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It has emerged that on February 27, the PM of the DNR Alexander Zakharchenko issued an edict fixing the borders of the DNR at the current frontline.
The document, posted at the website of the DNR’s Ministry of State Security, illegalizes border crossings between the DNR and “territories under the temporary authority of Ukrainian state authority” that occur outside official DNR transit points.
For context, this order was signed at around the same time that Akhmetov’s industrial empire in the LDNR was nationalized.
Since the leaders of the LDNR have little autonomy of their own, this is another datapoint that the Kremlin has decidedly given up on Minsk II, and the plan of shoving back the Donbass into Ukraine in exchange for at least a de facto recognition of Crimea as Russian.
This is a good thing. I have long argued that this “clever plan” was too clever for its own good and was as likely as not to blow up in the Kremlin’s face. In any case, the Maidanists – held hostage by armed nationalists – have themselves have made the issue moot by refusing any degree of compromise.
Ideally, Russia should just recognize the LDNR, for instance, by recognizing the results of the 2014 referendum on self-rule, which won with 89% support (mirroring a 1994 referendum, in which 84% of Donetsk and Lugansk oblast citizens voted in favor of federalizing the country). Since the DNR’s border is now formally just the frontline, it could then be moved arbitrarily; for instance, to the Dnieper.
There have been some minor hints of a decisive solution to the Ukrainian experiment. On March 2, Zakhachenko had made a strange proclamation that the Ukrainian state only has 60 days left to live. According to rumors reported by Igor Strelkov from his unnamed sources in the “elites,” Azarov is already busy “arranging the Ministerial portfolios” of a “liberated Ukraine.”
I don’t put much credence in this. There have been many such scares – both “war scares” and “total surrender” scares – in the past two years, and none of them have ended panning out. This isn’t how Putin works. He reacts to things instead of acting; and he loves leaving things ambiguous and half-done.
Nonetheless, it is obvious that some kind of shift really is occuring. According to more recent rumors, also reported by Strelkov, the increasingly evident failure of Minsk II is moving the Kremlin to solidify the LDNR’s status as a Big Tranistria. However, the LDNR has about ten times as many people as Tranistria, so subsidizing it would be a much greater strain on the checkbook. It therefore has to be made economically self-sustaining.
Thus, according to Strelkov’s sources, a number of processes have come into play.
First, there would have to be a reorganization of cadres in the Republics; to this end, commissions have been sent to the LDNR to assess their administrative, fiscal/economic, and military status. The results aren’t good – understandably so, since their existence was originally planned to be temporary (see above).
LNR PM Igor Plotnitsky is named as a prime candidate for “retirement” – unsurprisingly so, given the dark reputation he has acquired for wacking NAF commanders who came into conflict with him. To the contrary, Zakharchenko may see a rise in his status, becoming head of a united LDNR.
Strelkov has a very low opinion of the advisors to the NAF, and many of them, he claims, will sooon be retired and replaced with more capable people.
The economy is to be made more self-sustaining, so that supporting the LDNR is no longer such a burden on Russia even as the region continued sending taxes to Kiev in the past two years of the conflict. There is already a huge mass of evidence that this is happening. Namely, the nationalization of Akhmetov’s empire, following the Donbass’ blockade by far right Ukrainian militias, and the acceleration of economic integration with Russia, eased along by the recent decision to start recognizing LDNR documents.