The Donbas Story 3
Part 3 and last. I think I have told it right.
Review, Preview, and Reintroduction.
Here is part three of my account of the Donbas war. Read part one here,
part two here. I think three parts will be enough for now. The denouement of this story has not happened yet.
The Donbas is a heavily industrialized area in south east Ukraine. It is within the area of Southern Ukraine traditionally called Novorossiya. The people of this area migrated from Northern Russia in the past two centuries.
In 2014 the Novorossiyans objected to a coup d’etat in Ukraine by NeoNazi groups. This coup regime began attacking the rebelling provinces in South Ukraine/Novorossiya. People in the Donbas provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk were able to set up an effective militia force and an independent government.
The Russian government offered little support to the Donbas republics. However, volunteers, money, and equipment flowed in from private sources in Russia and some other countries. With this, the Donbas militia defeated the Ukrainian army and forced a cease fire and negotiations.
Since the early, ‘heroic’ period of Donbas history, in 2014 to 2015, the republics have had their problems. They have received some support from Russia. Ukraine has never really honoured its ceasefire but has not dared to try to attack and destroy Donbas.
Instead Donbas has endured military encirclement, economic blockade, and constant bombardment from the Ukrainian forces. There has also been a campaign of sabotage and assassinations, which seem to be directed by some oligarchs who are offended by Donbas for some reason. There have been problems with right wing extremists and crooked business people trying to take control of army and government, but a reasonably democratic society has been developed.
After years of this stalemate, the Ukraine fascists were emboldened to prepare an all out attack to destroy Donbas. This motivated Russia to finally intervene with a special operation to remove the Ukraine forces from the Novorossiya area. Conditions are now coming into place for a determination of the final status of Donbas and of the Novorossiya area.
There are two realistic possibilities. The area might be absorbed into Russia. Or, an independent state of Novorossiya may be created if the people demand it.
I have found the Donbas story to be compelling and have followed it for all these years. I am not an academic or a formal journalist. It is far beyond my competence to produce an authoritative short history of the Donbas.
I am writing this now because I see a need for it. No one else is summing up what happened in a concise way; not in English, anyway. This is my recollection of events, checked by such unbiased references as I can find over the net.
The accounts of Donbas in western media are, of course, totally ridiculous. They are misinformation based on a need to create hatred against Russia in order to justify aggression. As well, being Western Liberals, they really cannot stand the idea of ordinary people successfully rebelling against a tyranny and creating their own institutions.
Minsk and Consolidation
A truce was signed on fifth September of 2014, in Minsk, the Belarus capital, signalling the end of the first phase of the Donbas war. It did not last long. The Kiev forces needed it to buy themselves some time as the Donbas militias had broken through their lines.
The war soon settled into a new pattern. The arc of urbanization along the main transportation route acted as a natural defence line for the Donbasians. A stable front line developed there.
There were two points which the Ukrainian commanders became obsessed about; the town of Debaltsevo, and the Donetsk airport. Debaltsevo cut the main road going from Donetsk to Lugansk, so that travel between them had to go by side roads. It is less clear just what was so attractive to the Ukie command about the Donetsk airport, but it spent huge resources over many months trying to take and hold it.
The mighty defenders of the Ukrainian Aryan race already had a habit of firing artillery at random into residential areas. They now became much more systematic about it. The problem the Donbasians had in defending against this was that the Ukies always fired from residential areas on their side of the line, using the residents as ‘human shields’.
Snipers kept firing into areas on the edge of the contact line. They would deliberately target power workers up a pole, grannies hoeing their gardens, or kids kicking a ball. The Donbas militias developed their own sniper forces which partly solved this.
Russia, far from ‘invading Ukraine’, restricted the scope of action of the Donbas militias. They could not go on the attack again and drive the Ukies away from the cities. This allowed the Ukrainians to dig in and create defences which could not be taken by frontal assault without heavy casualties.
One can somewhat understand the thinking of the Russians. The escalation of the Donbas war into a full out Ukraine civil war would have likely led to a fight between Russia and NATO, which could have led to a nuclear war. The Russians seemed not to have yet come to the realization that some kind of conflict with the west was inevitable.
