Originally appeared at Colonelcassad, translated by J.Hawk exclusively for SouthFront
Concerning the Donbass’ future. Here’s what Aleksandr Zhuchkovskiy [SF editor: Zhuchkovskiy is one of the most known Donbass volunteers in the Russian blogosphere] has to say:
“Today I obtained a near-100% guarantee that Donbass will not be surrendered to Ukraine. It’s a “near-100%” guarantee because only a liberal coup in Russia would deliver Donbass to the Ukraine, and I don’t believe that can happen.
I can’t say what this guarantee consists of, but I am writing this so that my readers and commenters finally stop their hysteria concerning the inevitable return of the Donbass to Ukraine at the behest of Russia. All such mantras will henceforth be interpreted as stupidity or conscious intimidation of LDPR inhabitants.
This doesn’t mean that a happy future will break out on the Donbass overnight, or that one ought to unconditionally applaud Russia’s policies toward Ukraine/LDPR. Unfortunately, the current unstable and fragile situation might continue for a long time, and it is possible that Russia will make more than one outrageous statement along the way, statement contrary to our sentiments.
“But that there shall be no return of LDPR to Ukraine under any circumstances (barring a hypothetical regime change in Russia) is an absolute given. I call on my comrades to keep this in mind, and on my adversaries to acquiesce to it and not get bent out of shape.”
Indeed, one can only agree with Aleksandr–the Donbass can only return to Ukraine only in the case of a general Russian defeat in the cold war with the US.
One can also consider the possibility that the Donbass will return to Ukraine if the West listens to the Kremlin and agrees on a genuine Ukrainian decentralization and regime change in Kiev, but I think the chances the US would do that are close to zero even with the current administration, not to mention the next one. Since the conflict will continue to unfold, Russia will defy Obama’s ultimatum, and the US will in turn ignore Kremlin’s wishes concerning Ukraine, the national republics have no real choice other than to continue existing as unrecognized state entities whose future depends on the ultimate outcome of the Russia-US cold war. This much is obvious without any special inside information, and Zhuchkovskiy’s sources confirm that (and he himself never exercised any particular restraint in assessing the situation in LPR and DPR).Concerning LPR and DPR becoming part of Russia, that is highly unlikely as long as the cold war with the US continues. Should Russia prevail, such an option will become available, but not before. If Russia succumbs, the option will simply not be on the agenda, since Russia will lose Donbass, Crimea, and much more besides. The general approach of “zig-zagging” on the Donbass, achieving progress in Syria, and splitting Europe, is wholly understandable, but its results will depend on US countermeasures deployed in these theaters and in countries bordering Russia where the US will seek to fan conflicts in order to stretch Russia’s fairly modest resources. The outcome of a clash in a single country, be it Ukraine or Syria, would be tactical in nature and not decisive in the conflict as a whole, which will be decided by a combination of factors even as individual theaters of conflict grow cooler and are replaced by others (potentially Moldavia, Transnistria, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia/Karabakh, Tajikistan, etc.), which currently look fairly calm. Apart from military and political activity combined with sanctions pressure, the blows will be delivered from other directions, for example against Russian sports establishment as part of various anti-doping campaigns and attempts to deprive Russia of the 2018 soccer world championship and ability to compete in the Olympics. One also has to note periodic harassment of Russian assets abroad (for example by using the Yukos affair) and outright subversion through information warfare aimed at promoting economy-related centrifugal processes in Russia itself.
The risk of a hot war is currently very small but not non-existent. The growing tensions in US-Russia relations will discharge themselves in a series of local wars and conflicts where the two sides will use proxies to achieve their objectives on the territory of third countries that lack sovereignty, or fight for influence in semi-independent states. Ukraine and LDPR have become the instruments of the ongoing conflict and they will not be abandoned for as long as the struggle continues. Therefore LDPR cannot return to Ukraine but will instead receive partial support from Russia, while the US will not abandon the junta and will likewise continue preparing the Ukrainian military for a war against Russia and render it genuine military, financial, and other assistance. Nobody in their right mind will rule out war as an instrument of policy for as long as it is required to achieve one’s aims (aside from scenarios pursued by Gorbachev/Shevardnadze/Yeltsin).
Donbass cannot expect a “bright future” in the middle-term perspective, the ongoing war can hardly lead to a serious improvement in the standard of living in the republics whose future legal status depends on the conflict which is beyond their power to influence, therefore there are few reasons for optimism. Ukraine is in a similar situation, it will receive support for as long as it is at war, but that doesn’t mean it will suddenly become “Europe,” rather the opposite–since it is merely a round of ammunition in the war against Russia, Ukraine has found itself even further away from Europe than it was under Yanukovych. The coup did not happen in order to bring Ukraine into Europe but in order to use it as a military-political bridgehead in the US-Russia clash.In final account the current slugfest on the Donbass between LDPR and the junta is nothing more than an extension of the global slugfest between Russia and US on Ukraine and Syria. There will be a few departures from it in the next six months, when the overall situation changes somewhat.
