Russian Parliament Votes To Give Sovereign Recognition To Donbas

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The flags of Donestsk and Luhansk Republics. Note similarity to Russian national flag. The only difference is the highest band, black in the case of Donetsk as it is a coal mining region, blue for Luhansk’s position on the Donets River. Both declared independence from Ukraine in 2014 with a civil war in process ever since. Neither have been recognized as independent states including by Russia. Moscow however is keen to see the conflict resolved.

Russia’s State Duma today (Tuesday, February 15, 2022) backed a resolution calling for diplomatic recognition of Eastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian Donbas People’s Republics, raising tensions between Russia and Ukraine, even as Russian troops began a partial withdrawal from the Ukrainian border. Donbas comprises of the Donetsk and Luhansk Republics, which maintain strong Russian, as opposed to Ukrainian cultures. Because of this they have been politically and economically neglected by Kiev, which is a source of much of the regional tension.

The Russian parliament’s motion calls for President Vladimir Putin to formally recognize the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, both of which declared independence from Ukraine in 2014. No other country currently recognizes the republics as sovereign states.

The motion, initially proposed by the Communist parliamentary opposition, attracted support from across the Duma’s five parties, including from speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.  The resolution is not binding, and will now be sent to Putin for feedback.

Although the bill’s passage is a blow to the Minsk Accords, Russian legal experts caution that the Duma’s approval does not signify the Kremlin’s backing, or mean the bill is going any further.

“As it stands, the Duma’s resolution is primarily a propagandistic one,” said Konstantin Skorkin, a Donbas expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank. “The Minsk Agreements are much better for Russia than for Ukraine, but it’s useful for Moscow to show Kiev that it could abandon them, if it needs to.”

Under the Minsk Agreements, the Donbas People’s Republics are to return to Ukrainian control with extensive autonomy as part of an eventual political settlement. However, neither Ukraine nor Russia have implemented their obligations under Minsk, and negotiations on the accords have stalled.

But with diplomatic recognition amounting to Moscow’s support of Donbas independence becoming official, Russia is flirting with effectively renouncing the Minsk agreement, and with it a fragile peace process in Eastern Ukraine. “Recognizing the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics means our departure from the Minsk Agreements.” said Konstantin Zatulin, a United Russia lawmaker who is deputy chairman of a Duma commission on relations with the former Soviet Union, told the liberal Moscow Echo radio station Tuesday. “In that sense, recognition won’t benefit Russia or the republics.”

Though recognition of the Donbas has never been a mainstream position in Russian politics, it is a popular one. An April 2021 poll by the independent Levada Center showed majority support among Russians for the Donbas becoming formally independent, or annexed by Russia.

In December 2021, Putin spoke emotionally of the plight of the region’s Russian-speaking population, accusing Kiev authorities of genocide. “But this doesn’t mean other elements in the government are on side,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of R.Politik, a political consultancy, who believes the Russian foreign ministry is particularly opposed. “At the end of the day, there won’t be any recognition.”

Though the majority of the Donbas population lives in areas controlled by the unrecognized republics, around two thirds of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions’ territory remains under Kiev’s effective control.

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