Alexander J. Motyl
Why Reintegrating the Donbas Is Suicide for Ukraine
If you’re wondering why the Minsk peace process isn’t leading to peace, look no further than a recent interview with Vladislav Inozemtsev, a highly respected Russian economist and director of the Center for the Study of Postindustrial Society in Moscow. The bottom line—surprise, surprise!—is this: Vladimir Putin doesn’t want peace. He wants to make Ukraine into a permanent backwater state dependent on the Kremlin.
How? By forcing Kiev to reintegrate the now occupied, politically poisoned, and economically ravaged Donbas into Ukraine, knowing full well that this region, now forever crippled by Putin’s proxies, will condemn Ukraine to being a permanently bankrupt puppet of the mafia state next door. This would be suicide. Tragically, although many Ukrainian policymakers understand it makes no sense for Ukraine to infect itself with this cancer, the power of Ukrainian patriotic rhetoric—“The Donbas is eternal Ukrainian land!”—may wind up saddling the country with a burden so heavy that it will crush its sovereignty and its democracy, move it decisively away from Europe and the world, and succeed in achieving what Viktor Yanukovych failed to do: transform Ukraine into a backward hinterland of a backward imperialist petro-state.
Is Moscow planning to annex the separatist Donbas enclave? Here’s Inozemtsev:
It’s not. … Perhaps the Kremlin considered this option at the start of the shocks in April-May 2014, but now, after the war, when we have become witness to enormous destruction, a dysfunctional system, and the region’s transformation into an economic wasteland, obviously Russia will not annex it. … Much there has been destroyed, much has been stolen, removed to Russia and resold. I believe this region represents no special economic advantage. More than that, consider what it used to have: the coal and metallurgical industries. Metallurgy remains in Mariupil, which is, thank God, under Ukrainian control, while the coal industry is very unprofitable. Ukraine’s budget subsidized the Donbas for many years. … Russia knows this industry is unprofitable and has no intention of supporting the east of Ukraine….
So Moscow wants the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics to rejoin Ukraine?
All of Russia’s policies after the collapse of the Soviet Union—and not just Putin’s—have aimed at creating a mess somewhere and leaving it in that condition. They tried to use Transdnistria to undermine Moldovan statehood, but Transdnistria turned out to have no benefit for Russia, while annexing it was undesirable as it would have facilitated Chisinau’s road to Europe. The same happened in Georgia. Now it’s Ukraine’s turn. Moscow doesn’t need the Donbas or a strong Ukraine. The Kremlin wants to saddle Kyiv with permanent problems. So that Ukraine won’t be able to join the EU and NATO due to its territorial conflict. So that the so-called DNR and LNR will conduct Moscow’s line in Ukraine’s parliament. That’s the hook on which Ukraine should hang.
Economist Anders Aslund is quite right to argue that Ukraine shouldn’t pay for the Donbas:
Who should pay for the restoration of the Donbas? The obvious answer is the aggressor, Russia. In a just world, Ukraine would add a demand to the Minsk negotiations for some $20 billion in war reparations from Russia for the Donbas. In reality, however, only losers pay war reparations.
For the foreseeable future, it is unrealistic to expect that Ukraine will be able to finance the restoration of the Donbas. Nor can the already overindebted country borrow money to do the job. It would have to leave much of the Donbas’ urban territories as industrial wastelands, which would make it arduous to reintegrate the population.
I fully agree with Aslund’s policy recommendation, but can’t imagine that it’ll happen anytime soon:
The only sensible solution is for the European Union and the United States to put up substantial grant assistance to Ukraine for the restoration and reintegration of the Donbas. For the sake of stabilizing a former war-ravaged area in Europe, $20 billion is no great amount. Just compare it with the $300 billion the European Union has spent on the Greek financial crisis.
If Russia and the West won’t pay for Russia’s criminal devastation of the DNR-LNR-controlled territories, then Ukraine will get stuck with the bill. And that’ll kill any hope that Ukraine will become a viable and modern democratic state.
Kyiv must find the courage to refuse the suicide option, declare the Donbas enclave Russian-occupied territory, and wash its hands of the mess.
Here’s another reason to get rid of that cancer. I recently received the following email from one “Andrei Poletaev.” The subject heading was: Disgusting Ukrainian Nazi. Here’s what he said:
You are a disgusting miserable Ukrainian right wing propagandist and extremist. You have no idea what you are talking about, go to Donetsk or Lugansk and talk to people and you will see how much they despise your Ukrainian Bandera murderous regime. I have a lot of friends from Novorossia and i don’t [sic] a single person who supports fascist Kiev junta. Remember my words, sooner or later, Donetsk, Luganks [sic] and the entire Novorossia will be free. And you, dirty Bandera Nazi apologist, will burn in hell.
I don’t doubt that “Andrei Poletaev’s” friends are exactly as he describes them. But which should Ukrainians prefer? Burning in hell or breathing the same air he and his friends in the DNR-LNR breathe?