The balance of forces was not yet as strongly in Russia’s favour as it is now. So, Russia’s diplomatic corps did what it has been very good at in other conflicts around its periphery; they ‘froze’ it. This forced the Ukies to keep pretending to negotiate.
When the Donbasians regained some ground from the Ukies, they began to find that thing which Fascists generally leave behind them. That is, mass graves filled with people who had clearly been tortured to death. When they found dead fascists on the field, they often found on them cellphones on which was video of people being tortured and killed.
This material, and other evidence of the Ukrainian Fascist’s methods of defending European civilization against the Asiatic Hordes, was compiled into what became called ‘The White Books’. New and updated volumes of these were presented to the Russian officials at each new session in Minsk. The Russians made a great show of accepting them, and of urging the Donbasians to continue the work.
By the New Year of 2015, the Russians had lost patience with Ukrainian intransigence. They gave the retrained and rearmed Donbas militias clearance to go on the attack. The Ukraine army had improved somewhat as well, and was harder for the Donbasians to fight.
Nonetheless, within a few weeks the Ukrainians had been driven out of what was left of Donbas airport. Some key ground on the other side of it was taken, which would insure they never returned.
At Debaltsevo the Ukraine army had gotten themselves into yet another encirclement, or ‘cauldron.’ This time a significant number of the Fascist ‘punisher’ militias were trapped there with them. In order to free them, the Ukrainians finally agreed at Minsk with the Russians three main demands.
First, that they cease fire and negotiate directly with the governments in Donbas. Second, that the blockade of Donbas ends and free flow of goods resumes. Third, that if Ukraine again attempts an assault on Donbas, Russia has the right to intervene militarily.
Ukraine never complied with the first. They partly complied with the second, mostly because they needed Donbas coal. They have complied with the third.
Thus, since the signing of the second Minsk agreement, February of 2015, there has been no new large scale fighting until this year. Yet the Ukrainian side has continued to dig in around Donbas. They continued to bombard, snipe, and raid.
Ukraine has kept trying to get the Russians to talk with them directly, apparently about what would get them to betray the Donbas. The Russians have kept pointing them to the Donbas delegation.
The President of the Ukraine coup regime bombasted about how Ukraine would finally defeat the Donbas by destroying their economy. Ukrainian children would go to school while the children of the traitors would live in basements under bombardment. Yet Ukraine has also kept repeating the nonsense that they have been fighting a Russian force, along with a few separatist militias units.
A joke has long circulated about the Ukrainians. A generic Ukrainian soldier is asked why the Ukraine army is engaged in Donbas. He grunts and growls that it is ”because the Russian army is there.They are invading us.”
So he is asked why the Ukrainian army is not also fighting in Crimea, which Ukraine also claims was taken from them in an ‘invasion’.
The Ukrainian says, much more quietly; “Because the Russian army is really there…”
After 2015, I followed Donbas affairs less closely, but I never lost interest. It all became somewhat dreary and repetitive. Donbas was boxed into its enclave, with the Ukrainian line much too close to its cities.
The shelling and sniping continued. Sabotage attempts stopped as Donbas security got better at thwarting them. The endless dance went on, of the Ukraine government making a show of negotiating under the Minsk protocols, but determined to avoid facing the Donbas representatives again.
What stuck best in my mind about this period were the confrontations between Donbas civilians and the cease fire monitors from OSCE, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. These were determined to see nothing and report nothing. Russia and the Donbas governments put up with it because they did not want all out war to resume at that time.
A Donbas neighbourhood would get rocketed. OSCE would show up the next day, look at the crater, and pronounce that it appeared that a rocket had landed there. They were uninterested in the residents testimony about where the rocket had arrived from.
Well, the Ukrainians say you are rocketing yourselves. It is not hard to pinpoint where a rocket or shell came from, but OSCE refused to do this. OSCE people would often get chased out of the neighbourhood under a hail of broken bricks.
Early on, there were shakeouts in the military commands of the Donbas republics. Some of these people had ideas which did not interest the average Donbasian, for example restoring the pre Christian pagan Slavic religion. They either swore allegiance to the elected civilian authorities and the approved constitutions, and merged their forces with the legal militias, or they left Donbas.
One of these ‘warlords’ was a special problem. He had been a capable leader in the war, but built a personal following around himself. He was protected by some corrupt elements in the Lugansk government.