Sanctions against Russia
There is a 99.9% likelihood they will be extended which will lead to an escalation on the Donbass both before and after the decision. Russia’s efforts to rely on Europe’s right and separatist movements brought decent tactical results such as the Dutch referendum, the French Senate vote, or Italian separatists’ demarche. But that was too little to break the basic mechanism of Euroatlantic control which has led to the sanctions regime as a means of promoting US foreign policy. Hence the regret that Europe is not an independent actor on the international scene and lacks sufficient influence. Atlantic lobby representatives can only offer Russia empty promises and meaningless guarantees (such as those proffered to Gorbachev), but they only amount to proposals to capitulate with honor along the lines of “you give something up, and we will soften the sanctions and will beat you with more gentleness.”
Therefore, in spite of local political victories, we are observing NATO increase its military presence along Russia’s borders, Germany officially classify Russia as an enemy, and the regional pseudo-states are being transformed into a “cordon sanitaire” which is gradually stuffed with troops, and these plans reach far into the future, far beyond Obama’s term in office which means that the course of US-Russia confrontation does not greatly depend on who occupies the Oval Office.
The Syria “ceasefire”
It has nearly run its course and the US are making that clear by demanding that Russia exert pressure on Assad, including by threatening to attack it militarily in order to topple it, and to attack Russian aircraft. On the one hand we see diplomatic statements like “Russia should…”, but on the other hand we see actual threats and saber-rattling “if Russia doesn’t do this and this, we will bomb Assad and shoot down Russian aircraft.” It’s a classic “stick and carrot: approach whose use means that the “ceasefire” in Syria was only tactical for both sides, and there is no fundamental agreement between Russia and US on Syria’s future which is leading to the current mix of threats and cajoling. It is obvious that would be preferable for the US to end the conflict through diplomatic pressure rather than to get involved in yet another dubious military misadventure on the eve of elections. Moscow understands the US is under time pressure and is likewise pursuing a bifurcated policy, with the Syrian Army conducting operations in Eastern Gouta, northern Latakia, Homs, Aleppo, and against Raqqa even as diplomats talk about the “ceasefire” and process of conflict resolution. These military activities have active Russian support through supplies, advisors, and airstrikes. The US is similarly hypocritical when it comes to the “moderate opposition” south of Aleppo. In final account, both sides assess the future of the ceasefire in approximately similar manner, and are trying to shift the responsibility for its collapse on the other side while attempting to improve their positions in Syria through military means.
The closer the elections, the greater their influence on US foreign policy. The demands to “hurry up in Syria” and “accelerate Minsk Agreements” demonstrate the time pressure on the Obama Administration which is trying to score a success in Syria and/or Ukraine for the sake of Hillary’s electoral success. The efforts to score such success through bypassing Russia, such as the independent operation near Raqqa and Mosul had no success, and the capture of Fallujah will not have the same effect since that very same Fallujah was captured twice already during the Bush Administration. Therefore the US is demanding Russia accelerate Assad’s departure and Minsk Agreements, because if nothing happens in the next few months this will become the next administration’s problem, and a military adventure on the eve of an election can easily backfire.5. The fate of Minsk Agreements.
If there is no progress on the matter of Donbass elections or Syria ceasefire, Minsk will almost certainly not be implemented. The theme of extending them to 2017 will naturally appear on the agenda in the fall, together with the question of prolonging sanctions against Russia for Crimea and Donbass. The sanctions will most likely not be lifted during the 2016-17 winter, either. How that issue is resolved will depend on US elections and their influence on US foreign policy that will directly affect the course of Syria and Ukraine conflicts, just as it provoked direct US intervention in Iraq and Syria. Both the continuation of conflict in its present form and sharp escalation are equally plausible, due to US attempts to achieve progress on one of these fronts before Obama’s departure. That could lead to more fighting on the Donbass and forcible measures against Assad. Escalation could bury Minsk-2, but it is more likely that, considering Europe’s position, they will be extended, with the matter being postponed until early 2017 when Moscow will have to make adjustments to its Ukraine and Syria policies to account for post-Obama policy changes.
In any event, Donbass’ fate is closely tied to a whole range of international factors which are beyond Donbass’ influence. The question of immediate military, political, and economic survival was resolved already in 2015, and its long-term future depends on the outcome of a more global conflict in which the status of the Donbass is an important but not the sole issue.
They are possible only if junta reaches a direct accommodation with DPR and LPR. So far it has no such desire. From Kiev’s point of view, direct negotiations would be an admission there’s a civil war in Ukraine where DPR and LPR are legitimate parties to said war. That’s unacceptable to the junta and its masters, otherwise why inflate the “Russian aggression” bubble? Therefore only Moscow is pressured to fulfill Minsk Agreements while DPR and LPR are being pointedly ignored. From the Russian side, holding elections on the Donbass to the tune called by Kiev and the US, in other words, with LPR and DPR not at the negotiating table, would be tantamount to a unilateral political capitulation that would moreover provide no guarantees concerning Crimea, sanctions, or the future US policy toward Russia.
Therefore in the absence of serious concessions by both sides, it is more likely than not that the Donbass elections scheduled for June 20 will be moved to the fall. But if one is to depart from the Minsk framework, DPR and LPR naturally can hold elections with Moscow’s approval alone without worrying about Kiev. That would mean the end of Minsk Agreements. So far Moscow is not interested in becoming the main undertaker of Minsk-2, therefore it is more likely the elections will be moved to a later date.