Electrical separation

On Monday, the Lugansk Electricity Union, which provides electricity in Lugansk province in Ukraine, announced that it would no longer supply rebel-held areas of the province with power. According to the Union’s director, Vladimir Gritsai, this follows the receipt of instructions from Ukraine’s Fuel and Energy Minister Igor Nasalik.

The decision is just the latest step in the Ukrainian government’s efforts to blockade the rebel Donetsk and Lugansk Peoples’ Republics (DPR & LPR). In March this year, the government confirmed that it would no longer purchase coal from the DPR and LPR. And last week, sources suggested that Ukraine might also stop buying coal from Russia, to prevent the Russians from exporting to Ukraine supplies which they had purchased from the DPR and LPR.

The strategy, in so far as there is one, appears to be to try to impoverish the rebel republics and undermine their leaderships’ legitimacy in the eyes of their people, hopefully thereby at some point persuading the people to abandon their rebellion. At the same time, the blockade imposes costs upon the Russian Federation, which might serve to persuade it to stop supporting the DPR and LPR.

If this is a conscious strategy rather than merely the product of domestic political pressures, most notably from the far right and the volunteer battalions, it isn’t very well thought out. For sure, the blockade is imposing costs on Russia, but it seems that those are costs which Russia is quite willing to bear. The Russian government announced today that if Ukraine did stop supplying electricity to Lugansk, it would step in to provide it instead.  The effect of Ukraine’s action will thus not be to assist the re-integration of the DPR and LPR into Ukraine, but rather to accelerate the process of their separation from Ukraine and their integration with Russia. As Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov put it, Ukraine’s action ‘is one more step on Ukraine’s path of tearing the territories away from itself.’

From the start of the crisis in Ukraine, the Russian government has shown a consistent preference for a solution which sees Donbass remain within Ukraine but with some form of autonomy. Russian leaders have repeatedly made it clear that this is only possible if the Ukrainian government negotiates a settlement directly with the rebels. Russian policy has in part been oriented towards coercing Ukraine into accepting this reality. This policy has, however, failed. Ukraine still refuses absolutely to speak to the DPR and LPR. This has placed Russia in an awkward position. It cannot abandon the rebels, both because that would be unacceptable to domestic public opinion and because it would mean losing whatever strategic leverage it still has over Ukraine. But supporting the DPR and LPR is expensive. The optimal policy thus involves supporting the republics, but keeping the costs low.

Because of this, it initially suited Russia to keep the rebels integrated as much as possible with Ukraine – if Ukraine could pay for pensions etc, and support the rebel economies by trading with them, Russia’s costs would be lower. The Ukrainian blockade has rendered this policy impractical. Russia has to step in to provide what the Ukrainians won’t. At the same time, it has become necessary to maximize the rebels’ own sources of income. This in turn has meant that it has become necessary to further sever economic ties with Ukraine by placing major industrial enterprises under so-called ‘external management’, stripping the Ukrainian owners’ of their management rights and forcing the enterprises to pay taxes to the DPR and LPR.

In this way, bit by bit, as a result of the Ukrainian blockade and the Russian and rebel responses to it, the DPR and LPR are turning into de-facto independent states without any substantial economic ties to Ukraine. The longer this goes on and the deeper the process the goes, the harder it will be to reverse it. As the process continues, a side effect will be that the state institutions of the DPR and LPR will become stronger. In an interview yesterday with Izvestiia, DPR leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko commented that,

There are natural problems in constructing a new state. In first place is the problem of personnel. And it’s not just a matter of many specialists having left the republic when combat operations were going on. Turning a region of a unitary state into an independent country requires a large number of new specialists. We are doing everything we can to prepare new personnel. We are opening educational institutions, and new faculties within existing institutions in those subjects which are needed in the management of the state and the national economy. And so we are resolving this problem, albeit not quickly.

