Two trends have clearly emerged in the course of conflict in the Donbas in the past few months. The first one - Moscow has stepped up its actions to effectively integrate CADLO into the military, legal, economic and political space of the Russian Federation. The second one - Russia has returned to the use of military action as a tool for influence on Ukraine.
It should be noted right away that Moscow initially regarded the agreement on the ceasefire, concluded on July 22 last year, not as a process of saving lives, but as an instrument to achieve its main goal - the subjectivization of CADLO as a party to the conflict and a subject of negotiations with Kyiv. To do this, the Kremlin needs to move the center of decision-making on the Donbas from the Normandy Four, where there is no CADLO, and Russia is considered a party to the conflict, to the level of the Trilateral Contact Group, in which, on the contrary, there is CADLO, and Russia pretends to be the "second mediator". That is why Moscow agreed to reach an agreement on a "ceasefire" at the TCG, although before that, the issue had been unsuccessfully discussed by the N-4 foreign policy advisers.
Now about why it is important for Russia to get Kyiv to the conference table with Donetsk and Luhansk, and why Ukraine should never do this.
The fact is that as soon as Kyiv starts a direct dialogue with the occupied provinces, Moscow will be able to present it to the whole world as proof of the civil "internal Ukrainian" conflict. And, of course, it will demand the lifting of sanctions, which today are tied to its failure to comply with the Minsk Agreements. Then it will continue to carry money, weapons and "vacationers" to the Donbas, but at the same time, Ukraine will no longer have any tool to weaken the enemy, except for the military one.
After all, as of today, when Ukraine has not liberated its territories by military means for six years, its only tool to weaken the aggressor is economic sanctions: first of all, Western, and then - domestic. If Moscow, having got Kyiv to the conference table with Donetsk and Luhansk, eliminates or weakens the effect of this tool, Ukraine will have only three options: either to agree to federalization with the de facto absorption of Ukraine by the so-called "DNR"-"LNR"; to put the conflict on hold, having recognized the eastern territories as lost at least before the collapse of Russia; or to use the only remaining method of weakening the enemy and forcing him to withdraw from our territory - the military.
It is clear that none of these options can satisfy the majority of the country's population, which means it will cause serious internal destabilization and a threat to its integrity and sovereignty. Actually, therefore, the Kremlin is seeking them.
That is, for Moscow, the end of hostilities in the East as a result of direct negotiations between Kyiv and the Donbas is not "the end of the war", as Medvedchuk and his OPFL members are singing sweetly, but the strengthening of the GLOBAL HYBRID WAR against Ukraine, the purpose of which is to destroy Ukrainian statehood.
That is why Moscow agreed to the July "truce" and that is why it actually thwarted it six months later, when it saw that its plan had not worked, and the new Ukrainian president did not exchange the rating, but mythical, "peace" for recognizing the conflict as "internal Ukrainian".
At the same time, Russia is intensifying the transformation of the part of Donbas it occupied into a "Russian" enclave (according to both statistics and sociology, the majority of the population of both Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts called themselves Ukrainians until 2014). Since Kyiv did not want to play a quick suicide on Russia's terms, she began to play a long game. As the repeater of Surkov's thoughts, political strategist Alexey Chesnakov once said, Moscow is ready to wait even 50 years…
In practice, this "readiness to wait" is manifested in choosing by the Russian Federation of the Abkhaz scenario for the development of conflict in the East of Ukraine.
"This means that the Donbas is a part of Russia de facto, but not de jure. About as it was with Abkhazia before the events of 2008", - pro-Kremlin Russian political analyst Sergey Markov explains.
In fact, the Abkhazian scenario consists of:
- institutionalization of the puppet "state";
- "conversion" of the majority of residents to Russian citizenship;
- integration of this quasi-state into the Russian economic and political space;
- and its recognition, in the event of an attempt by Ukraine to liberate its territory.
However, the Donbas and Abkhazia have one big difference - there are Abkhazians in Abkhazia, as a separate ethnic group, but there are no "Donbas people", the residents of the occupied Donbas are different from the rest of the Ukrainians neither by their nationality, nor by religion, or any other characteristics. Well, there are 200 thousand people in Abkhazia, while there are more than three million - in CADLO…
But Russia has figured out how to solve these "small problems".
It actually began, in fact, the segregation of population of the part of the Donbas it controls, cutting off the ties between CADLO and Ukraine and displacing citizens with pro-Ukrainian sentiments and passports.
Thus, Moscow forms a politically and legally monolithic composition of the population of the occupied region, integrated into the Russian Federation as citizens of the Russian Federation, "DNR", "LNR", but not Ukraine. According to information from our sources in Donetsk, Moscow sets a task for the occupation administrations until 2025 to bring the population passportization with the "DNR"-"LNR" "documents" to 100%. More than 50% should have obtained Russian citizenship by this time.
