Regaining by force or abandoning Donbas: Experts name four scenarios for east Ukraine developments
Neither war nor peace; return by peaceful means; return by force; and the abandonment of the occupied territories – these are the key options for Donbas developments for the coming years.
Experts of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future (UIF) have been studying the issue from the beginning of the year, trying to assess probability of each of the scenarios, the Novoe Vremya weekly reported.
At the same time, UIF analysts consider the current status quo in Donbas, namely the scenario of "neither war nor peace," the most probable and most sustainable one.
Meanwhile, most Ukrainians, judging by a late-March survey by GfK Ukraine, fail to grasp the essence of the recently adopted law on the reintegration of the occupied territories, and neither do they believe it is possible to return Donbas by such means. At the same time, all respondents would like to see the conflict resolved peacefully.
Scenario No. 1: Neither war nor peace
According to experts, this is the most sustainable scenario: preservation of the current situation until 2020, i.e. until the new president and parliament are elected in Ukraine. Under this course of events, the Ukrainian political elite will be reluctant to take drastic steps that could violate the existing status quo. No clear and concrete plan for the region's return will emerge so the risks will rise of some unexpected failures will.
Russia might actively employ provocations at the front line as a tool to respond to any increase in pressure on the part of Kyiv or international institutions. Clashes are possible as a way for the Kremlin to warn the West, NATO and other organizations against engaging in the conflict even in case of its sharp aggravation.
Experts also believe that the split in society will be widening against the background of an increasing number of war veterans.
Scenario No. 2: Return by peaceful means
Most likely, such a development will immediately follow the previous scenario, whenever it is completed. Peaceful return is possible in two ways: a "Trojan horse" and a "peacekeeping mission."
The "Trojan horse" actually means the implementation of the Russian version of Minsk agreements. In this case, currently occupied territories will come under the formal jurisdiction of Ukraine. Many militants will be granted amnesty. Local elections will be held in the region where pro-Russian forces will win. As a result, a steady balance will be broken in Ukrainian politics as political parties oriented toward Russia will get more support. Therefore, Donbas will gain a special status and autonomy with the ability to influence Kyiv, while the latter will be limited in its impact on the "republics."
According to experts, the "peacekeeping mission" is a more realistic option: the introduction into the region of a limited contingent of foreign peacekeepers under international mandate. However, chances are very high that the "blue helmets" will be deployed on the front line with the self-proclaimed republics, not on the Ukraine-Russia border. In this case, Ukraine will not get full access to the occupied part, so the situation will develop according to the scenario of Transnistria.
Scenario No. 3: Non-Ukrainian Donbas: Ukraine's abandonment of its eastern territories and their direct annexation by Russia
This is the most painful scenario for the nation's self-consciousness. It can become a reality if a pro-Russian candidate wins the presidential election – for example, someone from the former Party of Regions. Another option is if the victory will be sealed by a politician declaring the need for a dialogue with Vladimir Putin. The official recognition of Donbas non-Ukrainian will create a coalition within the country against the initiator of such actions. Mass discontent will cause protests and rallies, since the war that lasted four years affected many layers of the population. Military, volunteers, and activists will rally against authorities. The situation in the country will become dangerous. The only advantage is that the authorities will be forced to act very concretely, strengthening borders and refusing from making any obligations to the population of "republics."
Scenario No. 4: Return of Donbas by military means
This is the least likely scenario, although today's Ukrainian army is fully capable of large-scale military actions. If the authorities decide to return the occupied territories by force, the offensive will take place along the entire demarcation line, i.e. about 500 km of the front line. Given the large number of militants deployed in the occupied territories, (according to various estimates, it's a 30,000 to 50,000-strong force), the striking grouping of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will need to amount to no less than 100,000 troops (this is almost equaling to all infantry units available today). The main offensive must be focused in two or three directions, where commanders will deploy a major part of the infantry with the support of the armored units. The latter force should employ at least 1,500-2,000 armored vehicles. Such a scenario presupposes militarization of society and, even more likely, introduction of martial law across the country.