Is Donbas referendum path to peace or capitulation
Putin could well offer Trump such a scenario as a referendum in Donbas on the status of occupied territories because the U.S. president is inclined to simple solutons to complex issues. For Trump, this kind of format would be okay, but not the referendum itself.
The official reaction of the White House and Department of State clearly indicates that Washington is not considering the Donbas referendum as a likely option. Also, the idea does not fit into the concepts of either the European Union or, moreover, Ukraine.
So, discussing any possibility of holding a referendum without the prior pullback of Russian troops from eastern Ukraine and without de-seperatisation is simply inappropriate. Ukraine should emphasize the fact that a certain period of time must pass after Russian troops withdraw and full control is re-established over the border in order to carry out any actions related to elections, referendums and other electoral measures. That is, first of all, there is a need for a certain "quarantine" in these territories to carry out de-separatisation measures and investigate war crimes, punish perpetrators, grant amnesty to some of them, and ensure forgiveness at a personal level.
Therefore, under today's conditions, there can be no referendum in Donbas. Ukraine cannot afford it politically, geopolitically, or military-wise.
Of course, despite non-acceptance by international community and Ukraine of such a scenario, Russia will still try to push and spin the idea in the Normandy Four talks, seeking allies that would exert pressure on Ukraine to realize the plan. But, from my point of view, such a scenario has no potential for its implementation.
Under today's conditions, there can be no referendum in Donbas. Ukraine cannot afford it politically, geopolitically, or military-wise
So how exactly would the Donbas referendum favor the Kremlin and what threats would it bear for Ukraine? When journalists asked the sources who leaked the info on referendum discussions in Helsinki, they explained that it would not be held in line with a "Crimean scenario." That is, the people of Donbas would not be asked whether they seek the region's accession to Russia. Instead, the referendum would be about the region's return to Ukraine under certain conditions. This would mean a de facto consolidation of the occupational status of these territories under the guise of their return and reintegration. And this would mean the need to pass amendments to the Constitution, grant these areas a separate status, greenlight mass amnesty, create joint military units, police departments, etc. And that's without the actual withdrawal of Russian troops and without cleansing the territory of criminals.
In addition, there is a risk related to the fact that Ukraine has certain political forces that could pick up the idea of the referendum – it's those who advocate "peace at all costs." These political forces, of course, will try to "pump up" Ukrainian society – claiming that referendum is actually an easy way to resolve the crisis, capable of eliminating contradictions and ending the war...
In fact, it will be capitulation. Every Ukrainian national must realize this because any discussion on such a referendum by the Kremlin scenario will mean Ukraine's complete surrender.
Vitaliy Kulyk is a Director of the Center for the Study of Civil Society Problems