By Dmitry Rodionov
October 16: Head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Alexander Zakharchenko responded to a statement by the representative of Ukraine in the Contact Group, former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, about the need to cancel the election results in the DNR and Lugansk People’s Republic (LC) from November 2, 2014. Zakharchenko said that the republic will consider the cancelling the elections if Ukraine cancels the election of President Petro Poroshenko and elections to the Verkhovna Rada.
“Based on what?” the head of the DNR commented on the Ukrainian side’s demand. “The fact that Poroshenko is afraid to sit down with me at the negotiating table? Am I ashamed to negotiate with those who lost? And those who brought their country to civil war and economic collapse are not ashamed?”
Zakharchenko also said that he is not afraid to review the results of the elections.
“However, we are prepared to consider abolishing the elections in the Donetsk People’s Republic of November 2, 2014. But under one condition. First the election of President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko in spring 2014 and parliamentary elections in autumn 2014 must be abolished,” said Zakharchenko, according to an official report.
“And my offer is more reasonable, even in terms of democratic standards,” said the head of the DNR. “The basis of our elections was the most democratic of all possible procedures — a referendum. And the elections of Poroshenko and the Verkhovna Rada were based on an armed coup. The election in Ukraine was accompanied by political terror and the prohibition of competition. Yes, and much of the country did not vote. So our elections are more legitimate, even from the point of view of democratic procedures.” …
Political analyst Victor Shapinov believes Zakharchenko is telling Kiev that cancellation of the election results or any other concessions by the DNR requires equal concessions by Kiev. Otherwise, this is a game played only by one side.
Free Press: What does Kiev hope to accomplish by pushing impossible demands?
VS: Kiev’s position, though not always smart, has been consistent. Kiev does not want to recognize the self-determination of Crimea, the LC and DNR in any way, relying on the help of the West. Actually, Moscow and the West, which have the appropriate leverage, “deflect.” Therefore, we should not expect Kiev to accept concessions from the Donbass — it will issue more and more new demands.
FP: How important were last year’s elections in the LC and DNR in terms of the internal legitimacy of the republics?
VS: Of course, these elections were important. A referendum on independence was held against the emotional backdrop of the anti-fascist uprising in the spring of 2014. The republics’ leadership needed to show that it had not lost the confidence of the population, despite the war and economic hardship. Given that there was not real competition between parties in the elections, it was like a “second stage” of the referendum where citizens of the DNR and LC confirmed their choice of independence from Kiev.
Another thing — the deferred elections were for heads of cities. [Local elections originally scheduled for October 18 in Donetsk and November 1 in Lugansk were postponed until sometime in 2016 in response to demands from the “Normandy 4.”] There was real competition. In many cities of the republics, candidates had already started to struggle. It would have been (and hopefully will be) a very interesting experience, a test of the maturity of the republics.
FP: Is the transfer of local elections to next year a “betrayal” or “victory”? [The author is playing on the equivalent Ukrainian terms “zrada” and “Peremoga,” beloved by the neo-Nazis in Kiev.]
VS: Postponement of the elections in the republics is undoubtedly a “victory” for Kiev, since local elections are another step towards de facto independence. For the republics, it is certainly not “betrayal,” but not “victory” either. It is a kind of demonstration of good intentions in the framework of the Minsk process. The negative impact of the postponement is internal. I felt it in conversations with people in the streets of Lugansk – a heightened sense of uncertainty, fears that the Donbass will be “inserted” back into Ukraine, against its will.
FP: What are the chances that the elections in the LC and DNR will someday be recognized, at least by Moscow?
VS: In today’s world order, the odds are vanishingly small. And the logic of the Minsk agreements that suit Moscow does not involve the independence of the LC and the DNR.
However, this doesn’t mean the republics will be forced to rejoin Ukraine any day now. Take, for example, the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic (PMR). It originated in 1990 and is still not recognized by Moscow, but receives support from the Russian Federation. Remember how many attempts there have been at unification of Moldova and the PMR. And now? The PMR is a de facto independent country with its own economy, army, police, courts, and so on. Perhaps this will be the path of the Donbass republics, in spite of Minsk-2, -3, -4, -5, etc.
FP: Minsk-2, -3, -4, -5? But will elections be held in the LC and DNR eventually, or will it be a long-term process of continuous postponement with a view to extend the Minsk process and freeze the conflict?
VS: Sooner or later the people’s republics will hold local elections, if only as an act of pressure in the negotiations.
Translated by Greg Butterfield