The key characteristics of the situation in Ukraine as a whole and in Donbass in particular are drastic deindustrialization of the country and the rising unemployment rate. It will eventually exacerbate the economic underdevelopment of the country.
This is a central question. Especially for people living in Donbass. I believe that the key word is "uncertainty". The Minsk Protocol is balancing on the edge of a breach. The socio-economic situation persists to deteriorate. The blockade of Donbass does not reestablish credibility of the Ukrainian government on the uncontrolled territories.
1.5 million people have become internal migrants. According to the Russian Federal Migration Service, over 2.5 million Ukrainian citizens are stationed in Russia. The country displays active migration sentiments. Our surveys say that over 30% of citizens are ready to leave the country. Ever since the Second World War, the territory of Ukraine has probably never seen such intensive movement of people beyond the country and within it.
The unfolding confrontational scenario will have tragic ramifications not only for Ukraine alone, but also for its neighbours in the East and West.
The key characteristics of the situation in Ukraine as a whole and in Donbass in particular are drastic deindustrialization of the country and the rising unemployment rate. It will eventually exacerbate the economic underdevelopment of the country. For reference: the pre-war Donetsk Region and the Luhansk Region had been generating over 15% of Ukraine's GDP. Most mines, metallurgic and engineering enterprises were situated on the territory of these regions.
Economic ties with Russia remain cut off. Compensation of the losses or reorientation towards the European or other markets seems impossible. The future of Donbass will largely depend on the chances for restoration of economic ties with Russia.
What awaits Ukraine and Donbass in the foreseeable future? I believe that we will see an aggravation of the socio-economic situation on both sides of the war-torn country.
Sociologists note that practically all Ukrainian citizens have experienced the impact of the economic crisis one way or another. The extent of social pessimism is extremely high. Over 50% of the citizens believe that the situation will go downhill in the near future. The Ukrainian government loses credibility in the eyes of the society.
The problem of Ukraine's future – as a unitary or a federal state – remains on the agenda as well.
How can the situation in the east of Ukraine develop? The warring parties are mustering their military potential. The intensity of shelling is not easing. The "information war" is gaining momentum.
In my opinion, the society is being prepared for high-scale military operations. The military expenditures have shot up considerably. The political space is dominated by forces advocating the war. In light of the aggravating economic situation, we can see militarization of social conscience. Any dissent is repressed in the information space. The country has practically no real opposition. According to social surveys, protection of the human rights and freedom of speech in the country worsened.
Modern Ukraine is an object of a geopolitical fight between Russia and the US in the post-Soviet space. For the US, pursuing the policy in Ukraine means further efforts to contain Russia. Europe, where Germany and France play the pivotal role, is a subject of the political process too, but it is more vulnerable to potential exacerbation of the situation in the southeast of Ukraine.
Such developments are exceptionally detrimental for Russia as well. Not only the ruling elites are deeply mired in the conflict. The Ukrainian and the Russian people are engaged in it also. Should a peaceful solution to the conflict be found, the consequences would echo for a long time. The causes of the civil conflict in Ukraine are deeply rooted in the country itself. But the external factor has had a serious impact on the developments in Ukraine. The warring parties are especially sensitive to the potential influence of the US and Russia. Arrangements made under mediation of these two states would smooth out the tensions in the country.
A direct dialogue between officials of the Ukrainian government and the governments of Donetsk and Luhansk has slim chances. A dialogue today can only be conducted with assistance of Russian, German and French representatives. But the conflict tends to aggravate, ruling out direct negotiations. The Ulster conflict experience suggests that it was initially very hard for the parties to imagine ever sitting at the negotiation table. It took 30 years to settle the conflict. Nevertheless, the repercussions are still tangible.
Overcoming the conflict takes more than political will alone, it also requires enormous resources to rebuild Donbass and Ukraine as a whole. The funds are nowhere to be seen. It is crucial for global players, primarily Russia and the US, to assess the risks and opportunities around the conflict in the east of Ukraine.
The key risks, in my opinion, are degradation of the economy and social life. The risks and their repercussions are the hardest to calculate. But it has to be done.
Yevgeny Kopatko is sociologist and Research&Branding Group cofounder.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.