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‘Special status’ for Donbas: a ‘special zone’ or an occupied territory?

Olena Removska
The ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ groups, considered to be terrorist gangs in Ukraine, insist on the ‘independence’ of the territories they occupied in Donbas. The mercenaries made such comments after the meetings in Minsk. At the next contact group meeting the mercenaries, according to themselves, will raise this issue more actively. Meanwhile the government in Kyiv emphasizes: the issue of territorial integrity of Ukraine is not to be discussed. Some of the experts interviewed by Radio Liberty presume that on September 5 in Minsk, there was no talk of ‘independence’ of ‘DNR‘ and ‘LNR’ controlled territories, and the sides of the conflict are taking advantage of the ‘ceasefire’ to regroup their troops. 

The legislative affirmation of the ‘special status’ of “some regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts,” is the point of the “Minsk protocol” that gives ground to the most questions. The Minsk agreement mentions the development and approval of such a law in the government decentralization point and repeats it in the point regarding early local elections in Donbas.

The members of the Minsk contact group failed to explain what the ‘special status’ of “some districts of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” means. Iryna Herashchenko, representative of the Ukrainian President for the regulation of the situation in Donbas, later stated that these points accord with the peace plan published earlier by Petro Poroshenko. Advisor to the head of state Yury Lutsenko stated on his Facebook page that according to the Minsk protocol, the ‘special zone’ in Donbas is a territory occupied by mercenaries and Russian troops, a “cancerous tumor” which cannot be allowed to grow.

However, the protocol does not even mention ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ groups, there are no formulations such as ‘mercenary-controlled territories.’ Accordingly, there is no detailed explanation of what they meant by “some regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts” and what localities may ask for “special status.” The protocol only includes three participants of the contact group: Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE. So-called leaders of so-called ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ were present at the meeting, they signed the protocol, but the agreement does not even note their ‘regalia.’

However, ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ leaders still position themselves as full-fledged participants of the Minsk meetings, and not the Russian side. The groups that Ukraine deemed to be terrorists, say that they will further insist on independence of the territories they occupied. “Every side may interpret the special status in their own way,” stead one of the so-called ‘DNR’ leaders Andrey Purgin to Interfax. “We interpret it as maintenance of independence in a common cultural, economic space with Ukraine.”

Meanwhile the leader of the so-called ‘LNR’ Igor Plotnitsky stated that the future status of the territories controlled by ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ was not discussed at all at the meetings in Minsk. According to him, on September 5, the members of the contact grip mostly discussed the ceasefire.

Expert: only Poroshenko and Putin can agree on real peace

Razumkov Center Military Program Director Mykola Sungurovsky says that the ‘Minsk protocol’ evokes more questions than it does answer. According to the expert, the sides of the meeting in Minsk have no competence to agree on issues such as special status for certain territories or early elections – this would only be sensible if the President of Ukraine and Russia discussed these issues directly.

“As I see it, the only sense of this ‘ceasefire’ is that the sides required it to draw their breaths, reformat their forces, ensure reinforcements, exchange hostages, remove the wounded from the battlefield, exchange bodies of the deceased. These are the ceasefire conditions that fall under the contact group’s competence. No more,” notes the analyst.

Mykola Sungurovsky said that under the current conditions long-term peace (in particular under the conditions of giving ‘special status’ to the territories controlled by the mercenaries) is de-facto freezing of the conflict. And this, according to the military expert, does not mean peace and stability for Ukraine at all.

Donbas is an occupied territory – Kazansky

Donetsk blogger Denys Kazansky considers any agreements with Russia-controlled ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ mercenaries unacceptable. To his mind, the localities they took in Donbas are occupied territories, and official Kyiv has to acknowledge this de jure, just like they did with Crimea.

“This territory is occupied. It cannot have any special status within Ukraine besides occupied status,” emphasizes the blogger. “The laws there are not Ukrainian, there is no Ukrainian government, no Constitution. This is a territory we don’t control, de facto.”

Meanwhile, according to military expert Mykola Sungurovsky, the situation in Donbas is significantly different from the one in Crimea. He reminds that Russia accepted Crime as its part – without Ukraine’s consent, however. “If Donbas gets some sort of special status in Ukraine but does not join Russia meanwhile, that means factual conflict between this territory and Ukraine. Russia will not want to join Donbas. These two oblasts de facto turn into Palestine,” thinks the expert.

Mykola Sungurovsky emphasizes that while Russia annexed Crimea for ideological reasons and because there is a military base there, the Kremlin needs Donbas exclusively as an instability zone within Ukraine.

Luhansk journalist Andriy Dikhtyarenko thinks that a ceasefire that includes the points signed in Minsk is impossible. He insists that official Kyiv should act harshly. “Ukraine should confidently show that it will not retreat from its territory by a single step,” the journalist is convinced. He says the majority of Luhansk population that remained in the city, believed until the end that the Ukrainian troops would free the oblast center by the end of summer.

While contact group meetings were held in Minsk, in Wales Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko emphasized to the journalists: sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is not an issue of discussion in the Belarus capital. The head of state also said that Ukraine has no intention of removing its troops from Donbas, as it is their territory.

Despite all the evidence, Russia does not acknowledge the participation of its regular troops in the Donbas conflict. It is possibly an obstacle in the situation in the east of Ukraine. While Russia pretends that it is “not a side of the conflict” (according to Putin’s representative Dmitry Peskov), there is nobody to agree on peace with.


Source: Radio Liberty

Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina

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