Turn in all weapons upon entering!
Ukraine Russia EU USA
economist.com bssb.be 19.12.2014
UKRAINE, which lost Crimea to Russian annexation this spring, just got smaller again. Russian-backed separatists declared sovereign governments on the back of sham elections in Donetsk and Luhansk on November 2nd. America, the European Union and the UN condemned the vote for imperilling a ceasefire agreed in September.
Russia welcomed it, but stopped short of official recognition. Officials in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, insist diplomacy is working. In reality, only a military effort can now bring the rebel-held territories back, and Ukraine’s army is not up to the task. As NATO’s most senior general acknowledged, eastern Ukraine is becoming one of the unresolved “frozen conflicts” that dot Russia’s borders.
The Ukrainian government lost the population’s hearts and minds during the summer’s relentless shelling. Since then, the region has moved its clocks forward to Moscow time. Domestic Russian radio now broadcasts across Donetsk, and many businesses write “Donetsk, Donetsk People’s Republic” on the address line of official documents. As the internal borders with Ukraine harden, the borders with Russia remain porous.
With officialdom comes responsibility. Ukraine stopped paying pensions inside the occupied territories months ago. After the elections, its prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, announced that all remaining state funding will be cut off, too. Separatist authorities have promised higher wages, but have yet to start paying them. Many areas lack basic services. The republics must build a government from scratch, while also repairing the damage of war.
Two signs on the doors of the DNR’s new taxation ministry speak to the predicament: “Re-registration of businesses” and “Turn in all weapons upon entering”. Some 3,000 companies have registered, says Svetlana Mikhailischina, the earnest lawyer overseeing the process. Tax collection began last month, and state funds are reportedly held in the new Central Republican Bank. But building a new government is difficult with shelling from skirmishes still rumbling in the distance.
Although the ceasefire did not stop the fighting, it has reduced its intensity. Many residents have returned, and some shops and restaurants boarded up during the summer have reopened. But the rogue elections could upset the equilibrium. On November 4th Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, called for repealing a law granting the Donbas special status, saying that the elections violate the accords reached in Minsk in September.
He also ordered reinforcements to several eastern cities, warning of another separatist offensive. NATO claims some 300 Russian troops remain inside eastern Ukraine training soldiers and co-ordinating supplies. Rebel leaders promise to recapture territory lost this summer.
Several of the contested areas are crucial for the republics’ long-term survival, including the port city of Mariupol and a power station north of Luhansk. The question is not whether they will make a move, but when.