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Interview by Xavier Moreau with Denis Pushilin on May 5, 2016, broadcast on Stratpol on May 17, 2016 in Russian with French sub-titles, (30 minutes). English summary written by Christelle Néant and published on DONi News

Interview with Denis Pushilin (L) on May 5, 2016 on the future of Donbass

Interview with Denis Pushilin (L) on May 5, 2016 on the future of Donbass

Xavier Moreau is an analyst and founder of the French-language think tank Stratpol. He interviewed Denis Pushilin, the President of the Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and a chief negotiator in the Minsk-2 ceasefire process for the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. They spoke of the current situation of Donbass and the future of the region.

Pushilin highlighted that the Ukrainian authorities have done everything to push Donbass to leave Ukraine. The economic blockade, for example, deprived the region of the Hryvnia currency, thus pushing it to adopt thh Russian ruble as the currency to gather taxes and pay pensions. As Ukrainian laws are not applicable anymore in Donbass, Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics needed to implement state structures and laws in order to manage the region.

The population takes the state of its capital seriously, thus Donetsk city is cleaned every day since the beginning of the war and is currently cleaner than under the Ukrainian state. It is quite ironic that the Donetsk People’s Republic has realized the ideals of Maidan by expelling corruption and oligarchs who plundered the region public finances and allowing the gathered funds to be used to improve the state of the city and the situation of the population.

On the complex issue of the forthcoming reinstatement of Donbass in Ukraine and its future inside it, Denis Pushilin reminded, “We have the Minsk agreements. But, in two years, Kiev did not fulfill any of the points they signed. During the Minsk negotiations, Ukraine is constantly pushing new deadlines. When we have almost an agreement, they receive a phone call [from the USA] and everything is canceled.

“The aim of USA is to freeze the conflict. They want to play for time, as they think Russia will collapse as the USSR did. They need a victory, but they have none. Currently, the situation is comfortable for the U.S: neither war nor peace. It is not a war like in the beginning, when we had hundreds of deaths per day. But it is not peace, because every day shells are launched on the republic’s territory. And this may last a long time.”

Pushilin also denounced the nonsense of recent declarations from the Ukrainian side saying that since Minsk-2 cannot be implemented, a Minsk-3 agreement should be discussed. From Pushilin’s point of view, the signed document (Minsk-2) has to be implemented and only after, if another document needs to be negotiated, then they will negotiate it. But, for him, it is out of question to get out of Minsk-2, on the pretext that Ukraine cannot implement it.

Pushilin also highlighted the fact that Ukrainian President Poroshenko wanted to avoid negotiating directly with the two people’s republics as it will provoke the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian radicals against him. The Ukrainian President is afraid of them, as much as he needs them.

Indeed, the current Kiev authorities came to power thanks to these radicals, who currently form 11 special paramilitary battalions. If the Ukrainian authorities implement the Minsk agreements, these radicals will consider it as a betrayal and, like last year, would be ready to kill by throwing grenades in the crowds rather than see the Rada voting the laws implementing these agreements.

Many fear an ethnic cleansing after a reinstatement of Donbass in Ukraine, following the statements of some radicals, including Poroshenko’s advisers, advocating using a “Croatian solution” in Donbass. Therefore, the authorities of People’s Republics are doing everything to avoid a repeat of the Serbian Krajina events should Donbass be reinstated in Ukraine.

For Pushilin, this conflict will not be solved in one year or two, but rather in ten years, which will complicate even more the situation.

Pushilin also dismissed the idea that Poroshenko signed the Minsk agreements to save his army in Debaltsevo [during the height of the military conflict in February 2015]. In reality, the Ukrainian President saved his own skin when signing these agreements. “On the morning of February 12, when we agreed on everything, DPR head Aleksandr Zakharshenko proposed to sign a document in order to organize a corridor to evacuate the Ukrainian Armed Forces from Debaltsevo. Poroshenko answered that everything was fine, and that there was no need for that. The dialogue lasted one hour and he refused to sign an agreement.” [The Ukrainian soldiers trapped in Debaltsovo then fought their way out, suffering heavy losses.].

He also confirmed that the real losses of the Ukrainian army in Debaltsevo far exceeded (by ten 10 times) the losses officially announced by the Ukrainian authorities, 3,000 deaths. According to Pushilin, the Ukrainian army declared most of its losses as deserters to avoid paying pension to their families.

As half of the Donbass region is occupied by the Ukrainian Army, the issue of the future of the Novorossiya political project arises. Pushilin reassured the other regions of southeastern Ukraine, “If we were selfish, we would ask to integrate into the Russian Federation. But we feel responsible to Novorossiya, to Odessa, Kherson, Zaporozhye and the other cities. So we need to solve this through negotiations.

“Many amongst us do not understand why we have to discuss with Ukraine. We do not want to abandon the Novorossiya. There is still a Novorossiya political project. We have not forgotten the other regions and we are ready to support them. We are even ready to include their prisoners in our prisoner exchange program with Kiev.”

The recent direct lines by President  Zakharchenko with Kharkov and Odessa are in line with this political process aiming to liberate those parts of Ukraine. Dialogue with these regions is essential to remind them that the Donetsk People’s Republic has not forgetten them.

Pushilin also highlighted the importance of the political process aiming at solving the political/military conflict with Ukraine. He stated clearly that the DPR does not want to solve the conflict by military means. But if it was forced to do so, then “We could solve the conflict by military means, but this would cause heavy losses. Kiev authorities can escape by plane to protect themselves, but not the civilian population, which will be the first to be sacrificed.

“When we liberated Debaltsevo, anytime our enemies retreat, they destroy everything. It consumes a large part of our resources to restore water, heating, and electricity. And these were  only small towns. If we have to militarily liberate large cities like Odessa or Kharkov, with millions of inhabitants, it will be a massacre.

“But if the Ukrainian President wants to solve the conflict militarily, then we will counter-attack and show them what we are capable of.”

The interview ended with Xavier Moreau raising the thorny issue of LGBT laws which are being voted in Ukraine and the 2020 program of human rights in Ukraine which plans to implement laws promoting gay marriage. Moreau wondered what would happen if Donbass is reinstated in Ukraine.

Pushilin’s answer was similar to the answer given by Aleksandr Zakharshenko to the same question recently. “We will never agree on that. If they want to do that elsewhere, if they think it is fair, that is their decision. Here, we are Christians and these are not Christian relations… For us, these relations are foreign to us and we are categorically opposed to them being imposed on us.”

Read also:
DONi News (Donetsk International News Agency) provides English translations of the daily reports of the Donetsk and Lugansk republic’s militaries on the ongoing violations of the military ceasefire agreed in Minsk, Belarus in February 2015. Read the reports here.

Less complete but nonetheless informative are the daily reports of the Special Monitoring Mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), here.

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