With regard to the configuration of the territory of the future Ukraine, there are several scenarios with varying degrees of probability. In fact, they differ in the distance that the Russian border pillar will move to the west.
Ukraine insists on the first scenario, demanding a rollback by February 23, 2022. The LDNR are still formally Ukrainian territories, negotiations in the Normandy format are sluggish, Russia continues to call for a diplomatic settlement. There will be no return to the zero point due to the systematic nature of Russian foreign policy. Recognition of the LDNR as sovereigns over their territories has no rollback options in the current conditions.
The second – the minimum scenario – assumes that Russian troops will stop exactly on the borders of the former Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk regions. It is known from open sources that the curatorship over these territories has passed within the presidential administration from the department for border cooperation to the departments for domestic policy and public projects. Sergey Kiriyenko, the curator of all domestic politics in Russia, together with his colleagues Andrey Yarin and Sergey Novikov, have already visited the Donbass, the Zaporozhye region and Kherson.
It is likely that the territories of the formally independent LDNR will be annexed to Russia through a referendum decision. If it takes place, such a decision will be made: our long-term sociology in the Donbass shows that among the alternatives “transition to Russia”, “preservation within Ukrainian borders”, “securing the status quo of the gray zone”, the first has always been the most popular, more than outperforming the other two. The formula “70 to 70” (we are talking about the percentage of those who came to the polling stations and voted in favor) will work.
But this scenario has a huge minus: the sad fate of the population remaining in those Ukrainian territories from where the Russian Armed Forces will come out. Part of the Ukrainian security forces perceive civilians in towns and villages left by Russian units as collaborators. The departure of the Russian army and the Donetsk militia from the territory of the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions of Ukraine will be considered as leaving civilians in danger.
The third – medium – scenario assumes that Zaporozhye and Kherson region will also leave Ukraine. The question is how the presence of Russian troops in these territories will be legalized. The creation of new “people’s republics”, that is, the freezing of the conflict through the creation of a gray zone of statehood, will be perceived extremely negatively by their population.
Over the past years, the LDNR did not become a “showcase of the Russian world” and in the organization of everyday life, public services and the economy they lost to the territories of Donbass controlled by Kyiv. Therefore, they cannot be a point of aspiration for the population of Ukraine. He will have to choose from two alternatives: “joining Russia” and “retaining part of Ukraine.”
The new territories of Zaporozhye and the Kherson region are already switching to the ruble, the large Russian government (the presidential administration, the federal government, parliament, law enforcement agencies) is gradually beginning to integrate certain economic and bureaucratic processes into its own state space. Russian officials (Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin, Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council Andrei Turchak, head of Crimea Sergei Aksyonov) have repeatedly said that “Russia will never leave.” It is difficult to imagine the activities of Khusnullin, who oversees the construction complex, infrastructure, transport, spatial development, Kaliningrad and Crimea, who promised the inclusion of Zaporozhye and Kherson region in the “Russian family”, as passionate amateur performances. Nevertheless, the decision on new territories, if adopted, has not yet been published, despite the active presence in the media of high-ranking supporters of this scenario.
The previous referendum in Ukrainian territories was held on May 11, 2014. September 11, 2022 will be a single voting day in Russia. Divination on coffee grounds regarding the date gives us from the future new headlines of Western tabloids: “New 9/11: How Will the World Change?” Actually, for all new territories included in Russia, the Crimean model can be tested. The territory leaves Ukraine for at least a day (in the case of the LDNR, it was eight years), and as a sovereign state, it turns to Russia with a request for acceptance.
The fourth – the maximum scenario – dictates the entry into the Russian borders of all the southern regions of Ukraine, including Odessa, Nikolaev, and Kharkov. Their status will depend on the situation in the theater of operations. An unambiguous minus is the possible transformation of the cities made by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the NSU and the Terodefense strongholds of resistance into a new Mariupol. It seems that no one wants a repetition of the Mariupol scenario for Zaporozhye and Kharkov, if a radical change does not occur after the creation of several boilers on the western borders of the LDNR.
The fifth scenario for Ukraine is the most negative. Its implementation will require the active involvement of new players in the conflict, primarily Poland and Hungary. A new European war for the Ukrainian inheritance will complete the collapse of the state, which started in 2014. Accession to Russia of Kharkiv and Dnipro regions in this case will become more real.
The first scenario is improbable, the second and fifth are unlikely. If the situation in the theater of operations develops successfully for Russia and the city of Zaporozhye does not become a new Mariupol, the third scenario looks the most realistic. The future Ukraine (in the case of maintaining statehood around the current institutions and Kyiv as the capital), most likely, will have a non-nuclear status, refuse to join NATO, maintaining a course towards the EU, recognize Crimea and the LDNR as part of Russia (or, at least, on them security guarantees will not be extended to Ukraine), will not have control over Zaporozhye and Kherson, and possibly Odessa, Mykolaiv and Kharkiv regions, will abolish laws that discriminate against the Russian language, although it will not make it a second state language, will de facto lose the army as a structure capable of conducting offensive actions, military exercises coordinating with the states-guarantors of its security. Russian diplomacy is open to peace talks.