As time goes on, Ukraine and everybody else will find that they are no longer dealing with a rebellion but with fully fledged state formations. This will inevitably change the political dynamic as the new states will demand recognition as such, if not de jure then at least de facto. As Zakharchenko told Izvestiia, when asked if he would accept reintegration in Ukraine on the basis of federalization:

That train has already left the station. We were willing to speak to Kiev about federalization in spring 2014 until Kiev began to shoot us from tanks, guns, and combat aircraft. Now we are willing to engage in dialogue with Ukraine only on the basis of equal rights, as an independent state. … Perhaps, as an independent state we will be willing to negotiate with Ukraine about co-existence on a confederal basis. But this will only be possible once not only those in power in Kiev, but the entire ruling elite, is changed.

In January 2015, I remarked that:

Kiev is now pinning its hopes on turning its own territory into a zone of good government and prosperity while blockading the DPR and LPR so that they face economic and social collapse, thereby in the long term convincing the population of Eastern Ukraine to rejoin the rest of the country. Should the leaders of the DPR and LPR succeed in consolidating their republics, this strategy will fail.

Two years later, we can conclude that this strategy has indeed failed. Indeed, it has been thoroughly counterproductive, as the policy of blockade has actually encouraged and enabled the process of state consolidation. It has also given the rebels’ Russian backers no option other than to promote total independence. Things are now so far gone that there is almost certainly no way back. The DPR and LPR will complete the process of state formation and their economies will become fully integrated with that of the Russian Federation, while both entities will remain officially unrecognized. This isn’t what anybody wants, and it is a thoroughly unsatisfactory outcome. But I no longer see how it can be avoided. Rather than pursuing futile dreams of re-integration with Ukraine via the Minsk process, it would make more sense, therefore, for all concerned to recognize this reality (even if only in private) and to focus instead on how to bring about a lasting ceasefire, so that both Ukraine and its lost territories can go their separate ways in peace.

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11 thoughts on “Electrical separation”

  1. “If this is a conscious strategy… it isn’t very well thought out”.

    The people who devised it are not very well equipped for thinking things out.

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    1. As for consciousness, the jury is still out as to whether they possess it or not. Scientists mostly agree that dogs and cats are conscious, as are mice and rats. On the other hand, bacteria, viruses and amoebae probably aren’t. Where on this scale do Kiev politicians and Nazi thugs appear?

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  2. It has been suggested, in all seriousness, that large governments are prone to bringing about the precise opposite of whatever they set out to accomplish.

    If so, the Kiev regime leads the world’s governments in this respect.

    Every time Kiev denies the republics some form of support that a legitimate government owes unconditionally to its citizens – or even to refugees in its power – it snips another few of the strands that still bind the republics to Ukraine. Soon, they will be practically independent but functionally part of Russia – without, however, the Russian government having to annexe them formally.

    It seems to me that this is the best possible outcome for Moscow, and the worst possible outcome for Kiev and Washington. Which is exactly what one would expect of a regime headed by Petro Poroshenko. It would be quicker and simpler if he and his ministers were just to shoot themselves – but that would be making things too easy.

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  3. As Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov put it, Ukraine’s action ‘is one more step on Ukraine’s path of tearing the territories away from itself.’

    In the western mainstream media, nearly identical commonsense statements by Russian politicians (and other things you’re describing) are presented as “Putin Quietly Detaches Ukraine’s Rebel Zones as U.S. Waffles”:
    https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-04-20/putin-quietly-detaches-ukraine-s-rebel-zones-as-u-s-waffles

    Note how it took four journos (the boss and 3 Slavic slaves, it looks like) to concoct this story…

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  4. “The strategy, in so far as there is one, appears to be to try to impoverish the rebel republics and undermine their leaderships’ legitimacy in the eyes of their people, hopefully thereby at some point persuading the people to abandon their rebellion. At the same time, the blockade imposes costs upon the Russian Federation, which might serve to persuade it to stop supporting the DPR and LPR.”

    Why your post does not mention the cost to the Ukraine itself? Or is the topic of this post is to yet again “lament” how Russia is suffering and only “nationalism” prevents it from the sane (from the liberal standpoint) things, like unconditional surrender and subjugation to the Western agenda?

