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27 June, 2016  ▪  Denys Kazanskyi

Beneficiaries of peace initiatives

Elections in the occupied parts of Donbas will boost the strength of the Opposition Bloc in Ukrainian politics. Its strategic goal is to return Ukraine into Russia’s orbit

Elections in ORDiLO, the occupied parts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, are among the subjects most hotly debated in Ukraine. Both sides in the conflict frequently claim that they are ready to hold the vote in ORDiLO, but only under certain conditions. In practice, the conditions set by both sides are mutually exclusive. Neither the Russia-backed militants nor Ukraine are prepared to make concessions.  

However, there is little sense in discussing the demands of the puppet quasi-states seriously. It is obvious that decisions on the future of Luhansk and Donetsk are not made in those cities, so the analysis of statements by their current leaders, Igor Plotnytsky and Oleksandr Zakharchenko, is a waste of time. The headquarters where their statements are created is located in Moscow. What it wants has been obvious for far too long. Russia’s goal is to force Ukraine to reintegrate the occupied parts of the Ukrainian territory back into Ukraine under special conditions, and amend the Constitution so that its Trojan horse helps it limit Ukraine’s sovereignty. The question here is: who can benefit from this in Ukraine?  

Logic leads to one answer to this question: the only beneficiaries from such developments in Ukraine are members of the former Party of Regions who united in the Opposition Bloc, represent the Kremlin’s interests in Ukraine, and have its consistent support. For all others, the deal with Moscow on its terms bodes ill.

To the citizens of Ukraine, a U-turn from European integration towards the Kremlin’s influence will mean a collapse of every hope for a better future. Without the EU’s help, we will likely never manage to overcome corruption and enact necessary economic reforms. A rollback means the return of corrupt gas scams and the conservation of post-Soviet practices in politics, something Ukrainian society is desperately battling against these days. Legalization of the militants and concessions to the Kremlin will most likely lead to a divide in Ukrainian society, a deep political crisis, and even clashes on Kyiv streets. This is obviously a scenario where Ukraine will find itself one step removed from being an actual “failed stated,” while its best people will simply migrate as they face the prospect of going back to Soviet times.

RELATED ARTICLE: Origins of separatism in Donetsk

Nor will possible elections bring anything good to those living in ORDiLO. Millions in those territories have essentially been turned into an instrument of Russia’s politics. At the same time, nobody in Russia really cares about what they want. The Kremlin is simply using these people as tools. Yet, the mines and shells falling on these people’s heads are very real. Hardly anyone in the Donbas, other than the representatives of the Russian occupation administrations, can explain what all this is for.

Those in the Donbas who are anti-Ukrainian stood against Kyiv with only one purpose: to separate from Ukraine and see their region become integrated into Russia. The participants of the separatist protests in 2014 believed that the Donbas would join Russia after the referendum, just like Crimea did. Russia was fueling and encouraging those sentiments with all the means at their disposal. Now, it turns out that the Kremlin has no intention to annex the puppet quasi-republics, but insists that they should remain in Ukraine.

Will elections in ORDiLO, held under Ukrainian laws, help these people? No. It is already obvious that there can be no realistic or meaningful vote on these territories captured by armed militants. Therefore, the elections there will merely be a formality to help legalize separatists in Ukraine’s jurisdiction and bring representatives of Donetsk and Luhansk oligarch clans into local administrations in ORDiLO. How will an average miner or pensioner benefit from this? How will this affect his or her personal well-being? The answer is obvious. Donbas citizens have no say about anything already. And, as long as Russian and Russia-backed armed militants are in the Donbas, they can only be bystanders in the contest for their land and their lives.

By contrast, those united today as the Opposition Bloc have every reason to demand elections in ORDiLO. The vote is a key to returning their influence in the Donbas, their one-time financial might, and a revanche in all of Ukraine. The Opposition Bloc’s big goal goes beyond the elections in Luhansk and Donetsk. The long-time oligarch clans that are part of it dream of bringing back the electorate from ORDiLO and getting its votes in nationwide elections. If implemented, this plan will put the Opposition Bloc among the leaders of parliamentary elections and allows its members to compete for the top positions in Ukraine.

RELATED ARTICLE: How Ukrainian politicians see the likelihood of elections in the occupied parts of Donbas 

Former Party of Regions people essentially run the militant-controlled territories already. For example, most heads of city and town administrations appointed by the “LNR’s" (Luhansk People's Republic) Igor Plotnytsky are old functionaries that had been in key positions there before the war. The current “mayors” of Luhansk, Donetsk, Makiyivka, Alchevsk, Stakhanov, Brianka, and other big cities are seasoned regionals who have been in key positions in these cities for a very long time. Manolis Pavlov, Maryna Filipova, Rodion Miroshnyk, Serhiy Zhevlakov, who are now in top positions in the “LNR,” are the reliable underlings of Oleksandr Yefremov, head of Luhansk Oblast State Administration from 1998-2005 and former head of the Party of Regions in parliament (in April 2014, ex-Party of Regions MP from Luhansk Volodymyr Landik claimed that separatist movements in Luhansk were financed by the family of Viktor Yanukovych from Moscow, while Yefremov was behind the takeover of the Luhansk Security Service Bureau building, one of the first events of the military conflict in the oblast. Landik is now testifying against Yefremov and other Party of Regions’ members at the Prosecutor General’s Office – Ed.). The Administration of Oleksandr Zakharchenko in Donetsk is headed by people close to Rinat Akhmetov. They will likely be the ones to replace the current notorious “field commanders” after the possible elections and take leading positions in ORDiLO legitimately in the future. After that, the situation in the Donbas will hardly be any different from what it had been before the war.

Elections under Ukrainian laws and the ultimate return of ORDiLO under control of the long-standing clans of Akhmetov, Yefremov, Ivaniushchenko, and Boyko will cement their positions in the Donbas and give oligarch groups absolute power in the region. Once in that trap, the Donbas will never get out of it again. This may be a triumph for the Regionals, but for the average citizens of the Donbas there will be no benefits. Just like before, they will live in desperate decline in depressed towns and villages amidst a degrading economy, without any chance to elect different authorities or to change anything.

As to the whole of Ukraine, the scale of the disaster it will face if the Regionals succeed in their comeback is hard to overstate. Such a scenario could be the beginning of the end of the country. Preventing it is one of the vital tasks for the civil society and those politicians who care about the future of Ukraine.

Translated by Anna Korbut

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