“The Russian authorities are creating opportunities for the ‘explosive integration’ of the territories of Donbass not controlled by Kiev,” said the former head of the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. Pavel Klimkin… So he commented on the decision of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on the abolition of quotas for the export and import of goods from the DPR and LPR, the recognition of certificates of origin of goods issued in the republics and the admission of goods produced in them to state purchases on a par with Russian ones.
“This means that an opportunity is being created for further, not creeping, but explosive integration. This is already real, like a vacuum cleaner tightens the economy of the occupied territories in the Russian Federation. Now tell me, what else is Ukrainian left in the occupied territories? There is Russian currency, Russian textbooks, Russian weapons, Russian passports, Russian military. And now the full space of the economy is with the Russian Federation. And now Putin is playing with the idea of including the occupied territories, probably, into a union state. Belarus will also be included there, ”Klimkin said on the air of the ICTV channel.
But is it possible to compare the integration processes of Russia with the republics of Donbass and with Belarus? And even more so, to talk about the inclusion of state formations unrecognized by either Moscow or Minsk into the Union State? Is it possible to talk about “explosive integration” at all?
– This step will certainly contribute to the further socio-economic integration of Donbass with Russia, – I am sure Vsevolod Shimov, Advisor to the President of the Russian Association for Baltic Studies…
– As a matter of fact, the creeping integration really went on for the entire period after 2014. This is the transition to the Russian currency, and the reorientation of infrastructure in connection with Russia, and the general transition of the Donbass republics to Russian standards. This is explained by the fact that the actual impracticability of the so-called Minsk agreements is well understood by everyone. Neither the population of Donbass nor its ruling class wants a real return to Ukraine. In these conditions, a reorientation to the Russian Federation becomes inevitable, especially since this is exactly what the residents of the region wanted in 2014. In addition, Russia for the unrecognized republics is the only window to the outside world, ties with it are a matter of elementary survival. As for Putin’s decree, I don’t think it will become a step towards “explosive” integration. But the fact that it brings the DPR and LPR even closer to Russia and removes them from Ukraine is indisputable.
“SP”: – Klimkin asks: “what else is Ukrainian in the occupied territories”? And really, what is left? How would you assess the current level of integration with Russia?
– I think that everything in the Donbass republics is ready to function as an ordinary Russian region. The only obstacle to this is the need to support the so-called “Minsk process”. Because of this, a border regime remains between Russia and the DPR / LPR, and the republics of Donbass cannot count on direct subsidies from the Russian budget, like Crimea, which negatively affects their socio-economic condition. Only the demarcation line, which actually runs along the outskirts of cities, and regular shelling from the Ukrainian Armed Forces, reminds of Ukraine there.
“SP”: – Can we talk about the change from “creeping” integration to “explosive”? What does it depend on? Moscow responds to Kiev’s actions? What’s explosive?
– No I do not think so. Systematic and “quiet” integration work is underway. Russia is still bound by the Minsk Agreements, an open rupture of which will result in a new round of tension in the region and another batch of sanctions from the West. Obviously, Moscow is not yet ready for decisive action in this direction. But the process itself is going on, there is no alternative to it.
“SP”: – Is it possible to compare the degree of integration of Donbass with the degree of integration of Belarus?
– I do not think. DPR and LPR are unrecognized entities that are de facto already included in the socio-economic system of Russia. Belarus is a sovereign state, the elites of which are very much afraid of such a deep degree of integration with Russia. Belarus retains full control over its financial system, has laws, social standards, and an education system that are different from those of Russia. The 28 integration programs signed by the presidents should contribute to the unification of the socio-economic life of the two states, but so far this is a declaration of intentions, not reality.
“SP”: – According to Klimkin, Putin wants to include Donbass in the Union State. How realistic is this? To what extent is the economy of Donbass integrated with the economy of Belarus? Are there only political obstacles?
– In order to include the DPR and LPR in the Union State, at least they need to be officially recognized by both Russia and Belarus. And if one can speculate about Russian recognition hypothetically, then this is unlikely to happen on the part of Belarus, because the official Minsk still evades even the official recognition of the Russian ownership of Crimea. Therefore, Russia will build relations with the DPR and LPR without ties to the Union State. Most likely, the current status quo will remain for an indefinitely long time. Over time, either official recognition and transformation of the Donbass republics into satellite states of Russia, or even direct inclusion into the Russian Federation on the basis of the rights of regions, is possible. Everything will depend on how the international situation develops. But, in any case, this is a separate story from the Union State.
“SP”: – If Russia recognizes the republics and includes them in its composition, how will Minsk react? After all, they will be part of the SG, in fact, will the citizens of the Russian Federation from Donbass be able to enjoy the same rights on the territory of Belarus as the rest of the Russians?
– Most likely, it will be about the same as with the Crimea. Belarus will evade official recognition, but at the same time proceed from the actual status of these territories. At the same time, residents of Donbass will be able to visit the territory of Belarus as Russian citizens, as is already happening with the Crimeans.
– I think that all recent years there has been a “creeping” integration of Donbass and Russia, – says the Belarusian political commentator Kirill Ozimko…
– Because, as Klimkin rightly noted, the Russian currency was gradually introduced there, more and more Russian passports are being handed out. In the informational, educational and cultural spheres, the region lives de facto in Russia. Putin’s decree on the admission of goods from Donbass to participation in public procurement in Russia will rather be the next step in the ongoing integration, and not something “explosive”.
“SP”: – Is this a logical development of the process or a response to the actions of Kiev?
– This is a logical step for the further integration of Donbass with Russia, as well as some economic assistance from Russia – after all, admission to public procurement provides new opportunities for local producers and entrepreneurs to earn money.
“SP”: – And Belarus is integrated with us? Or is it a cliché, horror stories in Ukraine?
– Horror stories, of course. Minsk and Moscow recently signed “union programs”, but judging by the statements, all provisions concerning political integration were cleared from there. There are only trade, economic and energy sectors. The countries remain completely independent from each other, there will be no union state with unified governing bodies.
“SP”: – Is it possible to compare these cases? According to Klimkin, Putin wants to include Donbass in the Union State. How realistic is this?
– No, not likely. Because Belarus and Donbass are completely different stories. Relations with Russia in Minsk and Donetsk are developing in completely different ways, they have a completely different international status, they have completely different moods in society. Donbass has a much better chance of fully integrating with Russia than Belarus. In addition, it is important to remember that Belarus has not officially recognized the republics of Donbass as states, so it is not clear how they can be taken into the union state in this case.
“SP”: – If we argue hypothetically, is it possible to force Belarus to integrate with Donbass? To what extent are their economies already interconnected today?
– Their economies are much less connected than the economies of Belarus and Ukraine. Kiev is one of the main trade partners of Minsk. If Belarus recognizes Donbass and begins to integrate with it within the framework of the union state, Minsk will lose economic ties with Ukraine. And nobody wants this in the Belarusian leadership, because they are trying not to become too dependent on Russia – Lukashenka wants to maintain his control over the country.