The Model of Donbass: between self-government and confederation

In the issue of political integration of the Donbass, the principles of which were established by the first and the second Minsk Agreements, broken a lot of political and propaganda copies. But, unfortunately, a true expert dialog concerning the models of such integration still doesn’t exist. Moreover, as long as population of Donbass is not informed about the provisions adopted by the Ukrainian Law “About the special order of the local government in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions”, so in Ukraine offers of so-called “DNR” and “LNR” to the Constitution of Ukraine concerning the settlement of the status of certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions (CRDLR) are absolutely out of analytical field.

Though there are minimum 3 official variants and models of such a reintegration:

  1. The Minsk approach. The second Minsk Agreement of February 12, 2015 proposed a model, in which after new local elections, amnesty, decentralization, disarmament, regaining of Ukrainian control over the border, local authorities got a power to form a local (national) police, to participate in the appointment of heads of courts and prosecutor’s office, a power of linguistic self-determination, economic support and the expansion of cross-border cooperation. In such a way partial expansion of rights of local self-government was stated, and it doesn’t look special against the ideas, that are now being discussed in the context of The Constitutional reform of “decentralization”. This model is stated by the decision of the Security Council, guarantees of international mediators and it became a “dancing pole” – the starting point and the core for the formation of own approaches by Ukraine and the separatists.
  1. Ukrainian realization of Minsk agreements fixed in the law “About the special order of the local government in some regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions “, and, in fact, is a “light” version of the Minsk Agreements. The law is even more blurry describes the powers of local government of CRDLR, which are limited by references to the terms of the Ukrainian legislation and rigidly attached to the holding of elections by special unilaterally mounted rules. What is more, the law does not fix the position concerning the modalities (conditions) of holding of the local elections, which according to the Second Minsk Agreements should be discussed and agreed with the CRDLR. References in this law to another law, which is not developed yet, do not increase the level of confidence and cause suspicions among representatives of CRDLR about the existence of plans of changing the conditions of reconciliation in the future. Ukraine actually offers a model of controlled extended local government.
  1. The position of CRDLR (and the RF) – federation or confederation. The media and many expert sites are actively discussing the news that the “LNR/DNR” announced a desire to return to Ukraine as an “integral part” in their proposals, which were entitled as “Changes and amendments to the DNR and the LNR to the Constitution of Ukraine”, directed to a tree-sided contact group to resolve the situation in the Donbass. Such kind of discussions has got enough anger, sarcasm and gloating, but only a little of critical reflection and analysis. However, these proposals are not as simple as they seem to be at the first glance.

In fact, the leaders of separatists offered Ukraine to consolidate the established “independent” from the Ukrainian “status quo” of these territories (17 thousands of square km, and at least 3 million of people – that can be comparable with Switzerland or the Netherlands), by maintaining the current system of government in the formal return to Ukrainian legal field.

First of all, the real interest lays in the political and administrative structure of the region which is proposed by the document: “A number of districts, cities and other settlements of Luhansk / (Donetsk) region forms a separate area with a special status.” In such a way the current structure “DNR/LNR” is saved. What is more, these 2 areas can be united into an “association” with its “Charter” that is willy-nilly similar to the “Novorossia” with its “Constitution”.

This creates a practically autonomous from the Ukrainian system of government – the executive authorities, its electoral system, independent local police (army), the control over the judiciary and prosecutors is also provided (by concording the appointment of heads of these departments).

Moreover, the “DNR/LNR” want to get the right to hold referendums, to conclude the agreements on cross-border trade (with Russia), and, to conclude the agreements with foreign states or their administrative-territorial units on issues related to the activities of individual regions with special status“. In addition to this right, they propose to fix Ukrainian non-aligned status of neutrality in the Constitution. So, actually, a claim to the confederation system of relations is being realized.

In the humanitarian sphere the autonomy is also implied. The right to use Russian language is mentioned by a particular item; the control of the local authority over all cultural facilities – theaters, libraries, etc. is provided, as well as control over the establishment and demolition of monuments and their protection.

The financial side of the operation of such a model is passed to Ukraine in the presence of the parallel financial autonomy of the region – the right of having autonomous budgets and the inclusion of own wishes into the budget of Ukraine, establishing the rates of local taxes and fees, management of propety and economic sectors (for example, agriculture).

But it was not enough for the leaders of CRDLR and they offer to legalize the current leaders of “DNR/LNR” (“Presidents” and other figures of the executive power) in the changes to section XV “Transitional Provisions”. They fixed that the term of their power is determined only by acts of CRDLR!

In general, these proposals can be described as a desire of “DNR” and “LNR” to gain the legal subjectivity, including the international level. At the same time, they want to have their own legal framework, the authorities and the law enforcement system, to receive financial support from Ukraine, formally remaining as a part of Ukraine.

It seems that these requirements are set too high and the player, who makes them, at least, is bluffing a bit. But, without any doubt, these suggestions will become noticeable information tool for the “DNR/LNR” in the international arena; something like an element of pressure on the Ukrainian leadership.

Although the issue of “autonomy of Donbass” is practically solved (Minsk agreements are the evidence of that), its depth, shape and also an issue on who will control the region after the reintegration are the main elements of the negotiating process. But for now the models of the future political reintegration of Donbass are seen differently by the parties of the negotiating process. Against the background of the lack of effective political dialogue, this cause huge doubts in a swift settlement of the conflict and becomes source of constant military escalation.

Ruslan Bortnik

The director of the Ukrainian Institute of Policy Analysis and Management