Block­ade vs Minsk talks:

What pushed Pres­i­dent Poroshenko to make the block­ade of the Don­bas into of­fi­cial pol­icy

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­sky

On March 15, 2017, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil of Ukraine (NSDC) de­cided to sup­port the block­ade of cargo traf­fic through the con­tact line in Eastern Ukraine. It took ev­ery­one by sur­prise, in­clud­ing sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of the gov­ern­ment. Pre­vi­ously, Pres­i­dent Poroshenko had re­peat­edly stated that the block­ade was caus­ing se­ri­ous losses in the econ­omy and that the vol­un­teers who ar­ranged it were, in fact, play­ing into Rus­sia’s hands. The NSDC de­ci­sion changed the sit­u­a­tion dra­mat­i­cally overnight. Poroshenko took over what he had been fight­ing against. Opin­ion lead­ers known for speak­ing loy­ally to the Pres­i­dent in so­cial me­dia were taken aback too. They had just been lament­ing about the dam­age caused by the block­ade, when it took a U-turn. How to ex­plain this to their fol­low­ers?

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial state­ments, the NSDC de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate cargo traf­fic across the con­tact line in the ATO area is a tem­po­rary mea­sure in­tro­duced un­til the sep­a­ratists re­turn con­trol of en­ter­prises lo­cated in the oc­cu­pied part of the Don­bas to their Ukrainian own­ers. How­ever, heads of the il­le­gal Donetsk and Luhansk Peo­ple’s Re­publics have al­ready made it clear that they are not go­ing to re­turn the factories, and in­tro­duced the "block­ade of Ukraine" on their side. This makes it safe to as­sume that the sus­pen­sion of cargo traf­fic to the Oc­cu­pied Re­gions of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts (ORDiLO) is here for a long haul. Some Don­bas en­ter­prises are most un­likely to sur­vive it.

The in­ter­view that Petro Poroshenko gave to sev­eral Ukrainian TV chan­nels on March 15 made it clear that he still dis­ap­proved of the vol­un­teer block­ade or­ga­niz­ers and blamed on them the fact that the Rus­sian gueril­las seized con­trol of Ukrainian en­ter­prises in ORDiLO. Ac­cord­ing to him, Ukrainian factories were the an­chor that pre­vented a com­plete sev­er­ing of all ties with Ukraine in ORDiLO. Now, re­turn­ing Donetsk and Luhansk will be much harder. “They were ‘is­lands’ of Ukraine, an an­chor that held this ter­ri­tory close to Ukraine. And, of course, we were plan­ning to use them dur­ing rein­te­gra­tion, when Ukraine re­turns to the Don­bas, and the Don­bas re­turns to Ukraine. They were the base footholds for the re­turn of Ukraine," Poroshenko said.He also said that the seizureof Ukrainian en­ter­prises "de­stroyed Ukraine in the Don­bas."

How­ever, it should be noted that the gov­ern­ment did not do take many ef­forts to pre­vent ac­tivists from block­ing the rail­way traf­fic. More or less se­ri­ous at­tempts to un­block the tracks were made al­most a month af­terthe ac­tivist block­ade had kicked off. Im­me­di­ately af­ter head­lines of clashes be­tween the ac­tivists and the po­lice made it into the press, traf­fic with ORDiLO was blocked by the of­fi­cial de­ci­sion from Kyiv.

What ex­plains this dy­nam­ics? In fact, there are rea­sons to as­sume that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion ben­e­fits Poroshenko. First, it gives a way to grad­ual with­drawal from the dead end of the thread­bare Minsk talks. With ac­tivists launch­ing the block­ade ini­tially, the Pres­i­dent was able to use oth­ers to pull chest­nuts out of the fire. Ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the orig­i­nal


block­ade, rad­i­cal Ukrainian forces or­ga­nized it spon­ta­neously (the Pres­i­dent blames on them the ob­sta­cles in ne­go­ti­a­tions with the IMF and the likely de­cline of Ukraine’s eco­nomic per­for­mance), while ORDiLO ter­ror­ists seized Ukrainian prop­erty in re­sponse, and thus grossly vi­o­lated the Minsk Ac­cords. The gov­ern­ment tried to act peace­fully and not to es­ca­late the con­flict, but could not han­dle the sit­u­a­tion for rea­sons be­yond Poroshenko's con­trol and through the fault of the rad­i­cal ac­tivists.

