Six years after the Minsk agreements were signed, the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics have all but mixed feelings of frustration and anxiety.
Minsk-1 signed on September 5, 2014 after the I Battle of Ilovaisk stipulated a ceasefire in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions and was called "Protocol drawn up by the Trilateral Contact Group on joint steps aimed at implementing a peace plan of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and initiatives of Russian President Vladimir Putin".
Minsk-2 was adopted following hours of marathon talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France amid the Ukrainian troops' Debaltseve military defeat in February 2015. Phased implementation of the agreements implies a virtual elimination of Lugansk and Donetsk Republics and their return to Ukraine as isolated districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions with a self-rule, a right to have law enforcement agencies, militia groups, courts and prosecutors. The special status of Donbass should be enshrined in the Constitution of Ukraine, with an amnesty declared and elections held under Ukrainian law, after which border control should be transferred to Ukraine. To date, out of many clause, only the one on prisoner swap has been executed with pain and misery. The rest is sabotaged by Kiev.
And how do the Lugansk and Donetsk residents assess these agreements now? There have been no social studies on the issue, but most people provide a highly negative assessment with the use of idiomatic expressions.
"The Minsk agreement will be executed to the last Donetsk citizen", "they want to shove us back into Ukraine at the slightest pretext ", "the Minsk agreement allows Ukraine to bomb, shell, destroy and plunder the Donbass and kill us with impunity till the cows come home", "if Ukrainian flags rise over Donetsk, we will enter guerilla warfare", "we won't forget and forgive hundreds of our killed and maimed children, the grief of mothers, thousands of casualties and burned houses", "did we fight with Ukraine to become part of it again?" – these are the prevailing viewpoints in a society torn apart by war.
Only a narrow stratum of local propagandists, deputies and the power elite harp on Minsk agreements' benefits, lecturing in universities about the Minsk interpretations, forcing state employees to take part in meaningless flash mobs and actions like "Zelensky, go and recognize the choice of Donbass", arranging stage shows like tribunals over Poroshenko. Such events as facts of Minsk agreements' unilateral implementation cause abhorrence and outbursts of indignation with the majority, are deemed as humiliating and shameful. Donetsk residents have long realized the external players' rejection of true desires of the republics' people to become part of Russia.
After all, people voted for secession from Ukraine in the hope of becoming part of Russia at the 2014 referendum. However, Minsk determined that the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics are only temporary structures obliged to return to Ukraine. This is also Russia's official position, with politicians considering the Donbass as Ukrainian territory, and the Minsk agreements as uncontested. This is also affirmed by a UN Security Council decision.
Meanwhile, the Donbass conflict has been lasting longer than the Great Patriotic war: 2408 days against the 1418, with no end in sight. The Minsk process did not stop or freeze the war. The recent days saw an increased number of heavy-caliber attacks against the Gorlovka, Donetsk and Novoazovsk fronts; several soldiers and a battalion commander, a first-wave militiaman, were killed. Meanwhile, Ukraine is building up its forces at the republics' borders, menacingly bringing up tanks and howitzers under aggressive rhetoric. This can be confirmed by recent statement that came from Deputy Prime Minister and First Deputy Head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Minsk Trilateral Contact Group Oleksii Reznikov that "Donbass is like cancer, and its people are mentally ill". Ukraine needs no compromises, but a capitulation of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, so the agreements are replaced by "road maps" and handwaving. Paradoxically, as things stand now, the rigidity of Ukraine's positions alone prevents the Ukrainian flags from flying in the republics.
Total uncertainty and depression in public sentiments and economy have drained the Donetsk and Lugansk residents of all their strength. Devastation, mass emigration, personnel gaps, ruined mines and factories – all of this is the aftermath of Minsk agreements either. There is no pattern or vision of the future. It cannot be glanced through for a month or year ahead. Amid such an environment, one has to survive at the end of tether.
Politics is certainly alien to sentiment, but people do not understand why they have been divided and found themselves castaways. A lot of whys and wherefores.
Recently, the republics' negotiators provided Ukraine with a roadmap of new concessions. The leaked provisions of this document caused a wave of indignation in the People’s Republic of Donetsk. It was unilaterally proposed to grant a special status to "isolated districts" for only 30 years; there was no link between the border handover and changes in the Ukrainian Constitution; and readiness was expressed to bring industrial enterprises back to their former owners to follow the Ukrainian legislation. In fact, Kiev is granted additional powers, while the republics are eliminated. At the same time, the DPR authorities have not refuted the document.
In response, Ukraine has announced its own road map, with head of the Ukrainian delegation to the Tripartite Contact Group Leonid Kravchuk elaborating on them. No special status. Instead, it is proposed to arrange some "free economic zone", demilitarize the region until 2021, unilaterally disperse the people's militia of the Lugansk and Donetsk People's Republics, while the UAF and the National Guard are going to stay. Another point is unconditional transfer of control over the border with the Russian Federation to Ukraine. No amnesty, only personal responsibility: from jail time to a comprehensive suspension of civil rights. And Russia should stop granting citizenship to DPR residents.
In fact, an ultimatum was delivered for the republics' complete unconditional surrender. "Supposing that Russia wants to save face when leaving Donbass, our plan stipulates such a possibility," another Ukrainian "negotiator" Oleksii Arestovich said.
One can't agree with this, but what's in return?