The public sentiments in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) can be described in a single word – disappointment. Uncertain goals and prospects of the young republic, for the establishment of which the people had to vote, is now oppressing them even more than permanent bombardments. A paradox? Far from it.
On the wave of Crimea’s unification and the promises to “protect Russians in Ukraine,” in early April 2014 under Russian flags and chanting “Russia” the people seized the building of the local administration where newly-minted leaders of Donbass declared the DPR and applied to Russia for help. It is noteworthy that the large-scale protests and rallies voiced only one demand: joining the Russian Federation. The idea of Novorossiya was considered as part of the implemented project including Crimea that had already reunited with Russia, while the project of an independent republic was not discussed at all. Prior to those events, pro-Russian activists appealed to the local authorities with a legal demand to hold a referendum on the status of the region as part of Ukraine and an opportunity to decide the fate of Donbass independently. Only after making sure that they were loyal to the Kiev regime, the activists resorted to radical measures.
The referendum of May 11 2014 recognizing sovereignty of the recently proclaimed republic was presented to the people as a transitional stage on the way to integration with the Russian Federation. The date of the second referendum for unification with Russia was announced, but the issue has faded away as an intensive armed conflict broke out. Many prefer not to remember about it now.
The Kremlin ignored the will of the Donbass residents but recognized the results of the presidential election in Ukraine, while the Minsk ceasefire stopped the de-facto defeat of Ukraine’s Armed Force and conquest of the strategic city of Mariupol by the self-defense forces. The Kremlin’s newly minted henchmen used the fragile truce to legitimize their power. To that end, they did not let then popular Communist Party and Novorossiya Party led by Pavel Gubarev to run for the DPR parliament. By tradition, lists of candidates of the two public movements were drafted and the people finally learned who their candidates are. Surviving horrific bombardments, the people again rushed to polling stations with the only desire to stop that horror and had to choose from the lists of unknown candidates. However, the slogan “We are Moving to Russia” was left unchanged. The people believed them, experiencing wartime hardships.
The winter operation of 2014-2015 showed the increased combat efficiency of the Ukrainian army. The self-defense had more moderate successes than in summer while casualties increased tangibly. The area of the Donetsk airport was regained and the towns of Uglegorsk and Debaltseve were liberated through a brilliant operation. Then the Russian president nurtured a plan of the peaceful settlement of the conflict that was later called Minsk-2. If implemented, the provisions 4, 8, and 9 of the plan provided for restoration of Ukraine’s jurisdiction in the territories of the young republics. Reportedly, the leaders of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics refused to sign it and it was the personal interference of Vladislav Surkov that righted the ship. The leaders did not reckon with the people’s opinion just saying it is “our political victory” and “the only method to return the lost territories through peaceful means.”
What then? A political victory amid economic blockade, unrecognized status, permanent bombardments and casualties. The “neither war nor peace” situation continues for a second year already and the number of casualties can be compared to the period of active military actions. The doubletalk in Minsk just helps reducing fire for a not long period, nothing else. The people are generally skeptical about it.
The economic situation is deteriorating also for lack of substantial program to restore the industrial potential of the region, which is impossible without Russia’s assistance. However, the fate of Donbass is in the air, since there is ideological vacuum in the Russian Federation and Russian oligarchs consider Donbass as potential rival and try to drain away the highly qualified engineering staff.
Inherently, instead of integration into Russia, Donbass has to choose between the aggressive regime of Kiev with the Nazi ideology and punitive battalions and friendly Russia with permanently shelled unrecognized territory surrounded with barbed wire, security roadblocks and mines, with obscure prospects, tired and partially demoralized population.
Certainly, it is impossible to frozen the conflict on the example of Transnistria considering its specifics. Donbass’ fate fully depends on the Kremlin’s policy.
Andrey Nezvaniy, Donetsk