    As for early April, the Blockade had already costed the Ukraine 0.9% of GDP. And, no – these are not the words of some Kremlenite – the head of IMF mission to the Ukraine von Ruden said so. By early February the train blockade costed $1.5 mlns for the Ukrainian state-corp “Ukrainian railroads”, and since then must be only increasing. While (now – former) head of the National Bank of the Ukraine Gontareva optimistically predicted a loss of only $2 blns

    Earlier, I’e mentioned in comments in this blog about detrimental effect of this blokade to the mettalurgy industry in the Ukraine (when talking about Akhvetov). By mid March the costs for the industry and the economy were the following

    “Negative foreign trade balance will increase from 5.6 billion to 11 billion dollars

    From the blockade of Donbass Ukraine will lose 3.4 billion dollars of proceeds from the sale of metal products produced on the other side of the line of demarcation. This was reported by the ex-minister of revenues and fees Alexander Klimenko

    He said that Ukraine will additionally need $ 2 billion to buy coal for Ukrainian power plants [already there was massive stoppage of such plants across the country – Lyt]. Mechanical engineering will suffer, the cost of metal and rolled metal will increase substantially. As a result, the negative foreign trade balance will increase from 5.6 billion to 11 billion dollars, and the national currency rate will drop to 32 hryvnia per dollar [as of now it’s only 26.6 – Lyt].

    “An acute shortage of raw materials will be experienced by enterprises in the Dnieper, Mariupol, Kharkov, Kamensk, Kropivnitsk. Production will be cut in April. The freight traffic of Ukraine will fall by about 40%, “- wrote on his Facebook page.

    He also reported the result for Ukrainians electricity will rise in price to 38%, hot and cold water – up to 30%, gas and fuel – up to 22%. Prices for Ukrainian goods and services – bread, travel in minibuses, medicine – will rise in price up to 28%. Also, Ukrzaliznytsia will raise the cost of tickets for passengers up to 45%.”

    But I guess Ukraine is so economically powerful, that all of these are of no concern for it, right Professor? That’s why you didn’t mention ANY detrimental effects of the Blockade to the Ukraine itself.

    As for the rest of the commenters – that’s, ultimately, your, Westerners money that the Ukraine is now wasting on this blockade. At it will expect you, your governments and your institutions to cough up more dough, no questions asked, and no promises of return. Maybe Russia has to fund the People republic – but the West has a real albatross hung on it neck in the form of the Ukraine.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your article; it’s clearly written and very interesting. “The DPR and LPR will complete the process of state formation …, while both entities will remain officially unrecognized. This isn’t what anybody wants, and it is a thoroughly unsatisfactory outcome.” Perhaps not. Kyiv-Ukraine is fragile and may, I suspect, continue to disintegrate. The day of officially recognized borders lies in the future.

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  6. formal blockade = business opportunity. i.e., monopoly license for anyone in a position to not be subject to its enforcement. Pretty straightforward if you think about it.

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  7. The only consistent policy in Ukraine seems to be trying to stave off actual collapse whilst there is still money to loot from IMF and EU loans. Dmitry Yarosh, the head of Pravy Sektor has recently released a video of him being shown around a refurbished barracks for the Pravy Sektor Neo_nazis. It is far better than the regular Ukraine army could dream off. There is big money there.

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  8. Anyone who seriously thought Minsk 2 would ever be implemented was not a serious politician

    That document was impossible for Kiev and do you think the Russians did not know that.

    The republics are there and as long as the issue is not resolved Ukraine will be stuck.
    They can’t win the war and they can’t win the peace.

    As far as I can see this is not an issue for Russia. They have been here before with Akhabzia and South Ossetia.

    Having those in the donbass eventually join Russia will increase their population and supply workers to the Russian economy. As the east was always the industrial heartland of Ukraine

    Poreshenko and the gang in Kiev will continue to beg for money and the politicians will continue to steal it.

    The nazi battalions will one day wake up and realise they have been conned and then we will see a different revolution in Ukraine

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