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Why the so-called elections in the Donbas are Putin’s problem

Why the so-called elections in the Donbas are Putin’s problem
Article by: Vitaliy Portnikov
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

Why did Russia need to initiate and organize the so-called “elections” in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR)? There really is no logical answer to this question — and finding one is as difficult as finding the logic in other actions of President Vladimir Putin. On the one hand, Putin was forced to demonstrate his support for peace — he does not need new sanctions in the face of the deteriorating economic situation in Russia. On the other hand, the seized territories in the Donbas, in his view, remain an important lever of pressure on Kyiv. This is why he cannot give them up.

If Putin had been guided by logic, he would not have organized the invasion of Novoazovsk by Russian troops. This invasion clearly ended the liberation of the Donbas. If not for Putin, the Donbas would have been completely freed from thugs, and in Russia there would be no problem with peacemaking. On the contrary, the problems would reside in Ukraine. Ukraine would have received a destroyed region, populated with an underclass, a huge part of which would continue to support the occupiers. During the parliamentary elections, the “Opposition Bloc” would have attracted many more votes from Donetsk and other large cities in the region and would have become a powerful source of influence.

But Putin decided not to create unnecessary problems for Ukraine. Therein lies the paradox of the situation. In the belief that he is creating problems for Ukraine, Putin is actually freeing it from real problems while causing problems for Russia. Many Ukrainians, even after the parliamentary elections, have not understood that the occupation of Crimea and the Donbas is not the real problem. The problem is the voting of the pro-Russian population of Crimea and the Donbas, which could have cancelled out all hopes of reform and European integration.

Now these hopes exist in Ukraine. And Russia is concerned with supplying goods to Crimea, while the issue of calming down the Donbas is not being addressed at all. In order to deliver goods to Crimea and to calm down the Donbas, Russia needs to return them to Ukraine and to help it clean out the thugs and gunmen. But this is something that Putin cannot do. However, he can accept the elections in order to then persuade Kyiv of the inevitability of dialogue with the governments “chosen by the people” in the occupied territories. Russia clearly is ready to recognize this voting, which will only worsen its relations with the West. When it comes to actual developments, the pseudo-elections will not change anything. The same leaders of DNR and LNR who were thugs will remain thugs. If Putin decides to fight again he can send his troops even without the elections. In short, there is no rationale for these elections other than the belief that this “new Transnistria” will stop Ukraine’s drift to Europe. And this is why the elections are Russia’s problem, not Ukraine’s.

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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