity at the level of the TCG and the OSCE – the only international platforms that give them signs of such subjectivity.
At the same time, Russia's tactics are based on the "arrogant" actions of CADLO, aimed at a brazen provocation and challenge. Both in relation to Ukraine and the OSCE. Thus, Moscow is trying to force the members of the OSCE Mission to Ukraine to be more forgiving to it.
The creation of its own military-industrial complex in Donetsk also serves the purpose of positioning CADLO as independent subjects of international relations and dialogue with Kyiv. It can be used to "legalize" the weapons supplied there by the Russian Federation under the guise of the "republic's" own production. This can fundamentally change the balance of power in the conflict in Donbas and cause its serious escalation.
The use of the Bayraktar UAVs by Ukraine has significantly changed the power balance in the theater of military operations in the Donbas. But now Kyiv needs to constantly support and demonstrate its advantage so that it becomes not a new rung on the escalation ladder, but a deterrent from it.
There is a growing trend towards the isolation of CADLO from Ukraine and "mental" integration into the Russian Federation. Both the participation of the CADLO residents in the election to the Russian State Duma and the increased blocking of checkpoints by CADLO are signs of this, as well as the policy of replacing Ukrainian documents with the "republican" ones.
Also, Moscow continues a policy aimed at pumping out demographic and labor resources from the occupied part of the Donbas and reducing the dependent part of its population. The tools for this are: Russian certification of the residents of CADLO and COVID.
Attempts to lower the cost of keeping CADLO for the Russian Federation indicate that Moscow intends to preserve a solution to the conflict in the Donbas until conditions favorable to its end on its terms are formed in Ukraine. This shows the Kremlin's unwillingness to compromise and makes diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully meaningless.
Alongside this, Russia blocks the possibility of direct dialogue on the settlement of the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow. The Kremlin leadership has chosen the tactics of ignoring Ukraine as a subject of international relations and creating a ring of problems around it, which, according to the Russian leadership, should eventually persuade Ukraine to an alliance with Russia. This is manifested both in the statements of Russian top politicians about the failure of the Ukrainian leadership and Kyiv's feudatory position to the USA, as well as in the deprivation of Ukraine's gas transit country status and the creation of military threat to Kyiv from Belarus.
The "Ukrainian" policy of the United States and any statements about the prospect of Ukraine joining NATO are constant source of irritation for the Kremlin. Moscow continues to view the Donbas as one of the main tools to counter such policy of Kyiv and Washington.
Russia and the OSCE. Kosyak is not to blame
The campaign to block the OSCE members in Donetsk and Horlivka, which was held in October under the pretext of demanding the release of the "LNR" militant Andrey Kosyak, detained by the Ukrainian servicemen, was just one of a series of Moscow's measures to put pressure on the OSCE.
Earlier, the Russian Federation set conditions for observing the election to the State Duma of Russia unacceptable for the OSCE ODIHR. This led to the fact that the election was held without the ODIHR participation for the first time since 1991.
This was followed by Moscow's refusal to extend the observation mission on the Russian-Ukrainian border. Moreover, this mission, decoratively presented at only two border crossings (a couple of kilometers in total) out of a 400-kilometer section of the Russian-Ukrainian border uncontrolled by Kyiv, did not prevent Moscow from transferring its troops and equipment to the Donbas. Its members were actually limited to the premises where they were located, they were forbidden even to use binoculars, video and photography equipment…
Also, starting from September, after the rotation of the OSCE team moderating the negotiations in the "Minsk" Trilateral Contact Group, the tonality in relation to the OSCE on the part of the Russian Federation and the Moscow-controlled "representatives of CADLO" from Donetsk and Luhansk has noticeably changed.
The position of the new moderators, not burdened by the quite specific "diplomatic practice" of these negotiations, is more impartial and closer to the documents of the "Minsk agreements". Naturally, Moscow does not like this impartial take. It used to work with "tame" ambassadors, and this discontent quickly manifested itself in the form of rude and overt blackmail.
In particular, the detention of the "LNR" militant Andrey Kosyak was the reason for putting forward overtly political ultimatum demands to the members of the OSCE Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. They were articulated by leaders of the "DNR" and "LNR" Pushilin and Pasechnik. They accused the OSCE SMM of bias. At the same time, the first one stated: "This international organization needs to take an active and tough position as soon as possible… and use all available tools for influence on Kyiv". And the second one demanded to equalize "representatives of the LNR and DNR" in the JCCC and the representatives of Ukraine in the status: "How can we talk about impartiality when the OSCE SMM in its reports makes a fundamental difference in the status and immunity for observers in the JCCC from Kyiv and from the LNR and DNR, calling the Ukrainians representatives of the JCCC, and our representatives "armed formations"?" At the same time, the members of the mission blocked in Donetsk were put to sound torture, since the music, which the "protesters" forced them to constantly listen to, exceeded 100 dB.
