“Elections” in Donbass are Undermining the Peace Process

Recent illegitimate elections in Donbass have unsurprisingly confirmed the same leaders, who have been appointed before the elections. The peace process has suffered a serious hit, while the way towards tighter connection with Russia is open.

The Sunday on the 11th of November saw the already second elections in the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics. These elections, however, bore little resemblance to the standards upheld in democratic countries. They were preceded by arrests of regime critics and the absence of any real alternative has determined the victors in advance.

Both republics have been proclaimed by pro-Russian activists in April 2014 in response to the massive protests known as the Euromaidan, that resulted in the fall of the pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. This crisis escalated into an open conflict which has claimed more than ten thousand lives since the spring of 2014. The intensity of fighting has decreased since 2015, but the conflict still remains unresolved and regular firefights are a common occurrence. The existence of the self-proclaimed Republics has received no international recognition, not even from the Russian Federation, whose support is essential for the very existence of these separatist territories in the first place.

In the November elections, Denis Pushilin has been confirmed as the head of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Pushilin has held this position since the 31st of August, when his predecessor, Alexander Zakharchenko, was assassinated. Leonid Pasechnik, former lieutenant colonel of the Ukrainian secret service SBU and an agent of the Russian secret service FSB, remained the leader of the Luhansk separatists. Pasechnik has overthrown Igor Plotnitzky in a coup in November 2017.

These illegitimate elections have been denounced by Kiev, OSCE, EU and the US. The Foreign Ministry of the Czech Republic labelled the organization of the elections as a serious violation of Ukrainian sovereignty. At the same time, it has also expressed support for Ukraine in its attempts at seeking closer ties with the EU and NATO. NATO itself also joined the critics by expressing a similar position on its website.

 

"Activities such as these elections (though illegitimate), further separate the Republics from the Ukrainian state and open up the way to economic and political integration with their Russian protector."

 

Holding elections, which are not in accordance with Ukrainian law, is illegal and stands in direct contradiction to the so-called Second Minsk Agreement concerning the ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine, which has been agreed upon by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the former French President François Hollande, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The definitive version has been signed by representatives of the OSCE, Ukraine, Russia and Alexandr Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitzky, leaders of the separatist areas at the time. The Second Minsk Agreement states that local elections should only be held in accordance with valid Ukrainian legislation and after all heavy weaponry has been withdrawn from the region by both sides. However, no such withdrawal has occurred, To the contrary, the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission reported on several transports of weapons, including an anti-air gun, from Russia to the occupied territory since August of this year. It is likely that the separatists used this weaponry on the 27th of October when they shot down the OSCE drone monitoring their activities.

Both self-proclaimed Republics in the Donbass today function as de facto states. They both have their population, territory (though without fixed borders) and institutional structures. Activities such as these elections (though illegitimate), further separate the Republics from the Ukrainian state and open up the way to economic and political integration with their Russian protector. Their disregard for the Minsk Agreements proves the confidence of the separatist groups and their determination to carry on with the conflict. Until Ukraine solves its separatist problem and regains control over its territory and borders, its integration into the EU and NATO is impossible. Notably, the Kremlin employed a similar method in the Russo-Georgian War of 2008, in which they have achieved secession of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Georgia’s problematic border and Russian presence in the separated regions are a significant hindrance on the way towards NATO membership, which Georgia strives for. Therefore, it would seem that in its strategic aim of isolating the former Soviet Republics and preventing their integration into the Western institutional structures, the strategies of the Kremlin have so far been successful.

About author: Petr Fena

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