Kremlin Tightens Grip on Devastated Donbas
Written by Alexander J. Motyl
Source: Foreing Affairs Journal
Mykhaylo Pashkov, co-director of the Foreign Policy and International Security Program of the highly respected Razumkov Center in Kyiv, has written an exceptionally timely, sober, and important report on current conditions, as well as an astute analysis of the future of the Russian-occupied Donbas. It should be required reading for all Ukrainian policy makers. Once translated into English, it should also be required reading for Western policy makers.
Pashkov has no illusions about the occupied enclave’s return to Ukraine anytime soon. He has even fewer illusions about the likelihood that the Minsk accords will lead to anything. After all, the key stumbling block is Russia, whose “maximally simplified position vis-à-vis regulating the Donbas amounts to this: we will continue killing your soldiers until you change your Constitution according to our wishes.”
The most important part of Pashkov’s analysis concerns the occupied enclave itself, where the Russian Federation has established “a militarized puppet pseudo-state totalitarian formation,” a “nano-Russia administered by the militants but controlled by the Russian security services.” As a result, there has emerged in this “anomalous zone” a “political-ideological, social-cultural reality that is hostile to Ukraine.”
The self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic alone has 20 ministries, and a raft of “all-powerful” people’s councils, councils of ministers, procuracies, central banks, and supreme courts, as well as a variety of trade unions. The DNR has seven television stations, four radio stations, and 13 newspapers, overseen by the Ministry of Propaganda consisting of 120 employees and possessing a budget far in excess of Ukraine’s Ministry of Information Policy. All these agencies consistently denounce the Kyiv “junta,” the Kyiv “butchers,” the “Ukrainian fascists,” as well as “everything Ukrainian.”
The DNR is also extending its tentacles into society. The “social organization” known as the Donetsk Republic consists of 140,000 members. DNR propagandists are writing a history of the republic. One museum, in Horlivka, features a section dealing with the “atrocities” perpetrated by the Ukrainian army. The Luhansk People’s Republic has a children’s magazine that recently featured a story about the evil Fasciston (Washington) and his assistant, Gnuland (Victoria Nuland), and how they were defeated by the valiant Papa, a Putin look-alike.
At the same time, Pashkov reports that the DNR and LNR are rapidly integrating with Russia. In September 2015, the regions adopted the Russian ruble. The militants are reportedly paid 15,000 rubles per month, and Moscow supplies the DNR with a monthly subsidy of 2.5 billion rubles, while distributing Russian passports to ever larger numbers of people. In May alone, 35,000 passports were distributed to enclave residents. The enclave’s remaining higher educational institutions are completely tied to Russia’s system of education. The Russian Ministry of Defense, the security services, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs control the enclave’s 35,000-man army, while the Russian government runs the enclave’s finances, taxes, infrastructure, transport, and energy resources via an inter-departmental commission supervised by Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Surkov.
The consequences of Russian rule have been catastrophic for the Donbas enclave. According to Pashkov, the region’s coal, chemical, and machine-building industries are in ruins. Some 40,000 small and medium-sized businesses have closed down. Infrastructure has been destroyed on a massive scale. The Donetsk airport, which cost $1.5 billion, is a ruin. The militants purposely destroyed several power stations and gas and water lines. About 30 percent of the occupied region’s industrial capacity was moved to the Russian Federation. Agriculture and banking are also a mess, while experts calculate that it would take many billions of hryvnia and 10-15 years to remove the mines that have been planted in 7,000 sq. kilometers.
Can the Ukrainian economy cope with such a mess? Pashkov’s question is rhetorical. And, he adds, taxpayers would be justified in asking why they should pay for the destruction caused by Russia, in a region now wired to oppose Kyiv. Even if Russia were suddenly to withdraw, Ukraine would have to “quarantine” the territory before it could reintegrate it.
Unsurprisingly, Pashkov concludes that the “best variant” today is a freezing of the conflict, consisting of “a ceasefire, the withdrawal of both sides, and the creation of a 400-kilometer buffer zone along the whole line of the front, necessarily under international control.” Pashkov recommends a series of other political and diplomatic measures, but his bottom line is this: “real, tangible European integration, regardless of the internal situation in the EU … is the most effective instrument of defending against the Russian threat.”
Pashkov’s final observation is spot-on: “this is possible only if effective internal reforms are introduced and, in the first place, if corruption is brought under control.” Kyiv, take notice.