Donetsk People's Republic: Independence or Autonomy as a Part of Ukraine?

On the first anniversary of the referendum on independence of the Donetsk People's Republic, its officials claimed that they were fine with becoming an autonomy as a part of Ukraine. The problem of creating autonomous formations and their functioning can generally be solved under certain conditions. But it depends on who will manage the economic process.

Such statements are directly related to the Minsk process, they are akin to a compromise, although it is hard to predict how the events would develop in reality. Political declarations and real actions today differ greatly. The process of de-escalation is, in fact, on a political level at the moment, it is not happening in the information space and in the military sector. Heavy artillery was indeed withdrawn from the confrontation zone, the amount and the concentration of the armed forces on both sides have not been verified, the Ukrainian forces are beefing up, mobilization in the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic continues. Statements have been appearing in Ukraine that some autonomy is possible, certain cooperation may be developed. What would leaders of the DPR and the LPR insist on? Status of the Russian language, neutral status of Ukraine, high-scale autonomy – it is the most vague notion voiced by politicians on both sides.

So far, we can say one thing for sure: the key statements are stovepiping of new opportunities into information space. In general, the risk of further escalation of the armed conflict has not left the agenda.

Furthermore, let's bear in mind that the condition of the Ukrainian economy may have additional great impact on the confrontation. We understand that military actions are a serious blow for the economy of Ukraine and for the economy of the territories under control of the DPR and the LPR. The Donetsk region was accruing about 12% of the country's GDP, the Luhansk region – 5%. A significant economic potential is concentrated on both territories: dozens of mines, metalworks, chemical and engineering enterprises. In this area there is a large percentage of skilled and highly professional personnel, despite the fact that a large part of people (up to a million, according to different data) have left the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions. It is important to note that the conflict affects the territory of one of the biggest countries of Europe with a population of over 40 million people.

The problem of creating autonomous formations and their functioning can generally be solved under certain conditions. But it depends on who will manage the economic process.

Forecasts of economists saying that the GDP of Ukraine will drop by 7.5% this year are groundlessly optimistic. I suppose that those are exceptionally understated figures because the situation is much more dramatic.

Ukraine suffered a break of ties which can lead to tragic consequences, doubtlessly affecting the Donetsk region and other territories of the country. There is another condition that will take effect all over Ukraine (in other words, the territories under the control of the DPR and the LPR and the territories under the control of Ukrainian authorities). That is drastic deindustrialization of the country. It means that industry is falling, enterprises are closing down, huge numbers of people are leaving the country, losing their jobs. It is a very alarming signal because the country stops making money. Without foreign loans, the country is foredoomed. What and how can anything be produced in Donbas? It is a question for serious economists. We need to consider the economic potential of Donbas and the intensity of its ties with other regions of Ukraine.

To what extent can industries exist autonomously, and what human resource would be employed to keep them running? By answering these questions, we would probably forecast the situation in terms of survivability of the territories of the Donetsk People's Republic and the Luhansk People's Republic.

All the talks about the ability of Donbas to survive become pointless when a new flashpoint appears or the conflict escalates again. The issue of economic recovery in this case is deferred indefinitely.

To keep the structures of governance and local self-governance functioning, the DPR and the LPR have a skilled reserve of personnel which is well-acquainted with the peculiarities of their territories. Restoration of industry and infrastructure will enable many people to return to the territory of the Donetsk and the Luhansk regions and to join the governance process.

Donbas has enormous prospects and opportunities. Most importantly, I repeat, it is the industrial potential, extreme human resource that went through very complicated conditions. People didn't leave their homes en masse, as seen in the results of surveys conducted on the territories of the DPR: most people are reluctant to leave their territories. Local patriotism may become the mechanism, or to be more precisely, the incentive, that would enable stabilization of the situation. Patriotism alone is not a solution. Indisputably, functionaries need to understand the peculiarities of industries that can operate independently or relatively-independently.

The territories of the DPR and the LPR certainly need an international humanitarian mission. The devastated infrastructure, the huge number of people without jobs, housing, basic livelihood - all this reflects the fact that survival without humanitarian aid is very tough. It is vital. Time has come to begin recovering industries, so that people could pull through and make money. Without a peaceful scenario, they will fall into a great need for restoration of industry and opening of workplaces essential for improving the standards of living.

Regarding the diplomatic settlement of the situation, the Minsk Agreements are undoubted. Angela Merkel, American politicians and Russian leaders have common grounds here. Compliance with the Minsk process will guarantee diplomatic settlement of the situation.

The participants of the dialogue process could without bias assess the situation in Ukraine and give us a real picture of the economic and the humanitarian situation in the DPR and in the LPR.

On the other hand, there are very many declarative statements. The risk of conflict's escalation still remains. I suppose that the regime would not allow Donbas to go its own way. Because in this case the concept of Ukrainian authorities for Donbas would be shattered.

Ukrainian authorities blame Russia for the developments in Donbas and Ukraine. On the other hand, the serious mistakes made by the Ukrainian political authorities in the last one and a half years are discarded. Especially after the forceful unseating of the former lawfully elected government in Kiev.

In my opinion, the mistake of Ukrainian authorities is the absolute refusal to recognize the referendum of May 11. The number of people casting votes in the referendum is much greater than the number of people going to the polls at the presidential elections in late May 2014. Ignoring this fact has become one of the main reasons for the negative development of the situation in Ukraine as a whole and in Donbas in particular.

The opposing forces need to realize that only negotiations, diplomatic efforts, good will, not weapons, can help them reach a logical political compromise.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.