The east­ern pol­icy trilemma:

What kind of model is needed for the de-oc­cu­pa­tion of ORDiLO?

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Maksym Vikhrov

What kind of model is needed for the de­oc­cu­pa­tion of ORDiLO?

De-oc­cu­pa­tion means not only re-es­tab­lish­ing con­trol over Ukraine’s east­ern ter­ri­to­ries, but also re­turn­ing lo­cal res­i­dents to the Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and so­cio-cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment. It’s this last bit that is caus­ing a fair amount of anx­i­ety in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles, rang­ing from muted skep­ti­cism to open alarm. It’s clear that rein­te­grat­ing the peo­ple who have been liv­ing un­der oc­cu­pa­tion now for over three years will be very dif­fi­cult. To a large ex­tent, the out­come will de­pend greatly on the ap­proach that Kyiv takes.

In 2014, the coun­try’s most densely-pop­u­lated coun­ties in Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts found them­selves un­der oc­cu­pa­tion, af­fect­ing 3.5-4 mil­lion or nearly half of the pop­u­la­tion of Don­bas. To­day, it’s hard to know ex­actly what the pop­u­la­tion of ORDiLO— as the oc­cu­pied re­gions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts are called— might be. Based on the num­ber of IDPs in Ukraine, 1.5 mil­lion, and an uniden­ti­fi­able num­ber in Rus­sia, it could be be­tween 2 and 2.5 mil­lion, sim­i­lar to Lviv or Odesa Oblast. Al­though it is suf­fer­ing from neg­a­tive de­mo­graph­ics, the pop­u­la­tion is very slowly grow­ing again as IDPs be­gan to re­turn with the de-es­ca­la­tion of the armed con­flict. Peo­ple are be­ing pushed to re­turn into oc­cu­pa­tion largely by the fear of los­ing the prop­erty they aban­doned and the in­abil­ity to adapt to their new homes.

In or­der to de­velop an ef­fec­tive pol­icy to­wards the peo­ple liv­ing in ORDiLO, first Ukraine has to de­cide what th­ese peo­ple mean to it. Public opin­ion is pretty clear on that: most Ukraini­ans see their fel­low cit­i­zens on the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries as hostages to per­sonal, po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary cir­cum­stances. Only 6% see them as hav­ing be­trayed Ukraine. This is re­ally the most pro­duc­tive ap­proach, be­cause if Ukraine takes that po­si­tion that “our” ter­ri­tory” is pop­u­lated with “out­siders,” the only op­tion will be in­ter­nal col­o­niza­tion based on po­lice force and the ad­min­is­tra­tive dic­tates of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment. If the Don­bas had re­ally been a civil war, there would not be any other op­tion. But for­tu­nately the sit­u­a­tion in ORDiLO is quite dif­fer­ent: most of peo­ple are not par­tic­i­pants in ter­ror­ism but its hostages.


Of course, there are peo­ple who be­lieve in sep­a­ratism in ORDiLO. But too many out­siders use the re­sults of the 2014 pseudo-ref­er­en­dum in which Rus­sia’s prox­ies claim Don­bas voted unan­i­mously for the two pseudo-re­publics to say “they’re all like that there.” What ev­i­dence of the “love of the peo­ple” for the oc­cu­py­ing force there is, is based on chas­ing lo­cals out to par­tic­i­pate in ral­lies, largescale farewells to dead mil­i­tants, and so on. Opin­ion polls in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­to­ries show a very dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Ac­cord­ing to one sur­vey in oc­cu­pied Donetsk Oblast, only 18% of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion con­sider them­selves “cit­i­zens of DNR.” What il­lus­trates the real level of sep­a­ratism in ORDiLO even more strik­ingly is the num­ber of res­i­dents who have ac­tu­ally ac­quired a “repub­li­can pass­port:” the prox­ies in “DNR” and “LNR” them­selves put the fig­ure for the last two years at 190,000.

De­spite the dam­age to po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic ties, it seems that the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion con­tin­ues to link its fu­ture to Ukraine, some-

times even in the face of its own po­lit­i­cal con­vic­tions. Of course, liv­ing un­der mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion has had its im­pact on peo­ple’s world­views, prac­tices and so on. But it’s not worth over­es­ti­mat­ing this in­flu­ence, for two main rea­sons. First, the oc­cu­pa­tion looks un­likely to last long enough for the mil­i­tants to raise an en­tire gen­er­a­tion. Se­condly, their pro­pa­ganda af­fects the day-to-day life of lo­cals far less than prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions. In the lib­er­ated towns of Don­bas, at any rate, the term “Novorossiya” only comes up in kitchen gos­sip or in mar­ginal cir­cles.

