Donbass: The Big Picture

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Donbass: The Big Picture

Original by Boris Rozhin, translation by J.Hawk

1. From the military point of view, the situation remains unchanged, and while the intensity of fire and skirmishes has declined, they are continuing. Which leads to a curious paradox: on the one hand everything looks like an ordinary local escalation which happened many times before, but my contacts in the DPR and LPR military hierarchy are saying that nothing has ended yet, the probability of escalation remains, and both sides are amassing forces at the front line in addition to various preparatory and mobilization measures in the areas close to the front. And on top of that is the general weariness with this “ping-pong” and the desire to seek a decisive solution–which implies a UAF offensive and a counteroffensive by NAF army corps. But the front line remains static and it is still unknown whether this case will differ from other such incidents, since each side would prefer the other to initiate the offensive.

2. From the political point of view, the situation is also developing without serious changes. US reaction was mild. Pence said that the US is concerned about the situation on the Donbass but did not directly accuse the republics or the Russian Federation. The White House is in a general state of avoidance, stating that it has little information concerning what is happening on the Donbass even though US Global Hawk recon drones have been regularly flying over Ukraine in recent months. Reacting to the passive administration stance, the opposition in the Congress decided to remind everyone of its existence by blaming Russia of everything and calling for immediate new sanctions. So here too the situation is without major changes. Both Moscow and Donetsk stated adherence to the current political course, repeating their 2014-dated theses on the lack of alternative to Minsk Agreements, which cannot be implemented in any form and on the intra-Ukrainian conflict, which neither Kiev nor Washington acknowledge. This is why Zakharchenko once again publicly said that for as long as the Minsk format exists, DPR and LPR will not unite. As noted before, Russia will not make major changes to its policies prior to negotiations with Trump on Syria and Ukraine and will maintain present course irrespective of how intense the shelling is. Likewise no changes will be made by the Russia-dependent DPR and LPR governments. As we can see from the White House reaction, the Trump administration prefers to wait for the results of the negotiations, after which the events will begin to develop one way or another, depending on whether an agreement is reached or not. I think that we’ll learn already during the spring in what direction they will unfold. But it seems obvious these developments will come outside of the Minsk Agreements context.

3. Naturally Kiev does not want to await agreements on Ukraine without its participation and is trying to wedge itself into the process. But since the junta has no resources other than military, it leads to an increase in military tension and the threat of resuming combat operations. This in turn sharpens divisions and conflicts within the Ukrainian political elite, part of which is constantly trying to offer itself up to the new White House administration as an “effective replacement” for Poroshenko, with whom the Trump administration is naturally not thrilled due to Poroshenko’s involvement in Hillary Clinton’s election campaign as a source of compromising information on Trump. Tymoshenko, who tried to catch Trump as he was entering a bathroom and called for martial law, suggest preparations for early elections in which securing the radicals’ votes will be one of the guarantees of success. Saakashvili is likewise continuing his frenetic activity, in the hopes of returning to the good graces of his masters which during Obama’s term cooled considerably toward Michiko. Saakashvili continues to remind everyone that he’s always had good relations with the Republicans and that he’ll be more effective at combating corruption than Poroshenko. There is an ongoing revival of various fascist and semi-fascist marginals who are also jumping on the bandwagon of “martial law”, “volunteer battalion march on Kiev”, “third Maidan by the fascists and cheated investors.”

4. Naturally no pro-Russian forces are present there, it’s a proverbial battle of spiders in a bottle who are seeking to draw the attention of the master and receive a license to rule or at least the right to take part in the future division of authority and property when the Poroshenko regime is replaced. Russia has hardly anyone to bet on there–the Opposition Block is not only composed of former Party of Region members (which alone speaks volumes) but is facing the prospect of factionalization by interested oligarchs. Medvedchuk’s “Ukrainian Choice” was a politically marginal force even during better times. Neither the socialists (who could be bet on following the Moldova example) not the Communist Party are legal in Ukraine. Some of the Rada factions and groups are controlled by Kolomoysky and are orienting on Washington and Brussels. The only benefit from this dogfight is that it weakens the junta and raises the likelihood the conflict will be frozen.

3. If the US and Russia avoid taking big steps prior to direct negotiations concerning the fate of Syria and Ukraine, the reactions of the dependent regimes in Kiev and Lugansk/Donetsk will radically differ. If for Zakharchenko and Plotnitskiy the preservation of the current political limbo means continuing in Russia’s shadow and preserving their personal authority (which to a large extent is guaranteed by their signatures under Minsk Agreements), it’s a wholly different story for Poroshenko since the political limbo without active fighting deepens the internal political and socio-economic divisions which represent a direct threat to his power and wealth, and moreover Kiev can’t find a way to adjust itself to the new US administration in order to obtain the desirable guarantees of continued support for the Poroshenko regime. In order to show his usefulness, Poroshenko needs a limited war of sufficient intensity to attract US attention, in order to guarantee the White House support for him remaining in power and thus postpone the threat of early elections, the collapse of the current democracy, and active social protests that might be exploited by political demagogues and radicals. It is this collision that will continue pushing Kiev toward new attempts to influence the situation using military methods.

In conclusion, the current situation may be seriously changed only by a UAF offensive or a rather unlikely socio-economic explosion in Ukraine. Barring either of these events, US and Russia will continue their wait-and-see strategy.

 

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