No sooner had the members of the contact group in Minsk agreed on the “Easter” truce in the Donbas, when the first news appeared about its breach by the so-called “militants.” In fact, nothing else could have been expected. Russia is not interested in a truce in the Donbas. Constant shelling and the death of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians is an important part of Putin’s plan for the destabilization of Ukraine.
When we say that Russia has chosen the actual abandonment of the Minsk agreement and the transformation of the Donbas into some kind of “new Transnistria,” we should not expect that everything will take place in the Donbas as in Transnistria. In other words, we will have the self-proclaimed “republics” that will assert their sovereignty, will obtain money from Russia, and will cultivate the spirit of fidelity to the “people of the Donbas” among the local population. In other respects, this will be a normal peaceful life, where reminders of the conflict will occur only when crossing the line of separation and having to present passports during trips from Kramatorsk to Donetsk.
And this is the way it may be. However, and here is the main difference from Transnistria: shelling will continue at the boundary line — constantly, for as long as the occupied territories remain under Kremlin’s control. There will be all kinds of pretexts for the shelling: “response” to shelling from the Ukrainian army, appeals to “renew the territorial integrity of DNR,” battles with “terrorists” from Ukraine. But most frequently they will shell with no real pretext — simply so people will die.
Few remember now that the government in Tbilisi launched the campaign in South Ossetia only after systematic attacks from Tskhinvali (capital of South Ossetia). At the boundary between Georgia and South Ossetia, peace, such as the one between Moldova and Transnistria, practically never existed. The shelling of Georgian territory during all the years preceding Russia’s attack on Georgia were used by Moscow to destabilize the situation in the country in order to depict its leadership as helpless and indecisive. The leadership of Georgia always faced the choice of war or agreement on Moscow’s terms. Finally, Tbilisi chose war. And lost.
Wisdom for a state that wants to defeat a stronger opponent resides in not making that kind of choice. Ukraine does not need a big war. But Kyiv cannot accept Russia’s terms that are essentially intended to transform Ukraine into a satellite of the Kremlin. Then what can be done?
The weakening of Russia will force it to leave the Donbas
Ukraine must demand the weakening of Russia. After all, the international state of affairs and the economic situation of Russia itself are conducive to it. When Moscow is absorbed with domestic problems, it will have to forget about expansion. Then Russia itself will leave the Donbas, together with its fighters and missile launchers. Yes, this demands time. Yes, it will not be as easy to expel Russia from Crimea as from the Donbas. Yes all this time — until the departure of Russia and its mercenaries — there will be shelling and people will die. Yes, all this time we will not be free of smuggling or sabotage. War is war. Yes, all this time the Ukrainian government — with the help of Russian and pro-Russian politicians and propagandists — will be accused of being “indecisive” or “incapable of dialogue.” Yes, many political forces will be tempted to lie to Ukrainian citizens and argue that the problem can be solved and the shelling can be stopped. Some will claim that the Donbas can be freed in 24 hours; others that would suffice simply to go to Moscow and to negotiate with Putin. And all this will be a colossal lie, but a great number of Ukrainians will vote for these promises. People will come to power with the help of these lies. And they will lose power in Ukraine because of their inability to carry out the false promises. This can last for years.
But if Ukrainians do not want to soothe themselves with lies but to win the war, they will need to gain wisdom and patience.