Experts: Ukraine can suggest Crimea and Donbas reintegration strategy provided it offers economics and domestic relations which are more attractive than ‘russkyi mir’


Kyiv, February 10, 2016. Ukraine has no clear strategy regarding the future of the temporarily occupied territories. It is necessary to choose the way prior to answering the question what to do with Donbas, said civil activists and expert during discussion held in Ukraine Crisis Media Center. Mykhailo Vynnytskyi, professor at National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy and National University Kyiv-Mohyla Academy Business School believes that main issue concerns not only territories, but people, particularly those living in the occupied territories and opposing Ukraine. Many inhabitants of Donbas are hostile to unitary Ukraine and do not see their future in this country. Vynnytskyi compared this situation to “Quebec separatism”, when Quebec wanted to separate from Canada. Nevertheless, unlike Donbas, they had no third, external party to the conflict. According to the professor, international negotiations are reduced to making Donbas Ukrainian. First of all, people in Donbas should agree to be part of Ukraine. Moreover, the desire “to hear Donbas” is the form used by people to obtain some special rights for themselves. “Experience of Canada proved that separatist movement expired when the rest of Canada said “you want to be independent, so be”. As a result, separatists’ blackmail very quickly became politically inefficient,” said Vynnytskyi. We, at least, have to think whether we want Donbas to come back. If we do, we must decide on what conditions it will happen, will we “tolerate some trick and blackmail we had faced prior to the armed conflict,” believes the professor. “Our strategy must rely on having a certain period of reconciliation, which is important. The next phase will be making bilateral decision on being subjects coming together on an equal footing. If we can’t manage to reach an agreement on an equal footing, it would be better not to do it at all,” believes Vynnytskyi.

Georgiy Kovalenko, an orthodox archpriest, believes that conflict solving in Donbas must base of such fundamentals as truth, justice, reconciliation and dialogue. He believes that the entire Ukrainian nation must solve the destiny of Donbas. At the same time, it is worth while listening to the opinion of internally displaced persons. “Not only those who, with the support of Russian propaganda, presumably speaks on behalf from the present-day Donbas. Dialogue without reconciliation is virtually impossible. These are just talks of the ceasefire and exchange of prisoners,” believes the priest. He said that it is important to find a player able to harmonize the parties. “Unfortunately, what we see now in the territory of a part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions are problems with freedom of conscience and communal animosities. The most painful thing is that the church cannot perform the role of negotiator or peacemaker now,” said Kovalenko.

Andriy Dlihach, general director of company group Advanter Group, believes that the factor of the conflict in Donbas has been used not to develop Ukraine, but to explain the impossibility of systematic changes in the country. “On the contrary, what is happening is taking advantage of the eastern fact to account for the impossibility to implement reforms and real modernization of the country,” he stated. This means that no Minsk Agreements will save Ukraine if corrupt oligarchic system of state power is preserved. War would end only when systemic reforms take place in Ukraine. The expert observes that there is no strategy of solving the Donbas and Crimea issue. “We will be able to suggest Crimea and Donbas reintegration strategy provided Ukraine offers economics and domestic relations which are more attractive than ‘russkyi mir’, believes Dlihach.

One must answer a question “What should we do with Donbas?” before answering the question “What should we do with Ukraine?”, believes Valeriy Pekar, businessman, professor and public activist. He mentioned Germany as an example. Germany managed to unite only when Western Germany became strong and powerful. “People want to live in places with more attractive lifestyle […] First of all, we have to make Ukraine wealthy and strong – from political, military and economic point of view. Second, we would propose Donbas to join us. Third – probably, we will have to separate then. Major part of people might have to leave,” suggested the activist.  At the same time, he reminded that it was the ‘leverage principle’ in case of Germany. “The same amount of time will be needed both to separate and unite. Figuratively, we were living in the Soviet Union for 70 years, now we will need another 70 years to find our way out, or maybe more, if we are keen on it,” presumed Pekar.

Ukraine finds itself in the wake of ideas and proposals made not by Ukraine, but Russia and western colleagues, said Oleksandr Tkachenko, general director of 1+1 Media. “In fact, history related to implementation of the Minsk Minutes is the history with a date of adopting changes to the Constitution which had to be made not only without public discussion, but not taking into account interests of the majority of Ukrainian population,” he believes. According to Tkachenko, it is impossible to decide on further destiny of Donbas without wide public discussion. It must be taken into account that finding common language with people preaching different values will be quite difficult.

Josef Zisels, executive vice-president of the Congress of National Communities of Ukraine presumed that the present military conflict will be a lengthy one and we will have to learn to live with it. “We are dealing with two civilizational formations that can’t even find a common denominator. These are just different value systems,” he said. It is possible to live in peace, provided no one forces their values on one another. Nevertheless, as strength has been displayed, no further lifelike that is possible. “Donetsk and Luhansk regions are not separatists, it is too superficial. This is not a pure picture, like in Canada, but a mixed one, and Russian presence is the major factor. I don’t even believe they are separatists, those who actively opposes Ukraine in Donbas, I rather believe they are collaborationists,” stated the vice-president of the Congress of National Communities. At the same time, Zisels sees no possibility for unity in the nearest decades, though affiliation of Donbas to Russia is impossible too. “The most likely outcome is what Ukrainians are peculiar for, i.e. uncertainty,” he believes. This can last for decades until new generations grow. They will get used to it, like it happened in Transnistria and Abkhazia . There is a feeling that Donbas and Crimea are growing more and more remote, said Zisels. Moreover, he does not believe the present conflict is frozen. “We are in the state of war and this war is supervised from Russia. The war will last until Russia wants it to distract Ukrainian forces and totally exhaust them. Russian task is to prevent us from moving westwards,” said the expert.

Oleksandr Paskhaver, honoured economist of Ukraine, suggests creating something similar to independent enclaves from part of Crimea and part of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, on condition of securing Ukrainian safety by our troops on the borders. “This proposal would provide colossal push in negotiations with international partners and Russia,” he said. It means that the economists proposes thinking through legitimate ways of such separation of regions, so that local residents are unable to influence the development of the country, particularly through voting in this region. “If we make them a part of Ukraine, we will receive opposition to anything happening in Ukraine both for consolidation and liberal reforms. It will make the process of modernization of Ukraine much more difficult or might even paralyze it,” believes Paskhaver.

Said Ismahilov, mufti of Ukrainian Muslim Association “Umma” voiced the opinion of residents of the occupied territories of Donbas. First of all, Ismahilov believes that Ukraine mustn’t agree to any exchange of its territories. “We can’t afford the luxury of squandering territories. If we give up on the occupied part of Donbas, we will lose Crimea for good. Moreover, we will create a dangerous precedent in people’s minds. Separatists in any region […] will understand that it is possible to tear off a part of territory from Ukraine sooner or later, under certain circumstances,” emphasized the mufti. “Ukraine might choke under a wave of separatists. Nevertheless, he agreed that there are many people in the east of Ukraine who are “encapsuled”, like in blockade, which was here before. They do not care much who is in power, so Ukraine is to create an environment that makes the locals want to live in such a country. “The majority of these people need to be tended to, calmed down and provided with work,” said Ismahilov. He also advices to fight corruption and bring to liability those guilty of rousing conflict and various crimes. Such people will feel free “as long as everything can be solved with money here in Kyiv”.

The experts arrived at the conclusion that undercover games and secret diplomacy will continue without large-scale community dialogue. Politics must be open and transparent for people, and they, in their turns, must know what it will be like and be entitled to express their opinion themselves. “This is the change the Maidan brought in our lives,” summarized Pekar.