Blockade vs Minsk talks:
What pushed President Poroshenko to make the blockade of the Donbas into official policy
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
KYIV IS UNLIKELY TO GET BACK FULL CONTROL OVER ORDiLO EVEN IF A TRUCE AGREEMENT TAKES HOLD. THE REGION COULD BECOME A KIND OF A UKRAINIAN CHECHNYA WHERE LOCAL ARMED GANGS CAN ENSURE ANY RESULT AT THE ELECTIONS
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