Donbass, why do we fight?

Of Francesco Battistini

The conflict in the Ukrainian Donbass region has lasted for 8 years and has caused 22,000 deaths: why does the territory want to break away, what is its link with Russia and why Putin talks about genocide?

Seven hundred thousand Russian passports a few months ago, practically one per family. And $ 130 now, for every refugee who escapes to Russia. the last gift that Vladimir Putin gave to the brothers of the Ukrainian Donbass, while he was massing the troops on the border. And before the Moscow Duma, Wednesday, lit another long fuse of this crisis: discuss the recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, the two Russian-speaking enclaves that in 2014 proclaimed themselves independent from Kiev and sparked eight years of a war of more than 22 thousand dead, according to UN data.

HERE the news of Saturday 19 February: live news

Why do we fight in the Donbass?

It all begins with the uprising in Maidan, the great central square of Kiev, in February 2014, when weeks of barricades ended with the flight to Moscow of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, who opposed Ukraine’s entry into NATO. The first reaction of Vladimir Putin, the flash invasion of the Russophile Crimea. The second, more problematic, move is the Donbass uprising. On 6 April 2014, pro-Russian armed men attack the central government buildings in the East, many cities fall into their hands. The military advisers from Moscow arrive. The new Ukrainian government, which lost Crimea without firing a shot, defines the insurgents as terrorists and moves the troops. Between offensives, counteroffensives and truces, paramilitaries and foreign mercenaries, a long series of terrible massacres begins, from the stake in Odessa to the shooting down of the Malaysian Boeing.

Why does the Donbass want to break away?

an indispensable security buffer for Putin, in the hypothesis of an enlargement of NATO in Ukraine. the region of the great coal mines. the treasure of the steel mills and oligarchs linked to Moscow. the cradle of an Orthodox Church loyal to Russia, from which the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has recently detached. One of the most controversial topics is the language: nobody wants to give up Russian. In 1996, five years after gaining independence, Ukraine introduced Ukrainian as the only official language into the constitution. The newly elected Yanukovych equates Russian with Ukrainian in Donbass, with a law that was declared unconstitutional after Maidan. Today the clear restoration: Ukrainian is the only official language, in schools Russian can only be taught as a foreign language, 90% of films must be in Ukrainian. And the Donbass feels more and more Russian.

Why is Putin talking about genocide?

Russia claims that Ukraine has never wanted to implement the peace accords signed in Minsk in 2014-2015, which also provide for a broad autonomy of the Donbass. Ukraine, which rejects those agreements because they are too unbalanced, defines the recognition of the two republics as an unarmed aggression: the premise of a mutual aid pact with the Kremlin, therefore of an invasion, as soon as the Russian minorities in Ukraine should report a Kiev attack. The pattern hypothesized somewhat of what happened in Georgia in 2008: Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two pro-Russian separatist republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, after a rapid conflict against the aspiring Tbilisi government, just like Ukraine, to join NATO. This time, the Tsar does not need formal legitimacy: The majority of Russians suffer from what happens in Donbass, he says, a genocide is already underway and patience is over.

Why had we forgotten about the Donbass?

A month after a major defeat by Ukrainian troops, August 2014, Kiev and the Donbass rebels signed the two Minsk truces. The first document, Minsk 1, never entered into force: in 2015, the Ukrainians suffered another defeat in Debaltseve and it was at that point that France and Germany took action for a new negotiation, Minsk 2. With the end of the great battles, the international community relaxes. Even if the clashes, small, have never stopped. Ukraine accuses Russia of never having withdrawn troops, as agreed. Russia replies that Kiev does not respect the points of the agreement and uses Western mercenaries. The latest peace, signed in Paris in 2019, remains a dead letter.

What kind of war has been in Donbass so far?

A frozen war. Hail, the inhabitants on the border say resigned to the phone, when they talk about their day: 52 violations of the ceasefire yesterday alone and another 60 Thursday, the day of the mortar strike on the kindergarten full of children. A teacher from Novotoshkivske, Olga Solohub, explains that the kids on the border now recognize the calibers according to the whistle: stronger if a 122 mm, more muffled if an 82. A childhood of war, in danger even when school ends. The Donbass is now one of the largest minefields on Earth: 1.6 million hectares of land thus trapped, the UN says. A hell halfway between Bosnia and Afghanistan. If the war ended today, to be sure that everything has been reclaimed, we would have to wait until at least 2080.


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