In Donbass, people are once again speaking of an impending war with Ukraine. Rumors of war spread throughout the people’s republics from time to time, usually twice a year, but the current deterioration of the situation on the front bodes something far beyond a “seasonal escalation.” If alarmist forecasts are confirmed, then we will see not only more provocations by the Ukrainian Armed Forces, but full-scale combat operations entailing the prospect of drawing Russian and NATO armed forces into the conflict. In other words, what was successfully avoided in Syria, i.e., a collision between Russian and American troops, could very well happen in Donbass.
The latest spark that could ignite war between the Kiev regime and the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (and possibly both sides’ respective allies) is the law on “reintegrating” Donbass adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on January 18th.
This event coincides not only with the delivery of lethal offensive weapons to Ukraine by the United States (at the expense of the American budget) and Canada, but also with the Kiev regime’s concentration of all its available coercive resources at the borders of the DPR and LPR.
Thus, the legal, military, strategic, and technological preconditions for a full-scale war are being prepared. All that remains is waiting for the appropriate political conditions, and also suitable weather conditions for Ukrainian troops to go on the offensive.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For the sake of avoiding the false alarmism which so often afflicts evaluations and forecasts on Donbass, let us consider in detail the content of the new, controversial and scandalous Ukrainian law, and try to grasp the motives of the Ukrainian side and its Western allies.
The draft law “On Particularities of State Policy on Ensuring Ukraine’s State Sovereignty over the Temporarily Occupied Territories in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions,” which has in political and public circles been christened the “reintegration law”, was first submitted before the closing of the summer session of the Verkhovna Rada by deputies of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc. The document itself was developed deep within the presidential administration.
Following heated discussions in the Rada and clashes outside of the parliament, the bill was sent back for revision, and the vote for the bill on January 16th failed, as Verkhovna Rada deputies did not recognize the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as “terrorist organizations.” The corresponding amendment of the bill on reintegrating Donbass was voted for by only 76 out of 340 parliamentarians.
This preliminary result was welcomed by many in Russia with inflated and, as it has subsequently turned out, unjustifiable optimism. Indeed, on January 18th, during its next vote, the document had all of it’s i’s dotted, as Verkhovna Rada deputies approved the bill. According to the Ukrainian parliament’s speaker, Andrey Parubiy, 280 deputies voted in favor (226 were needed).
The main provisions of the final version of the bill, which overall was subjected to more than 300 amendments and suggestions, have been assessed in the following way by the Ukrainian publication Vesti. Allow us to discuss this editorial’s points at length and include our own comments broken down into several key points.
1. The key point of the law is that “Russia is recognized as a state-occupier, and the governments of the ‘republics’ as occupational administrations.” As many might recall, Ukraine originally justified the war in Donbass in ideological terms as a struggle against “terrorists and separatists.” But by around summer 2017, this conceptualization of the conflict had dramatically changed. The essence of the new line was that Ukraine is waging war for its territorial integrity not against “terrorists and separatists of Donbass” (i.e., an internal enemy), but against an “aggressor country.” Ukraine’s main enemy in Donbass has been declared, as expectedly follows, to be Russia, which is accused of temporarily occupying territory in South-Eastern Ukraine.
Therefore, the main emphasis in the document which the Verkhovna Rada examined has changed, and in the very “evolutionary” way which the Ukrainian state opted for following its signing of Minsk 2. Therefore, positive assessments of the outcome of the first vote on the bill appear unnecessary, as they were caused by a lack of understanding concerning the conceptual changes which the new bill entails.
Perhaps no less significant is the second part of the same point’s thesis on “occupational administrations.” This title means that all residents of the DPR and LPR fall under the scope of the Ukrainian criminal code for having in one way or another “collaborated” with republican authorities, i.e., “occupation administrators.”
Hundreds of thousands of people have been involved in the civil and military administration of the Donbass republics in both leading and rank-and-file positions, including 25,000 to 30,000 who have fought in the DPR and LPR militias, served as law enforcement employees, or participated in republican and municipal level organs, etc.
The broad interpretation of this norm will turn practically all citizens of the people’s republics into potential defendants. Any documents not recognized by Ukraine – which means all documents issued by the DPR and LPR besides birth certificates – and economic or social appeals to authorities could all be interpreted by Ukraine as legal grounds for prosecuting a Donbass resident.
Finally, collective guilt could also be applied, which would convict the majority of citizens of the DPR and LPR who voted in the independence referenda on May 11, 2014.
2. Moving on, according to Vesti: “The President will obtain expanded powers as commander-in-chief of the army – and none other than the army will now become the leading force.” According to some Ukrainian opposition politicians and political analysts, this norm is central: the whole essence of the law is in expanding the authority, including the coercive prerogatives of the president, thus turning him into a figure wielding dictatorial power.
In my opinion, this is a strong exaggeration. However, we cannot but agree that the realization of this postulate could temporarily alleviate domestic political and social conflicts in Ukraine via what would essentially be wartime law, as it could allow for much for the protest movement to be dispersed and even massacred.
I would refrain from exaggerating this aspect of the law, however, given the anarchy of Ukrainian statehood and the complex foreign policy context in which post-Maidan Ukraine is immersed. President Poroshenko is too severely limited by his commitments and obligations to foreign allies and patrons to use any newfound authorities as life-saving tools in his battle against the domestic, now largely pro-American, opposition.
3. Next: “The term ‘ATO’ (Anti-Terrorist Operation’ is being replaced with that of ‘measures for ensuring state sovereignty.’” This phrasing is totally consistent with the logic of the document’s wording, as it shifts the focus from internal causes (such as the reality that the civil war in Ukraine is a result of a Nazi-oligarch coup) to external explanations.
4. According to one of the deputies who debated amendments to the law, Verkhovna Rada deputy Ivan Vinnik: “The powers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces will be clearly deregulated – in particular, they will receive the prerogative to use weapons without fear.” This distinction pointed out by a Ukrainian MP deserves fundamental clarification: under the new law, the UAF’s authorization to use weapons will not be de-regulated, but in fact maximally expanded.
In particular, all restrictions will be lifted on the use of weapons by UAF servicemen and other Ukrainian security forces, as well as paramilitary groups. Extrajudicial killings of those involved in “occupation activities” (P. 1) will allow the number of judicial proceedings to be reduced, thus saving the Ukrainian state time and energy to protect itself against reputation loss and accusations of violating civil rights.
As has been pointed out repeatedly, the law’s text lacks any mention of adhering to the Minsk Agreements. In spirit and letter, the “reintegration law” de facto cancels Minsk.
Thus, the conflict in Donbass is reinterpreted in the new law as an act of foreign aggression whose source is officially declared to be the “aggressor” – Russia. Nevertheless, the parliamentary majority in the Verkhovna Rada did not dare to take the law to its logical conclusion, i.e., by severing diplomatic relations with Russia, severing trade and economic ties, and declaring war. But this is precisely what the Nazi street movements, who have staged especially large protests in recent months, have been demanding from Rada deputies. According to some authoritative observers, such as Pogrebinsky, this speaks to the fact that the law is aimed at addressing such domestic issues, such as appeasing the Nazi street movements (so-called “radicals”) by publicly insinuating that the conflict is with the “Russian aggressor.” Based on this logic, the reintegration law is a palliative simulation of fighting Russia ultimately masking President Poroshenko and the entire Ukrainian ruling elite’s reluctance to opt for a real war.
Confirmation or refutation of this point of view can be found in analyzing the current military, political, and foreign policy context of Ukraine’s confrontation with Donbass. This will be the subject of the second part of our article.
Continued in Part 2
Originally published on fort-russ.com