The leaders of occupation administrations cannot fail to know that the OSCE SMM has no mechanisms to influence the judiciary system of Ukraine (A. Kosyak was arrested on October 18 by the decision of the Ukrainian court). Also, there are no such abbreviations as "DNR"-"LNR" in the texts of the Minsk agreements, and the JCCC was formed by the General Staffs of Ukraine and the Russian Federation, subsequently, there can be no "representatives of the DNR and LNR" in the OSCE SMM reports.
Thus it can be concluded that not release of Kosyak, but pressure on the OSCE in order to increase the subjectivity of the puppet "DNR"-"LNR" in relations with this organization and a corresponding decrease in Moscow's responsibility for their actions in the Donbas was the real purpose of the campaign. This is confirmed by the motivation voiced by "mayor" of the city Alexey Kulemzin when dissolving the campaign to block the OSCE in Donetsk. "…You managed to achieve the result - the OSCE mission began to interact with us, started holding joint events!", - he said.
The Russian Federation denies that it has any obligations under the Minsk agreements or the N-4 decisions and distances itself from participation in the events, missions or institutions that may indicate these obligations.
This trend of distancing Moscow from its commitments on "Minsk", "taming" the OSCE representatives and increasing the subjectivity of CADLO in the Minsk process as a party to the conflict will continue. This will aggravate the crisis in the work of the TCG and the ineffectiveness of "Minsk" as a tool for resolving the conflict. Russia is interested in such a situation, because, desperate to get Kyiv to implement the Minsk agreements in its interpretation, it decided to simply maintain the status quo and slowly weaken Ukraine by the war in the Donbas, until the "fruit", as the phrase goes, ripens and falls.
Moreover, it is not difficult to predict that Moscow will try to bring to naught the Normandy format, which has become unprofitable for it. A convenient moment for this is now, given Angela Merkel's departure from the political arena and the upcoming election in France. And the mechanism for such disposal of N-4 is simply Moscow's refusal from the summits of the four under various pretexts. This tactic of the Kremlin is quite clearly manifested right now, when Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is doing everything to disrupt the N-4 meeting, even at the ministerial level.
Of course, foreign-policy advisers to the heads of states can continue to communicate and even agree on something, but if there are no summits, then there are no N-4 decisions, and communication without specific and clearly fixed decisions of the heads of states is nothing more than idle talk non-committing Moscow…
Subjectivization of CADLO and their "mental" integration into the Russian Federation
During the reporting period, Russia continued its policy aimed at isolating CADLO from Ukraine and, as a result, pumping out their demographic and labor resources into the Russian Federation. First of all, this is achieved due to the creation in CADLO of low standard of living and wages against the background of more attractive wherewithal in the Russian Federation and lack of an alternative in the form of the possibility of leaving for Ukraine because of the checkpoints closed by the Russian side.
To that end, Moscow carries out a set of measures aimed at the "mental" integration of the residents of CADLO into the Russian Federation.
First of all, this is issuance of Russian passports to the residents of occupied part of the Donbas and, de facto, holding of the election campaign and the election to the State Duma of Russia on the territory of CADLO.
There is also an unprecedented number of various "integration" events with the participation of deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation that we have observed since the beginning of this year.
In addition, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in August, allowing the admission of Russian citizens who also have foreign citizenship to the civil service, if it is impossible to get rid of it. According to press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov, this refers exactly to the citizens of Ukraine.
Also, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia has developed a draft presidential decree, according to which "compatriots from certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine will be able to apply for participation in the resettlement program in the Russian Federation directly in Russia". The document was posted on the portal of draft regulatory legal acts. Now the participation of Ukrainian citizens in this program is possible only through the consular offices of Russia operating in the territory of Ukraine controlled by the government.
The campaign to replace the Ukrainian driver's license of old format with the "republican" ones, which has begun in CADLO, is an element of this policy. At the same time, it is stated that the new Ukrainian driver's license remains in force, but people cannot get them under the conditions of blocked checkpoints. Therefore, they are forced to obtain a "republican" driver's license. Information that those who will drive with driver's license of old format will be fined starting from December 26 is being spread.
The creation of the Almaz state-owned corporation in July of this year is another significant step towards subjectivization of CADLO. According to the "decree" of head of the "DNR" Denis Pushilin, "the work of the state corporation will be aimed at implementing state policy in the defense industry, including the development, production and assistance in the development, production and export of civilian, military and dual-use products". The Almaz Group of Companies will include enterprises that previously were part of the Ukrainian military-industrial complex: Topaz (manufacturer of Kolchuga intelligence stations), Donetsk State Plant of Chemical Products, Makiivka State Design Institute, Research Institute for Integrated Automation and State Research Institute of Plastics. Rumors about the future assembly of Russian intermediate range missiles at Topaz are being spread in Donetsk.
