Russia's recognition of the LDNR does not solve its strategic task of achieving military and political capitulation in Kyiv. Ukraine, as a challenge to Putin and his regime, still exists. Our defense capability is growing, the army still has defense capabilities. The imaginary "threats" of which the Russian usurper spoke did not go away. So we should expect a new escalation. Now I propose to consider several theses as intermediate results.
WHAT DID WE GET FROM "RECOGNITION"?
1) The return of the occupied territories is postponed until qualitative geopolitical changes in the world. How long does it take? Unknown. Sometimes these changes come quickly, sometimes it takes decades. It is impossible to give up territories and people. But I must say for myself that it will not happen tomorrow. This is a distant prospect.
2) The fate of the Minsk process. It is obvious to Ukraine and the world that Russia has unilaterally withdrawn from the Minsk process. This should lead to the termination of the Trilateral Contact Group and the repeal of the Minsk Papers with their political case, which hung like a Sword of Damocles over Ukrainian statehood.
It makes no sense to talk about the constitutional status of the ORDLO, the amnesty of militants, transitional administrations, etc., when Russia has already "recognized" these entities. The threat of " Bosnianization " of Ukraine is still being eliminated.
This scenario was critically dangerous for us. To cook Ukraine over moderate fire, to escalate "in the long run", to play on raising rates, to shake the political situation with the help of the "fifth column" and "useful idiots", to organize acts of sabotage... And at some point Ukrainian voters said that they choose "humiliating peace" over "horror without end." In this scenario, the weakest point was the "peacekeepers" around Zelensky, who pushed the president to compromise with Putin. Fortunately, this will not happen. This issue is closed.
3) Russia does not formally recognize the expiration of the Minsk agreements. Therefore, it will emphasize that the de-escalation of the situation around Ukraine is possible by embodying the "spirit of Minsk-2": direct talks between Kyiv and Donetsk / Luhansk: on a ceasefire, the functioning of crossings, "border demarcation", coexistence. Don't want to negotiate? The Russians may escalate in an attempt to "restore territorial integrity" "LNDNR". For example, Denis Myroshnychenko, a kind of “Vice Speaker of the Luhansk People's Republic Parliament”, has already “called on the Ukrainian authorities to withdraw troops to the borders of Luhansk Oblast, otherwise measures will be taken ...”
4) The joint defense of the Russian Federation and the LDNR, specified in Putin's decrees, provides for the legalization of the Russian army's stay in the ORDLO. The clash between the Armed Forces and Russian troops will be considered by the Kremlin as the same casus belli for a major invasion. Russian troops will enter the line of demarcation or even start putting pressure on the Armed Forces, capturing bridgeheads, at the same time simulating a landing at sea, there is a threat of strikes on infrastructure, and so on.
5) "Recognition" of the LDNR may not mean "fixing the border" as it is in Crimea or Georgia. Disputes about "borders", about the "legal basis" have no value. Putin has made it clear that he does not recognize the borders after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He can easily recognize the "borders" reaching the Vinnytsia region. It does not matter. Our ability to protect what we have is important.
6) Russia will demand a new framework for negotiations with the West (read the United States) on strategic stability. Summits will continue. They will meet and negotiate with Putin. The West leaves "space for diplomacy."
7) Sanctions. It will not be as toothless as in 2008 or 2014, but it will not have a devastating effect on Russia. Experts write that a new law on sanctions will most likely be passed in the US Congress. Most likely, it will be a new text on a cross-party basis. The text of Menendez, Risch or Rubio will be taken as a basis. The administration will impose sanctions earlier than Congress. Biden has already signed the first decree on sanctions. The United Kingdom has amended its mechanism in 2019. It will be implemented. The EU has also prepared its options. The decisions of the EU Council and the new regulations are a matter of technology.
The intensity of sanctions will depend on the situation on the line of contact and the military component. In the case of fixing the border of the LDNR on the current line of contact without fighting, the sanctions may be relatively moderate. At the initial stage, it will be about blocking officials. In the event of fighting, pushing the Armed Forces to the administrative borders of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, much broader package, reflected in the projects of Congress will be used: blocking Russian banks or closing their correspondent accounts with US banks, blocking big business, phasing out mining companies, banning Russian debt on the secondary market, freezing of Nord Stream 2, etc.
Sanctions work for a long time - this is not a short-term result that will be "for tomorrow". Russia is already experiencing its effect in high technology, oil and gas production, which affects the decline in gas and oil production, as evidenced by indirect indicators. The price situation is still on their side - Russia has earned enough from fluctuations in gas and oil prices, but each resource has a final dimension and one way or another Russia is encapsulated in its technological lag behind the West. Their internal resources are not enough to overcome this gap - technology exchange is needed, but it is not. And this, in the end, harms the stock indices of Russian companies.
8) Russia has declared itself de facto responsible for the occupied territories. Social sphere and all this - now is their responsibility and burden on their budget.
9) China is unlikely to support Russia's move. Rather, it will refrain from harsh remarks. There will be no involvement in the Russian confrontation with the West in Beijing. It is objectively beneficial to China, distracts US forces and attention to the European theater.
10) Ukraine can hope for further strengthening of military-technical cooperation with the West. Here, too, alliances with Poland, the United Kingdom and, in part, Denmark, the presence of Allied ships in the Black Sea, increased cooperation with NATO, the return of instructors, and so on could be useful. Although this is relative...
11) Kuleba stated in Munich that there is now a favorable opportunity to give Ukraine the prospect of European membership as a tool to counter the Russian threat and a positive message to Ukrainian society.
Especially since the accents in Europe have changed - the same Borrel is no longer talking about the Ukrainian, but about the "Russian crisis" provoked by Russia in Ukraine. And this change in rhetoric is a marker for the whole EU.
What to prepare for?
- To the hybrid security mode . There were rumors of martial law, but this is unlikely. An emergency situation with increased restrictions, curfew in the front zone, etc. is possible. In the event of an attempt by the Russian occupiers to expand the territory of the "LDNR" - the imposition of martial law.
- To anti-terrorist security measures . There is a great threat of terrorist acts in the controlled part of the territory of Ukraine. The work of counterintelligence agencies needs to be strengthened. We also have a good opportunity to clean up the "fifth column".
- Energy crisis, which in time coincides with the aggravation of the situation on the front and which may lead to ineffective actions of the Ukrainian authorities, especially the Ministry of Energy.
- There are still people on Bankova who would like to reconcile with Russia and find a point of compromise with it, even under such conditions. Therefore, we should follow the hands of the negotiators from Ukraine, so as not to sign documents that will defeat us in the strategic perspective.
- No one removes the risk of invasion, attempts to break through the land corridor to Crimea or provocations on the Belarusian border - that is, including all the scenarios voiced by Western partners.
What to do next, I will write or say separately. What is not needed now is patriotic pathos. All risks should be weighed. In particular, stop internal political strife and reject the confrontation.
It is time for conscious cooperation with opponents. We have a unique chance to exhale "Minsk" and start creating our future.
The author is the director of the Center for Civil Society Studies