This way, the Russian Federation, firstly, - optimizes its expenses for the occupation; and secondly, - solves the problem of expanding the possible formats of its participation in the conflict in the future: from direct military intervention by "peacekeeping forces" to protect "Russian citizens", to the recognition of the "DNR"-"LNR" and the use of "their" armed formations to capture new territories of Ukraine. The need for a land bridge to the Crimea, due to the water crisis on the peninsula, will only increase…
To implement the Abkhazian scenario, Russia implements tasks in CADLO of Ukraine to:
- decrease the number of population living in the region;
- segregate the population along ideological and ethnic lines, displace the Ukrainians and all unreliable;
- break the ties of the population with Ukraine, including legal ones;
- intensify the issuing Russian passports to the population;
- drag out diplomatic negotiations to resolve the conflict;
- subjectify CADLO politically and decrease the role of the Normandy Four.
In practice, the activation of the integration of CADLO with Russia was expressed in the following steps.
1. The "Russian Donbass" doctrine
Propaganda and public, organized by the "authorities", discussion of the "Russian Donbass" doctrine began in CADLO. According to D.Pushilin, the purpose of the doctrine was the entry of "DNR"-"LNR" "into the Russian Federation". But, apparently, after a peremptory shout from the Kremlin, it was reformulated in its final form as "strengthening the statehood of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics as Russian national states".
It is clear that Moscow does not need the entry of the "republics" into the Federation. In that case, the Russian Federation will not only ramp up sanctions against itself, but will also lose a tool of weakening Ukraine, for which it turned the Donbas into an arena of hostilities and a rogue territory. No, Moscow does not need Donbas in terms of territory, it needs Donbas as an non-healing wound of Ukraine. In this regard, the "Russian Donbass" doctrine has quite practical purposes:
- creation of an ideological and "scientific" basis for separating CADLO from Ukraine on the basis that the region is allegedly "Russia-specific";
- substantiation of the "internal" nature of the "intra-Ukrainian conflict", giving it an "ethnic" character;
- ideological binding of the region to Russia in the minds of the population, creation for people of a single option of the "Russian" future of this region;
- psychological pressure on the Ukrainian authorities in order to accelerate a political settlement of the conflict in the Donbas on Moscow's terms.
2. Discrimination of holders of Ukrainian passports, stimulation and coercion to obtain the "DNR"-"LNR" passports
For more than a year, holders of Ukrainian passports can be detained in Donetsk for 30 days in order to find out their identity. 30 days to find out the identity of a person with a document still legitimate in this territory…!
Holders of Ukrainian ID-passports cannot receive social benefits in Donetsk and carry out other operations in which an identity document is needed already now. They must "legalize" the ID-passport to do this. And "legalization" means getting an "address certificate" about registration of a place of residence. In turn, this certificate is issued only if there is a certificate that the person has applied for the "DNR passport"…
For almost a year now, people who must receive passports for the first time, or need their verification by age, cannot do this because of the checkpoints closed by the occupation administrations. They are forced to obtain the "DNR" passports in order to have at least some documents.
According to information from open sources, which is confirmed by our insiders in Donetsk, the authorities of the "republics" set a task to issue the "DNR"-"LNR" passports to 100% of those living in CADLO by 2025. The next step will be seizure of Ukrainian passports. Such a step will present Ukraine with a choice: either to close the entrance to the territory controlled by the government for citizens with the "DNR"-"LNR" passports, or to recognize the documents of the "republics". Both options will suit Moscow, but carry serious risks for Kyiv.
Without a passport of Ukraine, residents of CADLO will not be able to receive Ukrainian pensions, social benefits, enter universities, open bank cards, etc. That is, they will be completely cut off from Ukraine.
The draft "Law" "On Citizenship" that is currently being discussed in Donetsk assumes that "the DNR citizenship" cannot be obtained by people who have been absent on the territory of the "republic" (internally displaced persons) for a long time and are politically unreliable. Thus, conditions are being created for IDPs and all pro-Ukrainian people to break all ties with the territory controlled by the occupiers. More than two million people will find themselves, in fact, powerless in their small motherland. Although, what am I talking about, what kind of civil rights there, in general, can we talk about?!
3. Issuance of Russian passports
Obtaining passports of the "republics" at this stage is considered by the majority of their recipients as a means of obtaining Russian citizenship under a simplified procedure. It is interesting that although Russian passports are given to converts on the territory of the Russian Federation, but documents for obtaining Russian citizenship are accepted by the migration services of the "DNR"-"LNR" "MIA" directly on the territory of Ukraine. This, again, proves Russia's "non-involvement" in the "internal Ukrainian" conflict and the status of local "authorities" as the Kremlin's occupation administrations.
The passport of the Russian Federation is issued after passing identification by comparison of fingerprints and taking the oath of a citizen of the Russian Federation.
According to insider information, Moscow tasks the heads of the occupation administrations of CADO and CALO with obtaining such a number of Russian passports in the territories under their jurisdiction so that more than 50% of residents have Russian citizenship by 2025. At the same time, the leaders of the "DNR"-"LNR" themselves voice the goal of 80-90% to their subordinates.
