To restore the economy of war-torn Donbas we will need a hundred times more money than is allocated for the support of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the State Budget-2019 – 300 billion UAH. This amount was announced two months ago by the president of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky. And in a month and a half, he announced the creation of a working group on the reintegration of Donbas and Crimea. How difficult is it for Ukraine to return the temporarily occupied territories (TOT) and people?
Not confusing the sequence
Obviously, the president keeps becoming increasingly aware of the seriousness of the situation and of the fact that a simple formula “it is enough to stop shooting to end the war” does not work. The violation of the so-called bread truce is a real proof of that. Putin will not get lost, the phone entreaties and one-way concessions will not touch him. In any case, Volodymyr Zelensky, assured of a large-scale project for the reintegration of these territories into Ukraine without waiting for the end of the war. Will the power solve super complex issues in the correct sequence?
“Reintegration is impossible without the implementation of military de-escalation points. That is why we have no progress with real reintegration efforts because the issue of a constant regime of silence and demilitarization of the relevant zone has not been resolved,” Mariia Zolkina, a political analyst of the Ilko Kucheriv Fund “Democratic Initiative”, stressed. “This is a prerequisite for any political settlement of the problem. Until now, Ukraine has defended this formula: a demilitarization-de-occupation-constant regime of silence. And not for 7 days as stated in the framework agreement under which a withdrawal of forces in Stanytsia Luhanska happened. Not even a month or two, but at least six months of the absence of serious clashes and the death of civilians and the military. The logic of international settlement of any conflicts is as follows: it is impossible to move to an effective political settlement without the closure of the military component and the regime of silence.”
But the Russian Federation and a part of the Western countries insisted that these things can be combined and that we didn’t need to wait until the demilitarization happened and real guarantees of silence in the relevant territory would be reached. The famous “Steinmeier formula” presupposes a logic beneficial for Russia – as soon as the ceasefire started, almost the next day the political component should start being prepared: elections, amendments to the Constitution, special relations of these territories with the central authorities, the Russian Federation.
“The issue is much broader than the reintegration, but it all came down to this word in the Ukrainian political and media discourse,” Oleh Sahakian, the chairman of the Platform for Social and Humanitarian Initiatives and Innovations “United Coordination Center”, told. “In fact, we should talk about a policy with a set of actions for de-occupation, reintegration and integration of the country, because we have a number of specific issues that relate to security, overcoming the consequences of the conflict, minimizing the influence of the Russian Federation. And they do not fall under the policy of reintegration in the classical definition. It’s a policy of de-occupation. We also need a set of measures to reintegrate the territories and the people who lived in these territories: economic, cultural, humanitarian and informational. This policy applies to both the occupied and front-line areas.”
According to the president Zelensky, in the territories of Donbas controlled by the Ukrainian authorities, it is necessary to demonstrate the advantages of living in a united independent country to the people who are forced to live in TOT. The priority is the development of the economy and social sphere. It seems that the reintegration flywheel started to spin. By a decree of August 7, the head of state approved the composition of the working group on the reintegration of the TOTs in the Commission on Legal Reform – an advisory body of the president of Ukraine.
“I sincerely applaud the president Zelensky for the fact that this working group appeared,” a member of this group Valeriia Lutkovska said on the UATV channel. “This is a clear signal to the whole society and all citizens of Ukraine, including those who live in the uncontrolled territory, that it is not just about establishing peace and ending the conflict in its hot phase, but about the reintegration of the TOTs. That is, the day will come, and I hope it will come soon when we will all live again together in one country.”
However, the path to peace will be difficult and possibly longer. And Ze-team understands that. A future people’s deputy from the party Servant of the People (SP) Iryna Vereshchuk informed Opinion:
“The peace in the East of Ukraine can be restored through the implementation of the Minsk agreements, the complete cessation of hostilities and the deployment of an international peacekeeping contingent. Without a complete cessation of hostilities, the full reintegration of Donbas is impossible. Since the declaration of the truce on July 21, militants have repeatedly violated the regime of silence by opening fire on the Ukrainian positions. The death of four marines actually put an end to the “bread truce” in the Donbas. The president Zelensky called on the leaders of the “Normandy format” countries to urgently resume negotiations in connection with the violation of the truce and the death of the Ukrainian soldiers.”
On August 15, the preparatory deputy group defined the list of the Verkhovna Rada. The profile creation received a long name – Committee on the Reintegration of the TOTs in Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, De-occupation of Crimea, Human Rights, National Minorities, Interethnic Relations. This has been criticized by a number of experts: is it appropriate to throw together the issue of de-occupation and reintegration with human rights and others, not quite related things?
On the same day, the deputy head of the President’s Office (PO) Ruslan Riaboshapka, a permanent representative of the president to the ARC Anton Korynevych, who is the chairman of the working group on the reintegration of the TOTs, and the prosecutor of the ARC Gunduz Mammadov discussed the development of a Strategy for the reintegration of the occupied territories of Donbas and Crimea. According to Mr Riaboshapka, we need a strategy with an action plan which would be regularly reviewed. The concept of transitional justice should be prepared and the norms and principles of international humanitarian and criminal law should be implemented. As promised earlier in the PO, the Strategy of reintegration of the TOTs will be presented by Ze-team in September.