Most of his troops eventually joined the legal militia but a few stayed with him. He tried to keep personal control of an area in Lugansk. Someone began trying to kill him and he escaped two ambushes before becoming third time unlucky.
Two highly regarded commanders of the Donbas forces were assassinated in 2016 and 2017. These cases were generally accepted to have been organized by the Ukrainian secret services. The motive was to try to demoralize Donetsk.
By 2017 significant disparities were seen between the governance of Donetsk and of Lugansk. Donetsk had repaired most damage from the war and was providing its citizens with reasonable services. In Lugansk nothing was being rebuilt.
The first elected head of Donetsk was a popular and very tough former militia commander. He fought hard against any corruption in the state administration and especially in the militias. The elected leader of Lugansk had proven to be very corrupt.
In Lugansk in 2017 some kind of military revolt occurred and this corrupt leader was thrown out. He fled to Russia, where he is currently in jail for fraud. The new leader won election in 2018 and has proved to be a very tough fighter against corruption.
In 2018 the head of the Donetsk republic was assassinated just before elections he would have won easily. The motive and the parties responsible were not clear. Many Donbasians believe it was due to his battles against corruption.
In recent years the disparity between the two ‘People’s Republics’ has tilted the other way. The Lugansk government has become much more clean and efficient. Government in Donetsk is not as effective as it was.
It seems that one of the big things holding Donbas back is that, in many ways, it is still part of Ukraine. Ukraine is the most corrupt country in Europe and one of the most corrupt on earth. Much of that political culture still spills into Donbas.
Some elected officials in Donbas are fiercely honest and conscientious. They try very hard to build a better life for the people of Donbas. Many others are mere ‘sock puppets’ for corrupt interests.
Donbas gets considerable aid from Russia, from both its government and from private donations. For some time after the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia also had a serious official corruption problem. In recent years it has been understood in Russia that for everything government does to be sucked out from within is not a viable long term condition.
Thus Russia has largely cleaned up its corruption problem. However, the Russian government has become tired of the corruption in Donbas. Russia wants to insure that aid money sent into Donbas is used to best advantage.
Russia is starting to follow the Chinese model in training a cadre of dedicated professionals, specifically to organize and run efficient civil administrations. These cadres are sometimes called ‘Varyags’, warriors. Recently, some Russian Varyags have been advising the Donbas governments.
Considering all its difficulties, Donbas has done well. As of last year its net income per capita was about twice that of the rest of Ukraine. There was still a substantial trade between Donbas and Ukraine.
Donbas has survived and even thrived in the face of intense hostility from the Ukraine regime, and their overlords from Europe and the United States. The people there have been living their lives. Basic government services have been working, which is often not the case in Ukraine.
In December of 2021, the Crack head president of Ukraine announced the suspension of the Minsk talks. Ukraine would develop nuclear weapons and an all out attack on Donbas would be made, in order to end the rebellion. He and his handlers from Brussels and Washington seemed too clueless to understand what he had just done.
He had torn up the treaty which guaranteed Ukraine’s borders after the Soviet breakup, in return for returning all nuclear weapons based on its soil. As well, an attack on Donbas would void the Minsk accords, giving Russia the legal cause to intervene on Ukrainian territory to protect the Donbas republics.
Ukrainian troops began massing on the Donbas defence lines. They began the most intense bombardment that Donbas had yet seen. The Donbas government called up its reserves and began a mass evacuation of women and children to Russia. On 22 February, 2022, Russia finally recognized the independence of the Donbas republics and on the 24th its army for the first time crossed the border into Ukraine.
The Russian army did not move troops into Donbas. Instead it moved up from Crimea and in from Belgorod to pin down the Ukraine army at its rear. The Ukraine forces have launched attacks on the Donbas defence lines to try to draw Russian troops there.
The Donbas militias have been able on their own to deal with the Ukraine forces directly opposite them. However, they do not have the logistics with which to launch deep counterattacks. Once again, they have trouble dealing with the Ukrainian bombardment of civilians, due to its use of civilians under occupation as human shields.
Videos from reporters embedded with the Donbas fighters show them to be on average much older than the Russian troops. Many are grey haired. They complain that their enemies have better equipment and curse their government for not providing better for them.