The seizure of Ukrainian en­ter­prises in ORDiLO de facto brought the Minsk ne­go­ti­a­tions to a stale­mate and made it pos­si­ble for the of­fi­cial Kyiv to shift re­spon­si­bil­ity for the fail­ure of im­ple­ment­ing them on the Rus­sian side and the sep­a­ratists. Mean­while, the “na­tion­al­iza­tion” of Ukrainian en­ter­prises in ORDiLO and the sev­er­ance of eco­nomic ties with Ukraine may be paving way to the freez­ing the con­flict. What­ever the in­ter­pre­ta­tion, the cur­rent de­vel­op­ments do not con­trib­ute to the rein­te­gra­tion of the oc­cu­pied parts of the Don­bas, and the Pres­i­dent stated so in his re­cent in­ter­view.

How­ever, those in power have not seemed too en­thu­si­as­tic about re­turn­ing the oc­cu­pied ter-

ri­to­ries of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. There­fore, the block­ade came in handy. The idea that Ukraine would fare bet­ter with­out the oc­cu­pied Don­bas is not a new one. This the­sis is quite pop­u­lar and is reg­u­larly ar­tic­u­lated in one form or an­other by var­i­ous speak­ers. Some in Poroshenko’s party sup­port this ap­proach.

The Don­bas is too dif­fi­cult for Ukrainian politi­cians to re­turn it. It is ob­vi­ous that af­ter the re­cent events, the pop­u­la­tion of the ORDiLO will not vote for the forces pro­fess­ing Ukrainian pa­tri­o­tism, even if fair and demo­cratic elec­tions are held. At best, they will vote for the Op­po­si­tion Bloc or for an­other, even more rad­i­cal pro-Rus­sian force. This means that nei­ther Poroshenko nor Yu­li­aTy­moshenko, Samopomich’s An­driy Sadovyi or Ole­hLyashkoare in­ter­ested in re­turn­ing this elec­torate and play­ing into the hands of their ri­vals. More­over, Kyiv is un­likely to get back full con­trol over ORDiLO even if a truce agree­ment takes hold, while the re­gion is likely to be­come a kind of a Ukrainian Chech­nya where lo­cal armed gangs can en­sure any re­sult at the elec­tions.

It is thus not sur­pris­ing that Ukraine re­jects a Transnis­tria sce­nario cre­ated for it by Rus­sia. Pres­i­dent Poroshenko has been tak­ing the most ad­van­ta­geous po­si­tion by for­mally re­main­ing un­in­volved and watch­ing oth­ers burn the bridges. As a re­sult, these oth­ers are be­ing held re­spon­si­ble for the fail­ure of rein­te­gra­tion.

As for the en­ter­prises seized by the sep­a­ratists in the oc­cu­pied parts of the Don­bas, it is still dif­fi­cult to make a fore­cast on their fu­ture. Ri­nat Akhme­tov's of­fice has al­ready stated that it had lost con­trol over all his en­ter­prises in ORDiLO. Cur­rently they stand idle, wait­ing for help from Rus­sia. Just how ef­fi­cient this help will be is not clear. It is pos­si­ble that shortly there will be noth­ing to re­turn to Ukraine. This means that one more thread link­ing the oc­cu­pied ar­eas to Ukraine will be torn, while the pub­lic will have one more rea­son not to want the re­turn of the Don­bas.

An open-ended prospect. The Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil's de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate cargo traf­fic across the con­tact line in the ATO area is a tem­po­rary mea­sure in­tro­duced un­til the sep­a­ratists re­turn con­trol of Ukrainian en­ter­prises to their own­ers

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