If some­one wants to see “trea­son” in the fact that mil­lions of Ukrainian cit­i­zens are un­der oc­cu­pa­tion, they can, but the fact is that Ukraine needs its peo­ple there. They have lived in Ukraine all their lives and are far more in­te­grated than the Rus­sians who are busy buy­ing up hous­ing in Donetsk and Luhansk. Un­for­tu­nately, Ukraine is con­strained by the Minsk ac­cord and can­not re­ally ef­fec­tively in­ter­act with the res­i­dents of ORDiLO un­til the Law “On the spe­cific na­ture of self-gov­ern­ment” takes ef­fect. Un­til then, how­ever, the ground­work for a strat­egy in the Don­bas needs to be laid now. If Ukraini­ans want Don­bas to be­come a proper part of Ukraine, and not just a for­mal­ity, any pol­icy to­wards the re­gion needs to stand on three pil­lars: restor­ing se­cu­rity and jus­tice, re­build­ing democ­racy and de­vel­op­ing a new, mod­ern econ­omy.


Se­cu­rity and jus­tice are two sides of the same coin in this case. Firstly, it means re­tak­ing con­trol over the coun­try’s east­ern border and re-es­tab­lish­ing le­git­i­mate state in­sti­tu­tions across ORDiLO ter­ri­tory. Se­cu­rity mea­sures will not be com­pletely ef­fec­tive with­out rid­ding the re­gion of the pro-Rus­sian sep­a­ratist move­ment. In or­der to do so, Kyiv can use le­gal in­stru­ments, that is, to sue those who will not be el­i­gi­ble for the amnesty re­quired by the Minsk ac­cords. If the guilty are con­vinced that they will in­ex­orably face jus­tice and pun­ish­ment, many of the more dan­ger­ous sep­a­ratists will likely flee Don­bas to­gether with the Rus­sian forces.

There also needs to be some form of resti­tu­tion in ORDiLO, to re­store the prop­erty that the Rus­sian prox­ies have been con­fis­cat­ing since 2014. More­over, a broad-based cam­paign needs to be car­ried out to per­suade lo­cals to sue the Rus­sian Fed­er­a­tion to com­pen­sate them for the moral and ma­te­rial dam­age the war brought them. Such law­suits have al­ready been launched, but the gov­ern­ment in Kyiv, hu­man rights ac­tivists and in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions need to sup­port sys­tem­atic and mass-scale ef­forts, like class ac­tion suits in other coun­tries. Even if Ukraine is un­able to find a mech­a­nism for en­forc­ing the pay­ment of da­m­ages, the cam­paign will mean a lot po­lit­i­cally and so­cially: the Ukrainian state needs to even­tu­ally de­clare its right to de­mand repa­ra­tions from Rus­sia. The rest of the crimes by the oc­cu­py­ing forces also need to be doc­u­mented and sub­mit­ted to courts of var­i­ous in­stances, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional ones.


Since it was tram­pled un­der the oc­cu­pa­tion, the restora­tion of democ­racy in Don­bas will be a ma­jor fac­tor in the real rein­te­gra­tion of the re­gion. This is crit­i­cal, both in terms of val­ues and in terms of po­lit­i­cal pur­pose. The lo­cal pop­u­la­tion needs to be con­fi­dent that in re­turn­ing to the Ukrainian flag, they won’t be treated as sec­ond­class cit­i­zens but will, on the con­trary, have their rights and free­doms fully re­stored. The growth of civil so­ci­ety and po­lit­i­cal plu­ral­ism should weaken the mo­nop­oly of pro-Rus­sian forces that was fos­tered in the re­gion by the Party of the Re­gions for more than a decade. In the fu­ture, Kyiv will have to fos­ter the es­tab­lish­ment of lo­cal civic al­ter­na­tives to pro-Rus­sian and sep­a­ratist el­e­ments, some­thing that is crit­i­cal, not just at the tac­ti­cal level, but strate­gi­cally as well. The drive for unity should be moved from a “Kyiv vs Don­bas” fram­ing to the in­ter­nal re­gional level.

