Public opinion poll suggests that Ukraine considers carefully every step it makes towards re-integration of the occupied territories, there is a risk of self-proclaimed governments acknowledged as partners in re-integration.
There has been no consensus on the Minsk agreements in Ukrainian society since they were approved in February 2015. “They shift the focus from the aggressor country to the victim country. The responsibility is imposed on Ukraine as if it was an internal conflict. Moreover, their provisions are difficult to implement because of possible discrepancies. We need a clear plan, a road map – the sequence of actions,” explained Kateryna Zarembo, Deputy Director of the Institute of World Policy, at a discussion held at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. However, she said that the Minsk agreements involved mediators in the process – Germany and France who are on the Ukrainian side and have a clear mechanism for pointing at the criminal – the sanctions. The western experts tried to analyze economic, political and humanitarian consequences as well as changes in public opinion over about two years.
The public have decided on their opinion
“We have a clear picture of public attitudes to the conflict in Donbas. There is no request for peace at any price. About half of the population believes that Ukraine should be selective as far as compromises are concerned. At the end of 2016, this position became predominant in the frontline areas of Donbas as well,” said Maria Zolkina, political analyst, Democratic Initiatives Foundation.
Ukrainian society prefers the formula “first – safety, then – international documents”. The main way to peace is further pressure on Russia in order to stop aggressive actions. It should be mentioned that positive attitude towards the idea of an international contingent has increased significantly, particularly in Donbas – from 16 percent support to 39 percent. “Election in uncontrolled areas is out of the question – this is the opinion of over 40% of Ukrainians. Most of those who admit such a possibility are guided by a number of demands: demilitarization of the territory, compliance of the election process with Ukrainian legislation, control of the international community, regaining Ukrainian control over the border,” said Ms. Zolkina. The idea that the territories should not receive any additional powers after their reintegration is gaining a growing support. This opinion now prevails in Donbas – 42%. “These are our internal “red lines”.
“In 2014 and early 2015 we could convince domestic consumers of the feasibility of some painful concessions, but now it may lead to a number of internal risks: disturbances, protest moods, further division among elites and weakening of the state,” noted Ms. Zolkina. According to her, one of the possible options for Ukraine is to accept things as they are and try to alleviate the situation: improve the conditions for crossing entry-exit checkpoints, facilitate trading with certain enterprises in uncontrolled areas. “This scenario is the way to show that the state executes its powers to the fullest extent regarding its citizens who can count on it. If there are possibilities to return the territories, such attitudes would facilitate the transfer of power. But this approach freezes the situation on the de facto recognition of two power systems: a self-proclaimed government becomes a partner in the implementation of Ukrainian powers. This may easily lead to their legalization,” noted Ms. Zolkina.
Humanitarian and social situation
Vitaliy Syzov, an analyst, Donetsk Institute of Information, informed that military activities cause severe load on medical institutions of Donbas. Morbidity statistics in the uncontrolled areas is also complicated. Displacement of higher education institutions was very difficult; students often choose to move to big cities; besides, an outflow of personnel from schools and ideologization of education also take place. “Whereas ideology in government-controlled territory is aimed at maintaining sole indivisible Ukraine, a separate identity is created in the temporarily occupied territories. It will have an adverse effect on the future reintegration,” he believes. Mr. Syzov noted that the idea of complete isolation of the uncontrolled territory is supported by adherents of “easy solutions”. “This scenario has its risks: the refusal of some of our citizens will lead to reputational consequences, above all, before our citizens who have suffered from the occupation and before the international community,” believes Vitaliy Syzov.
According to Ilona Sologub, research fellow, Kyiv School of Economics, Vox Ukraine, the war has resulted in 10-15% loss of its GDP by Ukraine, loss of part of tax revenues, and increased payments from the budget. “In subsequent years, payments from the budget related to the conflict will either remain stable or will further increase. They include military payments, payments to IDPs, reconstruction of infrastructure of the liberated regions, etc,” believes the researcher. A significant reduction in Russia’s share in trade is seen. The contact line has become a major source of corruption. “For foreign investors the conflict is only the third factor after corruption and imperfect judicial system that deters them from investing,” she added. According to Ilona Sologub, making no headway is very dangerous for the state, which expects reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories. “People who advocate isolation are dissatisfied with the continuing trade in the occupied regions. But those who advocate greater integration, or have relatives there, are dissatisfied with the fact that these 20 thousand people need to wait in lines for many hours,” explains Ms. Sologub.