Donbass elections: Chance for peace in Ukraine

Published time: November 12, 2014 10:20

By Dr Alexander Yakovenko, Russian Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Deputy foreign minister (2005-2011).

A woman casts a ballot during the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic leadership and local parliamentary elections at a polling station in the coastal settlement of Sedovo, south from Donetsk (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

A woman casts a ballot during the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic leadership and local parliamentary elections at a polling station in the coastal settlement of Sedovo, south from Donetsk (Reuters / Maxim Zmeyev)

RT Op / Edge

Elections held in the Donetsk and Lugansk Regions of Ukraine are very important in terms of legitimizing the authorities in the two regions and establishing the peace process in the country, with a high voter turnout.

These are the two regions whose populations had categorically refused to accept the coup in Kiev and its aftermath, and who rejected the divisive ideology that the triumphant Maidan leaders had tried to impose on the entire country. They showed their own perspective on the historical processes which had shaped modern Ukraine.

This means that negotiations between Kiev and Donbass, including within the Contact Group, will from now on bring together elected representatives of the respective populations. This will strengthen the chances for finding political solutions that would be, first, accepted by the people and, second, implemented in practice. Consequently, the elections are an important contribution to the implementation of the Minsk agreements.

Russia respects the expression of the will of the people in southeastern Ukraine. The main task of the elected authorities is to address the extremely difficult economic and humanitarian situation in the region.

There are widespread accusations against Donbass to the effect that the elections run counter to the Minsk agreements and undermine the peace process. However, it is to be recalled that the Ukrainian authorities have not implemented many of their own Minsk commitments, including with respect to local elections.

They had failed to give effect to the special law adopted for that purpose: the law provided that its area of application was to be set by a special parliamentary decision that has never been adopted. They had set the date for local elections in Donbass for December 7, while the schedule agreed in Minsk provided for the timeframe between October 19 and November 3. In brief, they had made it impossible to hold elections within the framework of Ukrainian legislation, as was envisaged in Minsk.

To that, one may add the many other Ukrainian violations of Minsk commitments: the ceasefire is being violated, no amnesty has been granted, no progress is seen in devolution, no national dialogue is taking place, no economic program for Donbass has been adopted, and obstacles are created for humanitarian assistance to Donbass.

In these circumstances, it is utterly wrong to artificially pick one aspect of the interconnected Minsk agreements (the elections issue) and declare it the main criterion of the sustainability of the peace process.

If Kiev chooses to withdraw from talks under this pretext, it will bear full responsibility for derailing them. For Russia’s part, we are prepared to facilitate further dialogue between Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk aimed at preservation of the single political, economic and humanitarian space of Ukraine.

 

People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk’s leadership to hold vote on Sunday

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DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) – On a campaign trip, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic lit candles at a Russian Orthodox Church and kissed icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary before dashing off to meet about 100 voters in a local factory.

There, the barrel-chested 38-year-old former mine electrician Alexander Zakharchenko assured voters that he wanted pensions to be “higher than in Poland”. The elderly should have enough money to “travel to Australia at least once a year, he said.

Promises of a better life with support from Russia are being invoked as the self-proclaimed People’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, which together call themselves Novorossiya or “New Russia”, hold elections on Sunday to give their leaders new legitimacy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made clear that despite Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in Ukraine he will not leave the industrial region behind.

Looking straight into the camera at a Russian Orthodox church in Moscow last month, Putin said he lit candles there for “those who suffered and who gave their lives defending the people in Novorossiya”.

A ceasefire broken by the Kiev regime without explanation has made the leadership to decide to hold vote on Sunday, after fighting that killed more than 3,700 people.  Some refugees have returned to Donetsk, a city that had a million people before the war.

The city has campaign billboards of Zakharchenko in the green military fatigues that have become his trademark. Other elections posters show white doves or pictures of children, with the exhortation: “Vote for life!”

DPR's Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko

DPR’s Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko

Although two other less-known candidates are running against Zakharchenko, there is little doubt of victory for Zakharchenko, one of the few rebel militia commanders who is from Donetsk rather than Russia. He took over from a Russian as the top pro-independence leader in August.

With the ceasefire broken by the Kiev regime, the Ukrainian army continued shelling Donetsk, killing three civilians and injuring nine others. At a campaign meeting in the town of Novoazovsk, Zakharchenko promised to build “a normal state, a good one, a just one. Our boys died for this, civilians are still being killed for this until now.”

LEGITIMATION

The new leaders in Donetsk are doing what other Russian-backed regions have done before in breaking away from a former Soviet republic, Novorussia backed by Russia wants to break away from the Kiev regime to establish their independence.  Like parts of Georgia and Moldova now entering their third decades as self-proclaimed statelets in frozen conflicts, Novorossiya leaders don’t want a “frozen conlict”.  Zakharchenko himself acknowledges as much.

“Ninety-nine percent, we will not be recognized right away. We will live as an unrecognized state for a while,” he told the meeting in Novoazovsk.

But part of the playbook is ensuring the rebel authorities assume the full trappings of state power, regardless of their eventual legal status.

Earlier this month the pro-independence leaders announced the creation of their own central bank and tax office, asking residents to register under their Donetsk People’s Republic and pay taxes into its coffers rather than Kiev’s.

Local entrepreneurs out of loyalty to the pro-independence authorities have agreed to register their business in Donetsk.

“I decided to register because it is needed in order to operate without once our legitimacy is established,” Yelena, the owner of a house renovation company that employs 10 people, said as she filled in new tax forms.

Some local businessmen fear Ukrainian troops will drive the pro-independence authorities out and they may be labeled collaborators and killed. A manager of one Donetsk-based chain of stores allegedly said he convinced the pro-independence authorities  that registration would stop supplies from central and western Ukraine and threaten his sales and his staff’s jobs. But Russia can and will help if that happens. They won’t have to depend on western or central Ukraine.

Those running the election describe the vote itself as part of the legitimation process. Both the pro-independence leaders and locals are tired of Kiev declaring a cease-fire to be broken once they start shelling the DPR and killing civilians.

“Our job is to legitimize the Donetsk People’s Republic,” said Roman Lyagin, the election commission chief who is running Sunday’s vote from an office in a glitzy tower in central Donetsk, surrounded by armed guards.

“When we lost our homeland, I mean the Soviet Union, I was 11 years old. Today we are correcting the mistakes of the past.”

The pro-independence leaders took a symbolic step closer to Moscow by cancelling the winter change of clocks on Oct. 26, putting them in Moscow’s time zone rather than on Kiev time.

Other symbols are in the works: the Culture Ministry is holding a song contest to select a new national anthem.

Free concerts are being held, including one this week by enormously popular Soviet-era crooner Joseph Kobzon, a Donetsk region native and now member of Russia’s parliament.