The currently self-declared – and if there is a local “election”, rubber stamped – “Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic” (otherwise known as occupied Ukraine to many) Alexander Zaharchenko, today stated that the “army of the Donetsk People’s Republic” intends to recapture Kramatorskaya, Slavyansk and Mariupol.
Unsurprising rhetoric of course. As has previously been written, Mariupol would be required for any “republic” to have the slightest chance of realistic independent economic survival years hence, without 100% reliance on a Russia that really doesn’t need, nor necessarily want, these “republics” other than to use as a lever and weight upon the rest of Ukraine. That strategy only works with any certainty as long as they remain an integral part of Ukraine. The moment Ukraine states it heads west casting adrift these regions, The Kremlin leverage and anchor upon Ukraine is dramatically reduced. That would then mean letting Ukraine go, or creating another region to act as a weight/anchor upon Ukrainian western aspirations. Ukraine is now far more organised than it was back in March. Creating any new “protectorate” region will be much harder to create.
It may (eventually) be dawning upon those within the “republics” that the possibilities of annexation are extremely remote, and recognition of independence from Ukraine is not likely in the current climate either. Ergo, it doesn’t take the greatest of intellects to work out that having Mariupol within its territory would be a significant boost to any unrecognised independence. The port city and its existing infrastructure provides opportunities otherwise lost.
All the above states nothing new, and nothing that could not be read here, and probably elsewhere, many times before during the preceding months.
Naturally, none of that is what catches the attention.
What does, relates to Zaharchenko’s statement of desired territorial gains. It is a far cry from the lofty projections that were originally “Novorussiya”. Not only does it cover only a percentage of The Donbas, but any ambitions relating to other Oblasts are no longer mentioned. It is now clear that the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republic’s” have little intention of joining together and becoming “Novorussiya” either on a formal basis between them. At present “Novorussiya” seems likely to become little more than a collective name for two, distinctly separate, “republics”.
This raises several questions.
Is Zaharchenko’s statement as “Prime Minister of The People’s Republic” purely his own personal view of the territory over which his expects to lord?
Have the sponsors behind the “people’s republics” made it clear just what the limits of territorial expansion they are prepared to finance, support and be sanctioned over are?
If not, are Zaharchenko’s territorial desires commensurate with the “republic’s” sponsors?
The “republic’s” political structures are simply not strong enough to take, control, police and administer with dramatic further expansion. It is already clear that those political structures are having difficulty controlling all of the separate fighting factions within the collective “army of the republic”. It seems that the Cossack contingent have every intention of coming out as top warlord/crime syndicate. Numerous fatal clashes with other fighting groups have been noted over the past month or so. Can the political leadership of the DPR strike a deal with all the warlords? Will it be forced to pay them (very well) to remain passive? Can it gain enough political strength to overcome and control the warlordism?
It is certainly clear that if these declared territorial designs are the extent of Zaharchenko’s plan, many of the ideologically driven fighters will not accept such a limited vision.
Territorial gains expected before the very cold weather – or the sum territory desired?
It seems unlikely that Zaharchenko is aware of the plans of his sponsors. Many within The Kremlin will not be aware of them – and that presumes there is a plan, rather than sporadic act and react opportunism influencing/controlling Kremlin thinking.
Perhaps it is that fighting need continue, simply due to the fact that the republic’s political structure is not capable of delivering on anything much within the region it already controls. When the fighting stops, people expect those in authority to deliver – if you have nothing to deliver, it follows that continued fighting may be preferable.
Whatever the case, Zaharchenko’s statement regarding desired territorial gains, whilst containing the usual concerning rhetoric with regard to a return for front line fighting in full, seem rather modest in comparison to all that has been said historically.
As no gains will be accomplished without significant Kremlin help now Ukraine has reorganised, there is a question over whether The Kremlin is prepared to swallow further sanctions that would seem almost certain to come if Mariupol fell.
Anyway, something a little more interesting and/or intriguing tomorrow – the limited scope for territorial gains stated simply caught the eye today.