It’s a Waiting Game in Donbass. What Comes Next?

It is clear that the West has started an endgame against Russia. How will Russia respond?

– John Hellevig

Reflecting on my visit in Donetsk last week, what strikes me the most is the total absence of Russia, in every respect. Obviously there are no signs of Russian military hardware or personnel; but not only that, Russia does not participate in building Donetsk statehood in any way. Russia has not even moved to ease the economic blockade imposed by the Ukrainians, which it could do by recognizing customs documents issued by Donetsk authorities.

The only Russian presence is the humanitarian aid that is periodically hauled in by white truck convoys. The impression one gets is that Russia is fully committed to doing everything from its own side to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements, at any cost, and using its influence on the people’s militia to make them abide as well. Once again, Russia has chosen the legalistic approach by adhering to agreements. Many are baffled by this approach, knowing that the other party, that is, the West and its puppet government in Kiev, could not care less.

Certainly Russia must know that it cannot impress the West in any way with such respect for agreements. Whatever it does, it will continuously be accused of breach of agreements and incursions into Ukraine. It seems to me that Russia is motivated by other concerns than the predictable Western reaction. Primarily, Russia seems to be interested in actually seeing the Minsk accords through, and secondly in establishing its case in front of the larger global community, rather than just the West. Russia’s real friends, China, the other BRICS countries, the many countries of Asia, South America and Africa must be convinced that Russia wants peace.

It should be noted, though, that the Minsk accords do not actually impose any obligations on Russia; for Russia it is just a question of refraining from actions that could be seen to fuel separatism. The key to the implementation of the peace plan is with Kiev. Cessation of military hostilities and the withdrawal of heavy weaponry is imposed on both Kiev and the rebel governments. The Donetsk and Lugansk troops have implemented these conditions for their part, but the Kiev military keeps attacking the frontlines and heavily shelling Donetsk. I experienced this first hand visiting the district near the airport with a group of journalists last Thursday. There was a constant rumbling of artillery shelling in the background. …

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