At the same time, according to former Topaz employees, the current workforce capacity and technical condition of the enterprise are not suitable for the production of any type of weapons and even for the "screwdriver assembly" of missiles. Taking this into account, it follows that the Almaz Group of Companies was created not for production, but for legalization of Russian weapons, secretly supplied by Moscow to the part of the Donbas under its control. If these are indeed missiles, for the production of which Russia will shed responsibility by shifting it to the "DNR", then this will significantly increase the subjectivity of the “republics” and significantly change the balance of military forces in the Donbas. In turn, this will cause an adequate reaction from Kyiv, which will undoubtedly result in a serious escalation of confrontation at the front.
Alongside this, Moscow is taking a number of steps to minimize its costs for the maintenance of the occupied territories of Donbas and their management system.
In particular, this is another attempt to organize the work of industrial enterprises in CADLO. To that end, the Kremlin replaced the "curator" of the "DNR-LNR" industry. Instead of the Vneshtorgservis (VTS) company, which was managed by Serhiy Kurchenko, the republics' mining and metals sector was transferred to the management of Yuzhny Mining and Metallurgical Complex (YuMMC) - a privately-held company owned by Russian Yevgeniy Yurchenko, former deputy governor of the Voronezh oblast. The "authorities" of the "republics" and Yurchenko himself made a number of statements about the "investments" of YuMMC in the industry of Donbas. However, given that at the time of the replacement of Kurchenko by Yurchenko, the debts of VTS to the enterprises managed by it reached $812 million (according to Russian media), the YuMMC "investments" will go not for the industry development, but for the repayment of this debt. Naturally, such "investments" a priori cannot become an impetus for the development of the CADLO economy, which means that its stagnation will continue, with all the social consequences that come with it…
Measures to minimize costs also include the creation of a common economic space between the "republics" of Donbas, the work on which the "DNR" and "LNR" began with the abolition of customs posts on October 1 and customs clearance of goods at the border between them.
"Integration" measures are included in the programs of socio-economic development for 2022–2024, synchronously adopted in the "republics". One of the goals of these programs is to reduce dependence on the supply of resources from Ukraine. In particular, it is planned to "reduce the level of water loss in the networks by half, which will allow… the Luhansk People's Republic to refuse buying water from Ukraine". In turn, this will enable the "DNR", through which water is supplied to the southern districts of the Donetsk oblast, to make water an instrument of blackmailing the Ukrainian authorities.
In general, the attempts to lower the price tag of the CADLO maintaining for the Russian Federation indicate that Moscow intends to preserve the solution to the conflict in the Donbas until conditions favorable for its end on Russia's terms develop in Ukraine. This shows the Kremlin's unwillingness to compromise and makes diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully meaningless.
COVID as a weapon
The policy of the aggressor state regarding the spread of coronavirus pandemic in the territory it controls is another aim of reducing the cost of maintaining CADLO for Russia. It consists in creating favorable conditions for the spread of coronavirus and the inability to treat it, or leaving to Ukraine for the purpose of vaccination with a certified vaccine.
In practice, this consisted in holding mass events during the election campaign of United Russia in the election to the State Duma of the Russian Federation. Then - in the very voting in the so-called "information and advisory centers" on the territory of CADLO and by means of organized transportation to the territory of Russia. Alongside this, medical personnel were pumped out of the region into the Russian Federation by distributing Russian passports to them and promising wages 5 to 10 times higher than in CADLO.
The lack of the ability for people to travel to the government-controlled territory to get vaccinated is an important factor in the spread of coronavirus. The CALO occupation administration closed the last and only duty checkpoint in Stanytsia Luhanska on October 10.
Doubts are also raised about the effectiveness or proper temperature storage regime for those Russian vaccines that were imported into CADLO by United Russia within the framework of the campaign in the State Duma of the Russian Federation.
As a result, when 1000 deaths from coronavirus a day were announced in Russia, 132 deaths were "officially" reported only in CADO (without CALO). If recalculated as a proportion of the population (144 million and 2 million, respectively), it turns out that the mortality rate from COVID-19 in CADO exceeds the corresponding all-Russian indicator by 7.3 times. And this is despite the fact that the Russian Federation is one of the leaders in mortality from coronavirus in the world.
