The offer to lift the economic blockade from the occupied territories was a step that provoked a wave of indignation and discussions. Read further about how it all began, how it is commented by the Presidential Administration, whether there is a real need for this and what the consequences may be.

How did this idea come about?

The discussion of the possible lifting of the economic blockade from the occupied territories began after the message of the OSCE special representative to the Trilateral Contact Group Martin Sajdik. He noted that the discussion was initiated by Leonid Kuchma.

“Such an offer was made by Leonid Kuchma. It had indeed happened, and the offer was supported by the representatives of the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions territories. And this issue will be considered by the economic subgroup next time. Lifting the blockade from the areas not controlled by Kyiv, which has been in effect since March 2017, would be also “great progress”.

However, after a wave of discussions and criticism of this idea, Sajdik said that in fact the issue of lifting the blockade was raised by the representatives of the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk regions territories. According to him, Kuchma spoke about the whole complex of the mutual steps connected with the issue of removing trade restrictions and restoring economic relations of Ukraine with the territories occupied by Russia.

“Leonid Kuchma stressed that this work should be mutual, and he spoke in particular about the abolition of the so-called external management of enterprises, as well as a number of other activities. All of them, of course, should be implemented in the legal field of Ukraine,” said Sajdik.

How does the Presidential Administration comment on this?

The Press Secretary of Zelensky Yuliia Mendel confirmed that this issue was raised at the meeting of the TCG, however, only in the format of bilateral movement.

“The relevant restrictions were introduced by the decision of the National Security Council in March 2017 in response to the introduction of the ruble zone and the pseudo-nationalization of Ukrainian public and private enterprises (also with foreign capital), and private property of our citizens who were in the territory of the occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and the termination of taxation of those territories to the Ukrainian budget.

The corresponding restrictions can only be removed step by step – we emphasize – in response to the gradual return to the Ukrainian legal field.

This topic was raised at the initiative of the Russian side and the leaders of the armed groups. President Leonid Kuchma noted in response that if there is such a desire, then, provided that the issues of the abolition of the ruble zone and the abolition of illegal decisions on pseudo nationalization are solved, we are ready to restore the economic reintegration on the terms of the return to the Ukrainian legal field, in accordance with the Minsk agreements.

The national interests of our state, its territorial integrity and sovereignty are the cornerstones for the Ukrainian delegation. The principled position is that all actions on the settlement of the issue should be mutual, bilateral, in full accordance with the Ukrainian legislation.”

Is there a need to lift the blockade?

According to Dmytro Sinchenko, the head of the public organization Association of Political Sciences, such initiatives are in their essence an open surrender to the enemy and treason.

“Lifting the economic blockade is only possible in case of withdrawal of the conditions that resulted in the blockade. Ideally – de-occupation of these territories, or at least ceasefire by the Russian occupation troops in the Donbas and the return of the captured enterprises to their rightful owners. Until it has not happened – any concessions to the enemy are a weakening of the Ukrainian position, they are contrary to our interests.”

But Bohdan Petrenko, the deputy director of the Ukrainian Institute of Research of Extremism, doubts whether it was advisable to impose the blockade. According to him, the total blockade is now the consolidation of conditions for the Russian integration of the occupied territories’ economy.

“It is symptomatic that we almost do not block the trade with the aggressor – with Russia (the trade has been growing since 2016), but block the trade with the territories occupied by Russia, that is, with the Ukrainians in the occupation. Then there is a question – do we have war with Russia or civil war? Clearly, the more borders there are, the more difficult it is to integrate. But this may be one of the first steps in the rapprochement of Ukraine and its occupied territories.”

Maryna Bahrova, a member of the board of the international union Institute of National Policy, assures that the occupied territories are already economically and politically integrated into Russia, and therefore the lifting of the blockade will only feed the aggressor.

“The occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions are economically and politically integrated into Russia. Therefore, in the economic sense, Ukraine leaves the trade and other economic relations in our temporarily occupied territories with Russia. It turns out that in case of lifting the economic blockade, Ukraine itself will feed the budgets of the aggressor country that is fighting against it, which is unacceptable by virtue of the norms of the international law, morality and ethics. The lifting of the economic blockade from the temporarily occupied territories is a step that is in the interests of the aggressor country, aimed at strengthening the Russian economy.

The reasons for such anomalous behaviour, both on the part of the former political leadership of Ukraine and in the statements of individuals, can be found in Ukraine’s non-compliance with the international law. Simply put, in retreat from the use of the so-called ‘Protocol of War’”.

Andrii Martynov, doctor of historical sciences and the leading researcher of the Department of History of International Relations and Foreign Policy of the Institute of History of NAS of Ukraine, sees the desire of the new President to fulfil some of his own promises on the eve of the parliamentary elections in the lifting of the blockade.

“A significant part of Zelensky’s electorate is concentrated in the South-East of Ukraine. In addition, the blockade continues for more than two years, which provokes the abuse of tariffs for energy resources and is extremely unpopular in the society of Eastern Ukraine. Lifting the blockade is a practical denial of the thesis about the approach of default and the demonstration of practical steps to establish peace in the Donbas.”

