The Kremlin recognizes the independence of the DPR and LPR before the elections of 2024
The decision of Russian President Vladimir Putin to grant Russian citizenship to the DPR and LPR RESIDENTS in a simplified manner is expected to have caused a negative reaction from the West and Ukraine. They fear that Kiev will finally lose the prospect of returning the territories of Donbass under its control
The official representative of the us state Department Morgan Ortagus issued a statement saying that «Russia with the help of this extremely provocative action strengthens the attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine», and Putin’s decree creates «a serious obstacle to the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the reintegration of Donbass». Us foreign Ministry also noted that Putin made a decision just three days after the victory in the presidential election of Vladimir Zelensky, who had previously been set up for a dialogue with Moscow in order to peacefully resolve the conflict.
The actions of the Kremlin and the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine, which appealed to the UN Security Council, were assessed as an unfriendly step. Zelensky’s team, which is preparing to take places in power very soon, also considered that the issuance of Russian passports to residents of unrecognized republics can only complicate the situation.
Indeed, there is quite a natural question: why the decision to take citizenship of the inhabitants of the DPR and LPR was made right now? It is no secret that by voting for the proclamation of the republics in May 2014, the people of Donbass dreamed of becoming full-fledged Russians. But Moscow has not lived up to expectations. Instead of joining, recognizing or issuing passports, Russia sent PR specialists to Donbass, who began to talk about the already forgotten project of Novorossiya and the «Russian world». After the residents of the self-proclaimed republics had to experience all the horrors of the war, the Minsk agreements were concluded, which actually proclaimed the process of returning the DPR and the LPR to Ukraine.
The Minsk agreements were justified by the fact that it is possible to stop the bloodshed. But though large-scale military operations also stopped, Donbass continued to fire, and Kiev refused to carry out political points of the signed document. The people of the region have actually found themselves in the midst of a smoldering military conflict, with a ruined economy and no clear prospects. With the feeling that they are needed neither Kiev nor Moscow, whose policy seemed extremely vague.
I hope for the resolution of the situation was associated with the presidential elections in Ukraine. Petro Poroshenko was considered in the Kremlin to be a non-partisan politician, who was led by radical nationalists and ready to resume hostilities at any moment. But now the «square» was chosen by Zelensky, who has repeatedly stressed the desire to solve the problem but to be sympathetic to the «Bandera» to accuse difficultly. In theory, it was with him that it was possible to conduct a dialogue about the so-called «reintegration» of Donbass, the process of which Moscow agreed, signing agreements in Minsk as part of the «Normandy four».
But now, when Poroshenko has not yet left, and Zelensky has not yet taken office, Russia has actually turned 180 degrees.
The issuance of passports to residents of the DPR and LPR means that Moscow gets the right to protect its citizens in case of Kiev’s attempts to take control of Donetsk and Lugansk by force. Armed aggression may lead to a repetition of the 2008 scenario, when Russia, after Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia, was forced to send troops, and then recognize the independence of this Republic together with Abkhazia.
At the same time, Moscow can outline the framework for further dialogue by issuing passports. Any politician is always tempted to divert the attention of society from the failures in the economy of military adventure. Now Russia as if hints to Zelensky that he was engaged in the arrangement of a national economy and didn’t try to continue the armed conflict.
Political scientist Azhdar Kurtov believes that the issuance of Russian passports to residents of Donbass will not seriously change either the situation in the region or relations between Russia and Ukraine:
— Poroshenko’s replacement by Zelensky is just a change of scenery, but the policy of Ukraine will remain the same. There will be no serious progress in relations with Russia, the settlement of the problems of the Crimea, language policy, the status of Donbass. I think the Kremlin understands this well. The decision to issue passports is due to the fact that the implementation of the Minsk agreements is not observed. And this problem is not caused by the confrontation between Moscow and Kiev, but by relations between Russia and the United States. Five years, the population of the Southeast is living in stress, does not see the lumen in any region of the cessation of hostilities, no recognition of the republics of Donbass. Apathy is growing in people, and this can have negative consequences for both the DPR and the LPR, and for Russia.
— What signal does Moscow give Zelensky?