Moreover, there is every expectation to believe that the data of the "official" statistics of CADO are incomplete and significantly lower than the real level of morbidity and mortality. The population of the occupied part of Donbas simply cannot afford expensive COVID tests ($21 - in Donetsk and $19 - in Luhansk), so they self-medicate without going to hospitals. Due to overcrowding in mortuaries, the bodies of the deceased with a medical history of serious chronic diseases are not examined or tested for the presence of covid. The existing chronic disease or its complications is a post-mortem diagnosis.
Given that the victims of coronavirus are mostly disabled people and seniors, Moscow is thus reducing its expenses for pension provision and social benefits in the occupied territory. As of today, the amount of pension payments financed by Moscow in CADLO is about $70 million a month (according to the data of the "Pension funds" of the "republics").
Donbas as a victim of Russia's geopolitics
Moscow continues to use the conflict in Donbas as a tool of its foreign policy influence on the West, primarily the USA, the EU and NATO. It is the threat of confrontation in the Donbas that the Russian Federation considers the main safeguard against Ukraine's entry into the North Atlantic Alliance. The Russian authorities have repeatedly stated that Kyiv's accession to NATO would escalate the conflict in Donbas. Press Secretary of the Russian President D. Peskov said that "this is a scenario that goes beyond the red lines of Russia's national interests… which can force Russia to take active measures to ensure its own security". In fact, this can be viewed as a threat of invasion of Ukraine, "historical" justification for which was outlined by V. Putin in his July article "on the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians".
At the same time, judging by the author's publications in the media of influential Russian politicians and analysts close to the authorities, it follows that the Kremlin no longer counts on a quick solution to the Ukrainian problem by implementing CADLO, endowed with the status of a kind of "political autonomy", in the Ukrainian political space. Earlier, Moscow counted on influencing the domestic and foreign policy of Ukraine through them. Now the conflict in the Donbas is viewed by it, rather, as a tool for achieving tactical, but not strategic goals. The role of strategic weapons against Ukraine is assigned to energy and other economic special operations. First of all, this is Nord Stream 2, depriving Ukraine of revenues from gas transit, creating problems with energy sources and so on.
This became especially noticeable after the summit of Presidents Zelensky and Biden, when the Kremlin realized that the USA would not agree to compromises on the Donbas unacceptable for Ukraine, and would not leave Kyiv without support in the event of military threat from Moscow. Furthermore, the AFU strengthening with weapons of the Bayraktar and Javelin type, along with a significant mobilization resource of those who are liable for military service, leaves the Kremlin less and less chances for a successful military campaign against Ukraine without provoking an internal Russian political crisis. Figuratively speaking, Moscow is bogged down in Ukraine. All this gave rise to fatigue of the Russian elites from it and forced them to change the tactics of Blitzkrieg to the tactics of "long game". At the same time, the Donbas is assigned the role of a constant threat of destabilization to the West and a factor in the weakening of the Ukrainian state.
It is for these purposes that the Kremlin will maintain a manageable confrontation in the East of Ukraine. And in order for it to be manageable, it needs to retain its leadership in the initiative in this theater of military operations. The preventive use of the Bayraktar reconnaissance and strike UAVs by Ukraine became a significant obstacle to this leadership. The "republics" have no means of protection against UAVs operating at an altitude of 8 km. Now Moscow is faced with a choice: to put appropriate means of struggle on the territory of Donbas and thereby provoke new sanctions and accusations of escalation (which could affect the launch of Nord Stream 2), or temporarily cede the positional leadership to Ukraine until the gas pipeline is launched. But then it needs to secure its tool of influence on Kyiv (the "DNR" - "LNR") through other means. One of them is the exercises of Russian troops near the Ukrainian borders and the concentration of military equipment there.
However, this method of visual inflating muscles (indicating fear of the enemy in the animal kingdom) no longer worries Kyiv and is more likely aimed at the Western partners and "partners" of Ukraine. It is they who, according to the Kremlin's plan, should subdue Ukraine's possible military ambitions to liberate its territory in the east.
It should be noted that as of today, the tactics of the main foreign policy actors (USA, France, Germany, NATO, EU) on the field of confronting Russian aggression against Ukraine is passive, even flirting with the Kremlin. This leads to the fact that not meeting with a proper rebuff for violations of international law, Moscow does not abandon plans to destroy Ukrainian sovereignty, it only changes the methods of achieving this goal.
Moreover, the impunity for waging a hybrid war against Ukraine stimulates Russia to intensify operations in a hybrid war against the NATO countries. We fully see manifestations of this on the borders of Belarus with Lithuania and Poland, where "peaceful refugees" organized by the FSB and Lukashenko's regime are storming the state borders of the NATO members. The same sneaky tactics of using someone else's hands…
Serhiy Harmash, representative of CADLO from Ukraine in the Minsk TCG