WORLD AFFAIRSHere’s the evidence. On November 12th, the press center of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) issued a statement supposedly crafted by the “society” of the DNR in which said “society” chides Kyiv for cutting off social payments “to our veterans, pensioners, invalids, and mothers,” all of whom are “citizens of [Kyiv’s own] country residing in the Donbas.”

One has to blush at the DNR’s chutzpah. First these Kremlin-sponsored thugs seize public buildings, intimidate and terrorize thousands of citizens, declare independence from Kyiv, stage bogus elections, establish a new government with themselves as its leaders in defiance of Ukrainian and international law, conduct a war against Ukraine, violate human rights, commit war crimes, shoot down an airliner, and threaten to attack Kyiv. Now they insist that they deserve funds from the very country they denounce as fascist and whose sovereignty they reject! Worse, the same individuals who deny the Holodomor of 1932–33, in which 3–4 million Ukrainians died in Stalin’s genocidal famine, call Kyiv’s withdrawal of subsidies to an avowedly enemy entity a “social genocide.”

The separatists are right to panic. No subsidies from Kyiv means no money for them and the people they pretend to govern. How will the proxies fund their terrorism? How will the civilians feed themselves? Might some DNR supporters soon have second thoughts about life under Putin’s proxies? Might work stoppages be ahead in the few enterprises that are still functioning? Does social unrest or resistance loom ahead? A November 12th press report described a deadly strike by pro-Ukrainian enclave partisans against a group of terrorists. If social, economic, and political conditions in the enclave worsen, might partisan activity increase?

There’s another reason for the panic. The enclave is an economic mess, having experienced dramatic drops in GDP and employment and rises in business closures, food shortages, and inflation. And conditions will get much, much worse as subzero winter temperatures envelop the enclave. People will die not only from the fighting, but also from hunger and cold. Even Nikolai Levchenko, the young Regionnaire hotshot from Donetsk who distinguished himself a few years ago by insulting the Ukrainian language, brazenly flaunting his ill-gotten wealth in Jakob Preuss’s documentary film The Other Chelsea, and preposterously claiming to have read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace seven times, says he’s worried: “More than 3.5 million people who have remained in the zone of direct conflict will suffer from the cold and will be placed on the verge of survival under conditions of a wintry humanitarian collapse.”

Recall that this same Levchenko’s supremacism and corruption made the terrorists and the looming humanitarian catastrophe in the Donbas enclave possible. His are crocodile tears. And he probably knows it, as his suggestion that both sides adopt a cease-fire reveals: after all, it’s precisely the separatist refusal to honor the cease-fire declared in Minsk in early September that has forced Kyiv to cut funding. And yet, the humanitarian problem Levchenko notes is real. I doubt that the proxies will be especially troubled if their citizens starve and freeze, but the enclave’s growing ungovernability will surely undermine their war effort. How do you conduct a war against the fascists in Kyiv if your home base is literally becoming a cold Somalia?

Putin and his proxies chose war, and their supporters in the West excused it. With war comes suffering—not only of the Ukrainian fascists, but also of the very population Putin, his proxies, and their Western supporters claimed to be liberating. There is no easy solution to the looming humanitarian disaster. The separatists and the Kremlin have  had their way. As long as they maintain their control over the Donbas enclave, Ukraine will rightly refuse to support them—just as President Lincoln refused to negotiate with and support the secessionist Confederacy.

Continued war, and especially a full-scale terrorist attack on Ukraine, will make things even worse for the enclave’s population.  Will Putin and his proxies subordinate their war-mongering to humanitarianism? Don’t bet on it. They are likely to push ahead. Blood and iron have become their self-justification—their raison d’être. The war will continue, and the innocents will die. And the West? The West will draw red lines and express “concern.”

Alexander J. Motyl's blog


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