— Russia will not give up its positions. Moscow wants the new President to take decisive action in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, rather than issuing his interpretations of these agreements, as Poroshenko did. After all, in fact, for several years everyone was stomping on the spot, each side gave its own interpretation of the document, the West also did not contribute to the implementation of the provisions of «Minsk-2».
Moscow gives a signal that if nothing changes, it can take the next steps. What they may be, we know. There are examples of similar conflicts in the post-Soviet space, everyone remembers what happened after the issuance of Russian passports in South Ossetia.
— Maybe Russia is trying to translate relations with Ukraine into the plane of economic cooperation, warning of militant rhetoric against Donbass?
— Zelensky has not yet established himself in power. He was elected President, but he has no support in the form of a majority in Parliament, his people in the highest echelons of power and loyal officials on the ground. In these circumstances, it is difficult to talk about economic cooperation. Even if Zelensky wanted to leave aside the issue of Donbass and engage in the development of the national economy, he could not do it. As long as he doesn’t have the situation, he doesn’t have the leverage.
In my opinion, Zelensky’s election is an attempt by foreign players, primarily the United States, to preserve the former policy of Ukraine. The population will have illusions, but there will be no real change.
— will Russia continue to insist on the reintegration of Donbass or will it take a course to separate the region from Ukraine?
— Moscow is likely to continue to insist on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. This means the active steps of Kiev: to stop the fighting, to ensure that the views of the DPR and LPR representatives are taken into account during the political reform. If all goes well, then formally Donbass will remain part of Ukraine. But if Kiev does not go for it, Russia can decide on the next steps. So far, we cannot say that Moscow has long-term plans. I do not look at the assumptions that Russia will dramatically change its policy towards a neighboring state.
— Poroshenko, too, was initially considered by Moscow as a moderate politician, — recalls the leading expert of the Center for military and political studies of MGIMO Mikhail Alexandrov. — It seemed that the election of Poroshenko normalizes the situation. He was perceived as his own, was familiar with the Russian oligarchs, he used to have good relations with the then Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov.
When Poroshenko did not live up to expectations, Moscow maintained illusions that it would be possible to at least maintain normal relations with the West. Therefore, the Kremlin followed the path of the Minsk agreements, hoping for international recognition of the Crimea and stop the war in Donbass. But the West was aimed at confrontation with Russia and was not going to play fair. Minsk agreements were needed only as a «lifeline» after the defeat of the APU near Ilovaisk and Debaltseve.
At the same time, sanctions pressure on Russia continued to grow in the hope of internal unrest in the country. In the end, the Kremlin realized that nothing could be achieved from the West and Kiev. There was still hope for the Ukrainian elections, where Yuriy Boyko, who was considered a Pro-Russian candidate, was supposed to win. But the Pro-Russian electorate managed to split, and instead, quickly Poroshenko came to the second round. Zelensky won, who immediately made it clear that he would continue the previous course. And so Moscow decided to go the other way.
— What is the most likely scenario?
— I can assume that Russia will continue pressure on Ukraine. Kiev will be faced with a choice: full implementation of all the points of the Minsk agreements, or recognition of the sovereignty of the republics of Donbass on the example of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Now we have decided to issue Russian passports. If during the year Kiev does not fulfill the Minsk agreements, Moscow will go to the removal of restrictions on economic cooperation with the DPR and the LPR. Russia’s permanent missions may open in Donetsk and Lugansk, and Putin will host the leaders of the republics, which he has not yet done.
If after that Kiev does not make concessions, then there will be political recognition of the republics. It’ll probably take three years. Putin recognizes independence before 2024 to ensure victory in the election of his successor.
Putin’s rating was shaken after the pension reform, new successes will be necessary.
Most likely, the US will not allow Ukraine to fulfill the Minsk agreements. At some point, they will advise Kiev to go all-in, as at the time Mikhail Saakashvili. But it will give Russia the opportunity to fundamentally solve the Ukrainian question and create a new Russia from Kharkiv to Odessa. If Kiev does not go to a sharp military escalation, then by 2024 we will have the recognition of the independence of the DPR and the LPR. Of course, these republics are not recognized by the West. Continue in this state we live long enough.