The Ukrainians have fought the way Fascists fight when they know they will lose. Kiev ordered its troops to stand where they are and fight to the death, hoping the NATO alliance will intervene and save them. The Nazi ‘punisher’ battalions hold both the haplass conscripts and the terrorized civilians in place.
As ever more Ukrainian troops surrender, Russia is turning them over to the Donbas governments. Both have death penalties in their laws. Foreign mercenaries fighting for Ukraine are being sentenced to death. No such sentence has been carried out yet.
Ordinary conscripts are treated humanely. The Fascist militias are being routinely investigated for war crimes. Many of these will also likely face the death penalty.
The more desperate their situation becomes, rather than moderating their behaviour, the more vicious the Banderite Nazi battalions become. The shells and rockets are causing great damage and loss of life in the Donbas cities. The Donbas governments are pleading with Russia to speed up operations.
Two more Novorossiyan provinces are now largely freed from the rule from Kiev. The reactions of these civilians in video interviews is instructive. There is a divide between the big cities and the smaller centres.
In the cities, when the Russian army first arrived, the people were cautious until they were sure the troops were staying. The Fans of Fascism kept bullying them, trying to stop them from taking food aid from the Russians. At some point, these types disappeared and the city dwellers showed themselves to be fervently pro Russian.
In the towns, it is more complicated. Some are happy the Russians are there and others resent Russia for starting the war. However, the two tendencies seem to be getting along with each other.
Even those resentful to Russia admit that they will have more peaceful and prosperous lives if the Russians stay. There seems to be an assumption that the Novorossiyan region will be annexed into Russia. Yet the Kherson and Zaporiznia republics have already been proclaimed and preparations are under way to ratify constitutions by referendums.
This brings me to the big issue to be resolved in the denouement of the Donbas story. The provinces of south Ukraine, the old Novorossiya area, will never be part of Ukraine again. The hatred of most of this area’s people to anything Galician, Ukrainian, or even “European”, is intense.
These lands will either become an independent nation, probably called Novorossiya, or they will be fully absorbed into Russia. People seem to assume the latter outcome, but there are problems with that. Even with the consent of the population, a Crimea style annexation of ‘New Russia’ into the big and old Russia would be a bad look.
The western world is thoroughly discrediting itself to the larger world in many ways. Most countries silently favour Russia in this conflict. However, it is very important now for Russia to gain and maintain allies.
Russia cannot be seen as altering international boundaries by military force. That has been a big no-no in international relations sInce world war two. However, there have been many precedents for new countries to come into being simply by the break up of old ones.
There would be many practical problems with integrating Novorossiya into Russia. Crimea is much smaller than Donbas/Novorossiya, but has had trouble integrating into Russia. Its infrastructure and government services are still well below Russian standards.
As well, the German experience with reintegrating East Germany gives clues as to how long and expensive it would be to reabsorb the south Ukraine provinces into Russia.
Of course, here would also be problems with an independent Novorossiya. Even the word ‘Novorossiya’ has become associated with the nutty “PanSlavism” of some of the early Donbas defenders. However, these people are no longer influential, and we would have to have something to call the place.
New governments within the new states would be inexperienced and liable to corruption. The technical expertise would be lacking, to manage the huge task of rebuilding and modernizing infrastructure, and to organize government services. The local economy has been devastated.
It is shown by Crimea and by Donbas that, once Ukrainian style corruption is well established in a country, it is very hard to root out. One way or the other, Russia will have to finance the rebuilding of the Novorossiya area. It does not want all the money sucked up by local racketeers.
Even as an independent country, Novorossiya would be highly dependent on old Russia. Russia does seem to have a plan for the reconstruction of the Novorossiya area. It has been developing its cadres of ‘Varyags’, dedicated and highly trained public administrators.
Some ‘Varyags’ have already been at work in Donbas. More are being sent into other liberated provinces to oversee public reconstruction and to deal with the racketeers. A few of them have been interviewed by English speaking independent media.
These are impressive people. They are confident they will have strong public support. The region was once the most prosperous in the Soviet Union and has great capacity to rebound.
The Donbas story is unfinished, but it is in its denouement. I will keep following it in my usual way. That is, to ignore the nonsense from mainsteam and official medias, and pay attention to the work of independent journalists and documentarians who are actually there.
Krepites', Donbasstsy. Budushcheye budet luchshe.