There’s renewed rumors of war in the Donbass. But I don’t think it’s happening for a multitude of different reasons:
Polls suggest that since around 2019 an outright majority of the LDNR wants direct union with Russia (<10% want independent, 12% want reintegration into Ukraine).
The region is increasingly integrated into Russia de facto. The official language is Russian. The currency is the ruble. LDNR residents have access to Sputnik V, while Ukrainians don’t.
Hundreds of thousands of LDNR residents now have Russian citizenship.
There will be public pressure for the Russian Army to protect them in the event of Ukrainian aggression. Putin will not even have much of a choice on the matter, too much has been invested to allow Ukraine to wrap it up in an Operation Storm.
The Russian Army is also now much closer than it was in 2014-15.
20th Combined Arms Army was recreated almost from scratch in the south covering the area from Nizhny Novgorod to Voronezh. Revived 10th Guards Tank Division (which was disbanded in 2009) became the core of new army with headquarters in the Boguchar. The regions of Kursk, Belgorod and Voronezh are actively saturated with troops, including the transfer of two motor rifle brigades, and later, probably, here would be formed another division.
Finally the creation of the 150th Motorized Rifle Division began in Novocherkassk of the Rostov region wich was devoid of combined arms units since 1989. There was unconfirmed information about the possibility of creating another army subordinated to the Southern Military District with the corresponding further strengthening of the local forces.
The meaning of all these activities is rather obvious. The border with Ukraine was totally undefended just three years earlier and now the Russian side have three major troop concentrations here which can, if necessary to launch a swift offensive in Kiev direction from the north (it is only 270 km from Russian border through Chernihiv) and create two strong “pincers” to achieve a strategic envelopment of the main group of the Ukrainian army on the left bank of Dnieper while Ukrainan army is already constrained by the self-proclaimed republics in the Donbass. Ukraine simply have no sufficient military forces (and no ability to create them in foreseable future) to parry these attacks or a resist a possible large-scale ‘deep operation’ by Russian forces. And this despite the fact that Russia still have significant reserves in the Southern Military District (in the form of two armies – the 49th and 58th) and in the Central and Eastern Military District (in which, according to available data, three new divisions would be created ). There is also an active rearmament of Air Forces and Air defenses in the regions to the south of Moscow.
Thus, the current Russian military planning and build up have little connection with the “threat from NATO” or “a threat to NATO” and basically subordinated to the main and fundamental security issue for today Moscow – Ukraine. After losing almost all levers of influence on Ukraine in 2014 bar most direct ones the Russian leadership is now forced to bet on them. Creating a powerful army group on the Ukrainian theatre will allow the Kremlin to extend the range of possible responses to Ukrainian situation.
The LDNR has explicitly declared themselves “Russian nation-states” in a way that even Russia itself cautions away from doing so (limiting itself to civ-nat platitudes revolving around “bearers of the Russian language”).
Here is a link to the full document of the doctrine of the Russian Donbass.
Here is how it begins:
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, millions of Russians found themselves outside their historical homeland, becoming citizens of artificially created state formations, hostages of anti-Russian political projects. These changes, controlled and implemented by external forces, tore apart the fabric of cultural and historical continuity that had been sewn for centuries and deformed a single system of values.
The presence of arbitrarily delineated boundaries between political formations that previously constituted a single state, ignoring the natural course of social development of Donbass and its economic ties, manipulating public consciousness, deliberate distortion of historical facts, the imposition of meaningless ideologies, utopian and antihuman programs by the Ukrainian government, the desire to destroy the very foundations of life and the cultural world of the inhabitants of Donbass naturally caused rejection and led to an armed uprising in 2014.
The people of Donbass are inextricably linked with the history of Russia and its historical part – Novorossiya – and the triune Russian people from the moment the Slavic population appeared on the territory of the region in the 5th – 7th centuries. before the creation and approval of the DPR and LPR in 2014.
The tragic events of recent years have actualized the problem of overcoming the geopolitical mistakes of the past, the need to rethink the development programs of our region. The people of Donbass, going through a difficult period in their history, made the final choice: their future is only with Russia. This choice is objective, historically reasoned, rational, uncontested.
The commonality of the historical fate of the people of Donbass is determined by their belonging to the Russian world – a unique phenomenon of world civilization. Ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity is characteristic of the vast majority of modern states. But their successful functioning is ensured by the presence of unifying values, ideals, beliefs, norms that are a consequence of the cultural and historical development of peoples, the basis of self-identification, the foundation of the worldview.
The richest Russian culture has a huge intellectual and moral potential, which has found embodiment in Orthodoxy, original and deep Russian philosophy, advanced science and technology, classical literature and original art. All this is not only an object of pride and respect, but also the property of world culture. Religion, philosophy, science, art form a worldview, which, in turn, orientates and motivates a person. The Russian people of Donbass also made their contribution to the legacy of the Russian civilization, due to external reasons they found themselves outside the borders of their Motherland – Russia.
Overcoming historical injustice is inevitable. The implementation of the Doctrine will activate the intellectual life of Donbass, which in imperial times was a key industrial region, and in Soviet times it was also an important educational, scientific and cultural center.
Donbass throughout its history has been an integral part of the Russian civilization. Returning to the Russian space will allow synthesizing traditional values and innovations, rethinking the past through the prism of modernity with its challenges, problems, tasks; will give an opportunity to make realizable plans for the future.
Here is how it concludes:
Russia is the only historical state of the Russian nation. Its mission was and is to politically unite this nation. Any separation of certain parts of the Russian nation from Russia, any political formations that include Russians and are not Russia are exclusively temporary.
What is however most notable about it is this “Russian Donbass” meeting was attended by RT chief editor Margarita Simonyan, who demanded that “Russia take back Donbass.”
Если кто меня потерял, я тут. pic.twitter.com/khprINAoHS
— Маргарита Симоньян (@M_Simonyan) January 27, 2021
RT’s chief editor doesn’t randomly turn up to events like this. Well, she might, but I don’t think so. Probably it at least had Putin’s acquiescence if not active support.
Zelensky’s popularity might be falling, but as a centrist, he has to become a truly toxic figure for a challenger from either the Opposition Bloc (whose media organs he has been shutting down to plaudits from the State Department) or the nationalists to credibly threaten him. He doesn’t have a good reason to start a war and risk losing everything.
Nonetheless, I am not ruling it out completely. Svidomism is a brain virus that makes people do all kinds of irrational things. Perhaps the Ukrainians will look at the success of Turkish Bayraktar drones in the Karabakh War 2020 and feel that they could repeat it with Donbass, forgetting minor details that such as the Russian Air Force being able to wipe all these drones out of the sky in an afternoon.
In that case, the Ukraine could end up losing more than just the Donbass.