The Kremlin seems to be giving up on the Minsk agreements as a means to achieve its objectives in Ukraine and is shifting to other methods of exerting pressure on Kyiv, the report claims.
These include calls to offer Russian citizenship to residents of the separatist-held areas of the Donbas region, suggestions that it may turn the territories into a Russian protectorate or annex them, and moves implying a new military offensive.
However, it is noted that Moscow does not want these territories. It does not want to bear the cost of restoring and rebuilding the area. It wants to use the territories to undermine Kyiv authorities.
“It’s a mechanism to distract and destabilize the government in Kyiv,” Steven Pifer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was quoted as saying.
“They can ratchet pressure up or ratchet it down in eastern Ukraine to cause problems for the government in Kyiv,” according to Pifer.
Ultimately Russia wants to get the separatist territories reintegrated into Ukraine, with the ability to veto any attempts of the Ukrainian government to integrate with the West.
Ukrainian officials and pro-Moscow separatists held negotiations in Minsk again this week, just as they have been doing for months since the ceasefire was signed in the Belarusian capital in February. The parties did not reach any solution, as disputes seem to be irremediable, as noted in the report.
Kyiv wants to reintegrate the region only after separatist fighters are disarmed, after Russia withdraws its troops and weapons, after the border is returned to Ukraine’s control, and after free, fair, and internationally supervised elections are held. The Kremlin and its Donbas proxies want the territories reintegrated into Ukraine with broad autonomy, with the current separatist leaders being legitimized as the region’s rulers.
A deadlock in negotiations may be beneficial to Ukraine. Then Russia may realize it has to be broken. If it decides to issue passports to residents of the rebel-held territories in eastern Ukraine, it will change the nature of the conflict right away.
Gevorg Mirzayan of the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies noted that the move would mark a significant shift in Kremlin policy.