It should be noted that Russia does not just show "who is the boss" by this certification, it also resolves its purely, absolutely pragmatic goals. Namely:
- to permanently consolidate its influence on this territory, regardless of the timing and options for its return to Ukraine;
- to lay the groundwork for military intervention in the event of Kyiv's attempts to liberate its territory;
- to create a new mobilization resource from "citizens of Russia" living in CADLO;
- to create a bridgehead for the seizure of new territories of Ukraine by the hands of the "DNR"-"LNR";
- to create a legal framework for the legal training of military and special personnel of the "republics" as "citizens of Russia" living in CADLO;
- to lay the groundwork for departure of the able-bodied population from CADLO and reduce the number of the population of the occupied region;
- to mitigate the consequences of the demographic crisis in the Russian Federation at the expense of immigrants from the Donbas;
- to increase the electoral base of pro-Kremlin parties at the expense of "citizens of the Russian Federation" from CADLO (elections to the State Duma of Russia will be held in September 2021).
4. CADLO militarization
One of the factors in intensification of the integration of CADLO with the Russian Federation for the Kremlin was also the success of Azerbaijan in the Karabakh conflict, and the conclusion by Ukraine of an agreement with Turkey on the supply of 48 Bayraktars, which turned the beam of the hostilities in Karabakh.
This stimulated Moscow's supply of new weapons to CADLO, as well as the beginning of the real construction of a "second line of defense" of the "republics."
In addition, the publication of "decrees" "on conducting control notification and appearance of citizens in being in reserve at the points of preliminary gathering of citizens from December 2020 to November 2021" by Moscow-appointed "leaders" of the "DNR"-"LNR" Pushilin and Pasechnik is aimed at the increasing of mobilization readiness.
Against this background, an information campaign on the need to introduce universal military obligation has also intensified. The issue is presented in the public spotlight as already resolved, "the disputes are at the top of our government about the terms of service", - ex-commander of the Vostok Battalion A.Khodakovsky specified. "The scheme is simple: conscription with the right to switch to a contract basis. Conscripts do not go to operating units, but those who find themselves in the army can connect their lives with it and go to defend their "homeland", - he explained.
It has to be said that this hype around "universal conscription" will also contribute to the ousting of young people from the territory of the "republics", since even service in the legitimate Ukrainian or Russian armies is preferred over participation in the illegal armed formations…
5. Using COVID-19 to isolate from Ukraine and reduce the population
The COVID-19 pandemic remains an important factor that is used to segregate the CADLO population and isolate it from Ukraine.
The passage of people through the checkpoint is still significantly limited (especially in CADO) and compared to 2019, it has decreased by almost 30 times. The checkpoints are closed (and new ones are being blocked) by the occupation authorities, regardless of the fact that the COVID situation in the government-controlled territory is much better than in Moscow-controlled territory. Taking this into account, we can conclude that the reasons for such isolation are purely political and there is no reason to believe that the militants intend to lift the blockade of the checkpoints with an improvement in the epidemic situation.
Against this background, data on infection and mortality from COVID-19 in CADLO, obtained as a result of analysis and comparison of open information, speak of the Kremlin's targeted policy to physically reduce the population of the occupied territory of Donbas.
So, on average, only 0.016 of the population is being tested daily in CADO (for comparison - about 0.15% on average in Ukraine). There is only one (!) laboratory for testing COVID-19 for about 2.5 million residents. On average, 52% of the tests are positive. The mortality rate of patients diagnosed with COVID-19 in the "DNR" (according to "official" statistics!) is 9% (2.4% - in Ukraine). If we add the mortality rate from "usual pneumonia" to this, then the mortality rate will approach 15% - this is higher than anywhere else in the world.
At the same time, local "authorities" regard the vaccination against COVID-19, rather, as a propaganda effort. They are trying to compensate for the low amount of the vaccine received from Russia with false information that vaccination is contraindicated for those who have already had COVID-19. Since, due to financial and logistical problems, many people with symptoms of the disease did not do tests, but against the background of general covid psychosis, they consider themselves those who went through coronavirus, such information manipulation will significantly reduce the percentage of those who voluntarily apply for vaccination…
Summing up, it follows that the purpose of the conflict in Donbas for Russia remains its use as a tool to restrain Kyiv from Euro-Atlantic integration, divert its efforts from the fight against the occupation of the Crimea and as a mechanism to influence the internal political situation in Ukraine. Outside of this goal, neither the people of Donbas, nor its territory is needed by Moscow. And life there will deliberately deteriorate, and the population, no less deliberately, will decrease - in every sense.
However, today, there is a light at the end of the tunnel more than ever - a real hope for the possibility of the region return in the foreseeable future. It is connected with the deterioration of geopolitical and economic conditions for the Kremlin. They, slowly but steadily, influence the internal political situation in Russia, which is gradually getting tired of decaying Putin.
In turn, the new leadership of Ukraine has already become realistic enough to understand that Kyiv will not be able to come to an agreement with Moscow without shooting itself in the head. This leaves Zelensky no choice but to start a real fight against the aggressor state, including within the country. For the first time in 7 years of war, the process, as the phrase goes, has begun. Now you just need to make sure that it goes in the right direction…
Serhiy Harmash, Center for Research of Donbas Social Perspectives, for OstroV