Is the lifting of the blockade “a big breakthrough”?

How right is the OSCE representative in his assurance that the lifting of the blockade from the occupied territories is the absolute good, and its introduction was a factor of division? Dmytro Sinchenko agrees with the possible “breakthrough”. However, only for the occupier.

“Of course, such a step would really be a great breakthrough for the occupiers – it would significantly ease the burden on the state budget of Russia and reduce the cost of maintaining terrorist organizations. However, is it necessary for Ukraine? Of course, not. The lesser will be the cost of the enemy’s occupation – the better will be the occupation for them and the greater will be the desire to seize more Ukrainian territory.”

A similar opinion was expressed by Maryna Bahrova. She assured that such statements indicate indifference to the future of our country.

“The fact that Martin Sajdik called this proposal a ‘big breakthrough’ is only a confirmation that he does not care whether there Ukraine will exist or not. Since neither Leonid Kuchma nor Martin Sajdik does not bear absolutely any responsibility for their statements and decisions in the Trilateral Contact Group on the implementation of the Minsk agreements.”

What are the possible consequences of lifting the blockade?

Dmytro Sinchenko is convinced that such steps can only complicate the situation, as they will lead to an even greater war.

“The lifting of the blockade together with the unilateral ceasefire and even a ceasefire in response, which was also stated by Kuchma, will lead to an even greater war in much larger Ukrainian territories in the future. After all, the resources that Moscow spends today on maintaining the social and economic infrastructure of the occupied territories will be used to strengthen its army and special services, which will be used in the war against us, against Ukraine. And bigger war is more death, more destruction in a larger area, perhaps not only Donbas.”

But Bohdan Petrenko believes that economic ties are one of the mechanisms of integration, and therefore the lifting of the blockade can lead to a number of positive changes. But there are also “cons”.

“If the blockade is lifted, the business sector can do more for other vectors of integration – financial, humanitarian, social ones. In addition, it is important that there will be some actions in the Donbas, in addition to the positional war and constant criticism of the Minsk agreements. Lifting the blockade is an effective way to counter smuggling – both at the local and at the state level. That is, no one will ever impose ‘Rotterdam+’ on us or talk about how difficult and expensive it is to buy coal in the Republic of South Africa. We will burn the same coal at our CHP plants, but cheaper. And no one will spread rumours about how the trucks of the brands that are famous in Ukraine had ‘green corridor’ for travelling in the occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The occupied republics can get Ukrainian products, including high-quality medicines that are important at the moment. Deblockade will reduce the clashes (it is hard to fight with those who you officially trade with). And there is another important element. The lifting of the blockade will allow resuming the activities of enterprises in the occupied Donbas. Therefore, the number of staff of the terrorist armies will definitely reach critically low levels, because businesses will start to work and people ‘out there’ will finally have the choice where to earn money except for armed groups.

There are some minuses – the lifting of the blockade will lead to a partial reduction in the economic burden on Russia for the maintenance of these territories. The liberation of these territories, by the way, will also reduce the financial pressure on Russia. The question is what our main goal is – the integration of the occupied territories or confrontation with Russia.”

But Andrii Martynov suggests that the lifting of the blockade from the occupied territories can polarize the political sympathies of the Ukrainian voters.

“In the West and partly in the Center it will be seen as a concession to the Kremlin, in the South-East – as a concession to common sense. At the same time, this initiative could change the political agenda from the criticism of Zelensky’s team for “libertarianism” to attempts to save Ukraine’s economy from default.

But will the government of Volodymyr Groysman be ready to support the lifting of the blockade? Most likely, they will not support it, and it will deepen the split between the president’s and government’s teams. For ‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ the lifting of the blockade may affect not the stage of informal discussion of this problem, but the reality. But it’s a long way off.”

Are such initiatives a curtsey and concessions for Russia?

Dmytro Sinchenko is convinced that such offers should be considered not only as concessions to the aggressor but also as a test for Ukrainians.

“This should be seen not only as an attempt to make concessions, but also as a test for the reaction of the Ukrainian society – whether it is ready to surrender, or whether it needs a little more time for brainwashing the population and for usurping the power by revanchists to surrender our country to the enemy later. This should be considered as treason on the part of the officials who made such decisions, and who initiated them, giving the negotiating group the appropriate instructions.”

Bohdan Petrenko somewhat denies this thesis. In his opinion, even in the case of lifting the blockade, the Russian Federation will remain responsible for the committed willful aggression.

“The lifting of the economic blockade in no way absolves Russia of responsibility for the fact that it started this war. We do not withdraw claims to international courts, and this does not contribute to withdrawing the sanctions from Russia.”

Andrii Martynov, in turn, offers to evaluate the initiative as a signal for the Russian Federation, but the perception of it as an aggressor may be completely different.

“The lifting of the blockade can be seen as a signal to the Kremlin about the readiness for ‘direct talks. But the Kremlin is likely to be ready for such negotiations only on the terms of surrender of the Ukrainian side.”

Text by Dmytro Zhuravel

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