“We must recall the words of the president during the inauguration: Crimea and Donbas are Ukrainian lands, where we lost not only the territory but most importantly – the people,” Iryna Vereshchuk said. “And we have to restore their lost consciousness. Over the years, the authorities did nothing to make them feel they are Ukrainians. Information reintegration is therefore essential. Our team is working on the creation of a state Russian-language TV channel, the broadcasting of which will cover the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas, Europe, the East, America. In September, we plan to hold a forum on information policy, where the vision of the process will be developed. And now there are many meetings with embassies, donors, international organizations that will help us in these matters.”
According to Ms Vereshchuk, the restoration in the East will continue with the assistance of both Ukrainian business and foreign investment. A forum in Mariupol with foreign investors interested in financing infrastructure and humanitarian projects in Donbas is scheduled for autumn. Valeriia Lutkovska also counts on the assistance of international partners after the restoration of peace. In her opinion, with the proper financial support of other states, it will be possible to fully restore the infrastructure in the East and everything necessary for people’s lives in five years.
Civil society representatives gave five tips (the initiative “High five!”) to the newly elected people’s deputies about the reintegration of Crimea and Donbas: 1) to create the Verkhovna Rada Committee on TOT (see above); 2) to create a working group of the Verkhovna Rada Committee to develop mechanisms of transitional justice; 3) to provide for the Ministry of Reintegration and National Unity in the coalition agreement; 4) to change the law “On military-civil administrations” for their transformation into service mechanisms of military-civil cooperation; 5) to adopt a bill on the electoral rights of internally displaced persons.
On the eve of the early elections to the Verkhovna Rada, they suggested the “Agreement on the cooperation for the de-occupation and reintegration and strengthening public trust in the TOTs of Ukraine” to the parties. Opinion asked activists and experts who have supported the appeal, “Is the power ready to listen to the advice of the representatives of the civil sector?”
Aliona Luniova, an advocacy manager of the Centre for Human Rights ZMINA:
“There has not yet been a public response to the proposal. However, we believe that this is the minimum that the power can provide, it doesn’t require a lot of resources. It seems that there is no direct impact on reintegration, but we are talking mostly not about the territory but about the people. This is what the government should do because we plan to stop the war and the government has taken a course to resolve the conflict. And if there is such a course, there should be a course for the reintegration of the people. Both in local communities, if we talk about the requirement to adopt an appropriate bill on the implementation of the rights of the IDPs, and on the ground. Of course, these steps are the minimum, because it is impossible to talk about the reintegration and not to mention the protection of the IDPs, the restoration of pensions in the TOTs, the recognition of the documents on birth and death. That’s all we’ve been asking for for years. We offer the authorities a solution and hope for the political will to promote them.”
Oleksii Haran, a scientific director of the Ilko Kucheriv Fund “Democratic Initiatives”:
“Civil society tried to force the parties that went to the elections to take on certain obligations (in particular, High Five Initiative). The parties did not respond because they avoid specific commitments. But the opinion of the expert environment is needed for them to find a way out of a difficult situation. Also, on the eve of the elections, during the discussion of the RPR and the UA Electoral Council with the representatives of the main parties, the idea of a very short blitz arose: “Are direct talks with the leaders of the militants possible?” All parties said, “No” (“Opposition Platform – For Life!” did not participate). This is important because, for example, according to the poll of the “Democratic Initiatives” and Razumkov Center, the electorate of SP and Batkivshchyna parties are divided on this issue. It is important that politicians, act not go according to schemes that can be imposed on the population through the pro-Russian media, even if they are under the pressure of public activists.”
Dariia Tolkach, an advocacy coordinator of the charitable fund “Right to Defense”:
“The requirements of the public are timely and adequate, to some extent they reflect the current political context. A significant number of expectations are not reflected in the list of five requirements, because these requirements are more political than human rights related. They reflect the results of the primary communication with the newly elected government. But it is too early to talk about the power’s readiness to implement them and, especially, to deal with the solution of absolutely specific problems caused by annexation and occupation. I want to see a systematic approach, not a chaotic movement in extinguishing fires. We expect it because there is no consolidated approach yet. My personal impression is that there is more positive rhetoric in these matters among the new authorities, compared to the previous ones. It is too early to tell if this is rhetoric or willingness to sometimes take unpopular steps.”
Oleksandr Kliuzhev, an analyst of the Civil Network OPORA:
“The parliamentary majority consisting mainly of the deputies of the SP party will not be able to avoid a full dialogue and decision-making process on the issues of de-occupation and reintegration of certain areas of Donbas and Crimea. There is a public request for progress on this issue, actively “heated” during the election campaigns by the candidate Volodymyr Zelensky and the SP party. Even if there are no positive decisions at the level of international negotiations, the ruling party has every opportunity to alleviate the situation of the residents of the TOTs and IDPs. It is important that the new government does not adopt the previous practice to justify internal inaction on the issues of immigrants and residents of the TOTs by the lack of progress in the negotiations with Russia.”
Text by Viktor Tsvilikhovsky