Government’s plan for the reintegration of Donbas: the pros, cons and alternatives

On January 11, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine approved a plan of measures aimed at the reintegration of the population of Donbas areas that are uncontrolled by Kyiv. The document specifies 17 measures that should be started in the days ahead. The implementation of these steps should actually return residents of the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions to a single constitutional space of the country.

UCMC published an abridged version of the material presented by Hromadske.

  1. Economic and humanitarian aspects. By March, officials and lawmakers will have to decide how to ensure that children from the self-proclaimed “DPR” and “LPR” should receive secondary education under the Ukrainian school program, to simplify conditions for medical humanitarian organizations (for reducing the incidence of TB, HIV, diabetes, etc.), to provide access to essential goods (especially – to medications) for the residents of the occupied areas and to take out the orphans to safe regions of Ukraine.

However, such problems as the simplified taxation scheme for companies in the occupied areas, payments to employees of the state companies and employment of residents along the contact line in the unoccupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions still remain to be solved.

  1. Fight against corruption. The reintegration plan also provides for strengthening the fight against corruption among the military, officers of law enforcement and special agencies working at the contact line checkpoints. The security forces must undergo anti-corruption training by March. The entry/exit checkpoints should be equipped with surveillance cameras.
  2. Opposition to the plan. Oksana Syroyid, Deputy Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, Samopomich faction deputy, sharply criticized the document approved by the Cabinet. She stated that it is too early to speak of the reintegration plan. She called the plan “Russian”.

Oleh Bereziuk, head of the Samopomich faction, supported Oksana Syroyid and stated that the party fellows share her opinion. According to him, before voting the ministers did not know what is included in the plan for the reintegration of occupied Donbas.

  1. Alternative. Syroyid has her own plan for special areas of Donbas. Her draft law “On the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine” (registered in 2015, but not adopted yet) provides for termination of any economic and trade relations with uncontrolled territories and official recognition of these territories as occupied.

According to Oksana Syroyid’s draft law, adolescents from so-called “LPR” and “DPR” are prohibited from entering the Ukrainian universities. The deputy stated that the Ukrainian government must choose between the support to uncontrolled areas of Donbas and the lawsuit against Russia in which Kyiv is trying to prove the region occupation by Moscow. Syroyid is convinced that water or electricity supply to the self-proclaimed “republics” confirms that the Ukrainian government still has partial control over the territories seized by pro-Russian militants, which denies the fact of external aggression.

  1. Blockade plan of volunteer battalions. Some former members of volunteer battalions also support the idea of overall blockade of “LPR” and “DPR”. Valentyn Lykholit, former chief of staff of the Aydar battalion, announced the beginning of this campaign. He invites those who wish to organize mobile checkpoints, where they plan to stop people and take away their goods if they have more than for their own consumption. Former soldiers called it “fight against smuggling on the boundary line”.

According to Lykholit, 800 people have already decided to take on the job. “These are demobilized soldiers of Donbas, Aydar, Tornado, Kherson battalions, and other units of the Armed Forces who decided to help our prisoners who are held hostage on that territory.”

Lykholit says that the 2014 blockade of the occupied Donbas helped to release many Ukrainian soldiers from captivity.

  1. Maintaining relationship. Vadym Chernysh, Minister of Temporarily Occupied Territories, rejected the statement that the reintegration plan is “Russian”. According to him, the document, which is approved by the Cabinet, is primarily aimed at the reintegration of people living in Donetsk and Luhansk territories beyond the government control, and at maintaining their relationship with Ukraine.

Head of government Volodymyr Groisman supported the minister. The Prime Minister stated that the children of Donetsk and Luhansk are not to blame that Ukraine had lost control of their cities.

During the Day of Ukrainian Unity celebrations, President Petro Poroshenko also stood up for the document approved by the Cabinet. In his opinion, MPs in fact suggest ceding Donbas by supporting the blockade. “I want to ask these politicians [blockade supporters] a question: Dear Sirs, have you collected these territories, have you taken pains to do it, how can you give up Ukrainian lands now? Moreover, it has already been proved that this strategy will not lead to peace. Russia’s goal is not Donetsk or Luhansk. Their goal is the whole of Ukraine,” stated the President.

  1. Is it impossible to break ties completely? Government officials and MPs should read the International humanitarian law before disputing the blockade and reintegration issues, says Deputy Minister of Temporarily Occupied Territories Georgiy Tuka. According to him, if Ukraine ceases to supply water to the so-called “republics”, the world community will consider it genocide. And then, “we are likely to run up against international sanctions,” said Georgiy Tuka (though Ukraine has blocked access to fresh water from the river Dnipro to the occupied Crimea peninsula and there are no sanctions).

Tuka added that the Cabinet-approved document does not provide for any official contacts with the “LPR” and “DPR” leaders. However, in his opinion, it is wrong to call all the people living in the occupied Donbas territories separatists. He considers the economic blockade an inefficient way to reintegrate the occupied territories. To his mind, this will lead to the complete loss of Donetsk and Luhansk territories beyond the government control.