What’s more, once its “spe­cial sta­tus” ex­pires, the pop­u­la­tion of ORDiLO will have to ac­cept de­com­mu­niza­tion, the new lan­guage law and other changes that either have taken place in Ukraine or will have done so while Don­bas eked out a liv­ing un­der oc­cu­pa­tion. More­over, such changes have to be pro­moted by lo­cal na­tional demo­cratic forces that en­joy suf­fi­cient lo­cal sup­port, not of­fi­cials who are sim­ply fol­low­ing or­ders from above. It may be eas­ier by far to sim­ply re­con­struct the lo­cal ad­min­is­tra­tive chain-of-com­mand, but his­tory has shown that the loy­alty of bu­reau­crats is the least re­li­able sup­port sys­tem when push comes to shove. And so, the few years that ORDiLO is of­fi­cially un­der “spe­cial sta­tus” pro­vide the time­frame dur­ing which Kyiv has to at­tract the sup­port of lo­cal ac­tivists and help them gain po­lit­i­cal weight.


Re­build­ing Don­bas eco­nom­i­cally will also go along way to fos­ter the rein­te­gra­tion of the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion. First of all, the res­i­dents of ORDiLO need to be en­cour­aged to stop see­ing them­selves as the pas­sive re­cip­i­ents of out­side as­sis­tance but to be­come en­gaged as broadly as pos­si­ble in re­build­ing civil­ian life. At the com­mu­ni­ca­tion level, the restora­tion of Don­bas needs to be pre­sented as mak­ing a bet­ter fu­ture for all Ukraini­ans, not as sim­ply re­solv­ing a lo­cal prob­lem. More­over, re­build­ing Don­bas is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to strengthen in­ter­re­gional ties in Ukraine through hor­i­zon­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This means en­gag­ing teams of work­ers from other oblasts of Ukraine while work­ers from ORDiLO are re­trained or learn a new spe­cial­iza­tion out­side Don­bas. For Don­bas, with its highly in­dus­tri­al­ized his­tory and cul­ture, this kind of ex­pe­ri­ence could be at least as valu­able as travel ex­changes and sim­i­lar pro­grams.

Over and above this, Ukraine has an op­por­tu­nity to west­ern­ize the re­gion eco­nom­i­cally in the process of re­new­ing Don­bas. In­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions are al­ready be­gin­ning to ac­tively launch new man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties in Ukraine, which means that they should be of­fered not just at­trac­tive but “green­house” terms to do so in Don­bas. In ad­di­tion to so­cio-eco­nomic ben­e­fits, this will bring po­lit­i­cal div­i­dends as well.

Firstly, re­ori­ent­ing the lo­cal econ­omy to­wards west­ern tech­nolo­gies and in­vest­ments to will weaken pro-Rus­sian ten­den­cies and put an end to the myth of Don­bas’s de­pen­dence on Rus­sia. The ex­pan­sion of for­eign busi­ness in Don­bas will also weaken the grip of lo­cal oli­garchs whose loy­alty to Ukraine is sus­pect at best. In­deed, Don­bas was orig­i­nally de­vel­oped by Euro­pean in­dus­tri­al­ists who were in­vited by the Rus­sian Em­pire to come here in the mid-19th cen­tury. The ef­fect was ex­plo­sive: within a few decades, the re­gion had un­der­gone an eco­nomic mir­a­cle and—un­for­tu­nately tem­po­rar­ily—was on track to­wards nor­mal Euro­pean devel­op­ment.

In short, the de-oc­cu­pa­tion of Don­bas is a his­toric op­por­tu­nity to be­gin a huge un­der­tak­ing with the peo­ple of the re­gion. Un­der­stand­ably, this will take enor­mous ef­fort, but there will never be a more fa­vor­able time than the turn­ing point of the post-war years. This is the mo­ment when Ukraine can in­vite Don­bas to build a com­mon fu­ture to­gether. Still, this time around, no still­born “com­pro­mises be­tween East and West” should come up. Ukraine’s devel­op­ment course has been de­cided and all Don­bas has to do is come on board.

Could the re­gion see this as a his­toric de­feat? Un­doubt­edly this will be true among the pro-Rus­sian, de­graded, neo-soviet el­e­ments of Don­bas. But con­tem­po­rary, demo­cratic and Ukrainian Don­bas, on the con­trary, will fi­nally have a chance to emerge and flour­ish. For th­ese tec­tonic changes to be launched, Ukraine’s lead­er­ship needs to drop its ide­o­log­i­cal blin­ders and act proac­tively, with a long-term strat­egy in its sights. Most im­por­tantly, over the next few years, Ukraine needs to move along the path of re­form as far as pos­si­ble, oth­er­wise this re­gion will find it­self in­te­grat­ing, not to the Ukrainian project, but to a rot­ten post-soviet bu­reau­cracy and cor­rup­tion.

Build­ing bridges. Restor­ing the in­fras­truc­ture is a nec­es­sary con­di­tion for the re­vival of the re­gion. But de-oc­cu­pa­tion will not be suc­cess­ful un­less se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic changes take place in the ar­eas af­fected by the war

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