26 October 2016

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OpinionRussians will go from Donbas without a goodbye

Russian "patriots" like vague discussions on the topic of whether Putin takes the Russian-occupied Donbas into the Russian Federation, as it has already been done with the Ukrainian Crimea, or gives up on it. Rumor has it that the Kremlin has many towers and each of them whispers in Putin’s ears its own agenda. Someone of the Russian leader’s confidants insists that there is an urgent need to improve relations with the West and to stop tormenting Ukraine, while someone is positive that it will result in a fatal image loss for Putin and accusations of betraying the "Russian world."

At the moment, the Russian state machine keeps working in a pre-set mode. Russian spin doctors deployed in Donetsk continue to shape up the image of militant leaders, who will soon boast a notorious 146% support. The assigned talking heads continue to stigmatize Poroshenko and other top officials from the “junta” on the Russian TV. Top-ranking officers of the Russian Defense Ministry and the Russian special services continue to provide the “young republics" with ammunition, military equipment and other components needed to wage war.

Two years into the conflict, it is becoming clear that the situation in the war-torn eastern Ukraine has come to a dead end, and there will be no legalization and no recognition within Ukraine of Donbas thugs

The Russian president continues to demand that Kyiv agree with him the Ukrainian Constitution and provide a special status for the seized parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. It looks like the Russian militants in these areas will ensure their "legitimate rights and interests" (a Putin's quote, no less) and attack the Ukrainian position until getting political concessions. Meanwhile, even the native Russian media write bluntly that the “collectors of the Russian land” sent from Russia to Donbas are in fact murderers and looters.

Two years into the conflict, it is becoming clear that the situation in the war-torn eastern Ukraine has come to a dead end, and there will be no legalization and no recognition within Ukraine of Donbas thugs. For the Kremlin, Donbas is now becoming an asset more and more toxic: it does not affect the policy of the Ukrainian government and is used exclusively for military pressure, which does not bring the desired results. However, the Minsk-2 was initially intended to allow Moscow's protégés to block any decision in Kyiv by exercising a veto right, and Moscow could politically influence and control the whole territory of Ukraine. But that just didn’t happen. In fact, the Kremlin has turned Donbas into a red-hot ball, which it continues to juggle, wanting to pitch it on its own terms to the Ukrainian government.  No Ukrainian government will ever agree to take back the seized territories on such terms. The experts close to the Kremlin say that Ukraine may soon lose its last chance to return what has been stolen. However, these people don’t take into account the times when Ukrainian citizenship was granted by right of birth will soon pass, and this citizenship will have to be earned in the future. Sooner or later, collaborators will be stripped of their citizenship.

Sooner or later the Kremlin will be forced to change its approach to the "Ukrainian issue." Moreover, the West is consistent in its stance toward Russia, threatening Moscow with new sanctions. Besides the financial costs, the main problem has not been solved – Ukraine is gradually walking farther away from Russia. Therefore, the Kremlin may come to a conclusion rather unexpected for the Russian "patriots": the region must be pushed back into Ukraine in any way possible. After occupying Donbas, Moscow has excluded from Ukraine’s political life millions of potentially pro-Russian voters, which means that there are no chances for the new Yanukovych to emerge. There is no one to elect him. However, Moscow still rests its hope with the Ukrainian populist politicians. If the Kremlin goes for it and the Russians actually withdraw from Donbas, Ukraine will face an extremely difficult challenge to reintegrate the population of the liberated territories. These people’s minds have been smeared with anti-Ukrainian propaganda messages over the two years of hostilities, while the main achievement of the puppet authorities – amid poverty – was maintaining the utility tariffs at a pre-war level. It will be difficult to cure their Stockholm Syndrome. This can actually destabilize Ukraine. Many of these people truly believe that Ukraine is to blame for everything and that both Putin and Poroshenko owe them. Most of them are unlikely to realize that Russia has originally planned to use them as a battering ram against the Ukrainian state.

Sooner or later the Kremlin will be forced to change its approach to the "Ukrainian issue"

Strange as it may sound, the Kremlin will suffer no repercussions if it decides to give up on Donbas. The internal target groups are excellently managed with skillful propaganda masterminds, while Donbas is now virtually gone from the news and the faces of the "young republics" are actually almost banned from the Russian political panel shows. Only occasional reports on “Donetsk hosting a festive demonstration on the occasion of its love for Moscow" can be seen nowadays. It will take one word of the Russian Man No.1 for the Russian tanks, artillery, and seized goodies to be withdrawn from Donbas to Russia in a two-week period. Minimum time will pass – and once again, the Russians will be confident in the genius of the party and government decisions. The abrupt transition of Turkey from the category of a "traitor who stabbed Russia in the back" into the category of an "ally and almost a friend" is a perfect evidence of my conclusion. The change of direction was so quick that even the Russian “propagandogs” seemed confused, having no clue how to comment on the news. By the way, the Russian citizens instantly forgot about #Krymnash (a "Crimea is ours" slogan) and rushed to the Turkish resorts.

The same will be for Donbas. Someone will swallow it, and someone will finally be able to breathe freely. And those who do not obey will have an unexpected encounter with the mythical Ukrainian subversive group, which regularly kill local warlords who have gone out of the Russian control. Only for some reason no one doubts that this liquidation team arrives from Moscow, not from Kyiv. Russian "patriots" are beginning to suspect that the SBU agents might as well deal with the mess in the Russian capital.

Roman Tsymbaliuk, Moscow

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