Rostislav Ishchenko is a prominent Russian analyst.
This article originally appeared at Valdai Club
What could you say about the recent statement by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on the recent de-escalation of the conflict in Donbass? Is this really happening? Will Kiev fully comply with the Minsk agreements? We hear continuous reports that Ukraine is building up its military strength with Western help. Will you, please, comment on the EU and US roles in this respect.
Poroshenko is saying what he is supposed to say, but even he doesn’t seem to believe it. First, Ukraine does not conceal the fact that it will only accept one end to the Donbass problem – the surrender of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. However, to achieve this, Kiev must win militarily, which it obviously cannot do no matter how many people it drafts or how much equipment its army receives. It cannot win even with Western supplies, which aren’t expected in the near future anyway. To sum up, Kiev is unable to win but must continue the war because the Kiev regime cannot exist without it. The war is delaying the inevitable socio-economic collapse of the country and justifies the terrorist methods used to run it. This is the only thing allowing the regime to pretend that there is national unity and that the situation in the country is under control.
There can be no doubt that the United States has an interest in the war in Ukraine lasting as long as possible and being as bloody and destructive as possible, but Washington does not want to use its resources on propping up the Kiev regime that has no choice other than to prosecute the war. So, Kiev will be pushed to step up its military activities but won’t be helped (except with kind words).
As for the EU, it is irreparably divided. The United Kingdom, Poland, and the collective Baltic limitrophe take a pro-American, Russophobic position and are going all-out to escalate the confrontation with Russia. Italy, Greece, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and some other states are strong supporters of the EU conducting its own policy independent of Washington and pursuing European rather than US interests. France and Germany are hesitant, but recently they have been increasingly inclined to accept the need for normalizing relations with Russia. True, they are still trying to avoid a quarrel with America, but they will have to make a choice, and there is reason to believe they will choose Russia.
Can elections be held in some territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions? How might the assertion of their special status affect the situation in Ukraine? What if some other regions follow the example of the DPR and the LPR?
Elections in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions are unrealistic. As I’ve said, Kiev is not going to comply with the Minsk agreements. In other words, war is becoming inevitable. It is the only way the sides can resolve their irreconcilable contradictions. This is why the Ukrainian authorities will do whatever they can to shift the blame for wrecking the peace process to the DPR, LPR and Russia.
As for other regions of Ukraine (the eight regions of Novorossiya), they have wanted to follow the example of Crimea rather than the DPR and the LPR since March 2014. When regional administration buildings were occupied last March, the Russian tricolor was hoisted above them. Only when it became obvious that Russia wouldn’t intervene militarily did all kinds of “people’s republics” with their own symbols start to emerge. I think they are temporary entities, but that does not mean there should be only two. Kiev has alienated everyone in the past year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Lvov or a Ternopol people’s republic. Of course, they would have the opposite ideology of the DPR and the LPR, but Kiev already enjoys no more prestige in Galicia than in Donbass.
Can Kiev make concessions or compromise with southeastern Ukraine?
No, it’s impossible. Admitting that compromise is possible at this point would mean admitting that everything was in vain – the war, the tens of thousands of deaths, the destruction of the national economy and even the 2014 armed coup and the formation of the terrorist Nazi regime. That would only lead to the question of responsibility, which rests with those who are currently in power. But they have made such a mess that life imprisonment and the confiscation of property (if they survive to stand trial) would be a mild punishment. So Kiev will fight to the end – its own rapidly approaching end.
How should Russia react if the Minsk agreements are violated by Kiev or Donbass?
Russia is already reacting. It is citing violations of the agreements by Kiev and urging Paris and Berlin as their guarantors to respond. As for the future, we’ll have to wait and see. When the war resumes, we should play it by ear based on the outcome of the fighting.
What do you predict will happen in Ukraine? What is the most realistic scenario today?
There is nothing good in store for Ukraine. I think during this year it will sustain a military defeat and the disintegration of its army, another coup and the collapse of what is left of its government agencies, all-out chaos, the total destruction of the economy and the start of subsistence farming for survival. The country is in for a humanitarian catastrophe that practically no one is able to avert. The only thing left is to try and mitigate its consequences. But to do this, the territory of modern Ukraine must be occupied by an outside force capable of maintaining police order, or the DPR and the LPR self-defense forces must be powerful enough to occupy the entire territory, defeat Makhnovism and criminal rule and start developing the economy from scratch, of course with foreign support. In other words, without outside support no more than half of Ukraine’s current population will survive after the imminent, final collapse of the state. Survivors will be set back a century in terms of living standards and civilization. This is why foreign intervention to restore law and order to Ukraine after the collapse of Project Ukraine will be inevitable.