Thursday, September 11, 2014

Can Donbas survive without Ukraine?

With the ceasefire and cessation of hostilities the situation in Eastern Ukraine has reached an impasse. The forces of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic now occupy the two major regional cities and about a third of the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

With the respite in the fighting, residents can now begin reflect on where their future lies and what their prospects will be.

Unless there is more significant violence resulting in gains or losses of territory in the next few weeks, with the onset of winter, boundary lines are unlikely to change at least until well into the New Year.

The announcement by president Poroshenko today of withdrawal of the majority of Russian troops and equipment would indicate the heavy fighting is now less likely and current boundaries encompassing rebel-held territory will remain as they are, at least for months to come.

A vital portion of industry in this region is export-orientated. If companies are to survive they require unhindered access to ports and overseas markets. Similarly, new equipment for modernisation and development has to be imported, mainly from abroad. Investors need security and political stability.

The port of Mariupol, which remains in the hands of Kyiv forces, is vital to the maintenance of prosperity in the region. If the separatists and their Russian sponsors and armourers want to conquer the city they would most likely have to launch a bloody and destructive assault.

Two of the three biggest employers in Mariupol are the giant AzovStal and the Illich MetKombinat steelworks which account for about one third of Ukraine's steel production and are the sixth and seventh biggest companies in Ukraine. They produce a major chunk of the country's metallurgical exports. The third biggest employer, AzovMash, manufactures railway freight cars, mainly for export to CIS countries as well as other engineering products; their output has been hit very badly by the troubles.

Mariupol is Ukraine's second biggest gateway for exports, predominantly produce of Donbas.

Donbas and Luhansk oblasts may well be granted special status in the near future. But who will pay pensions, and salaries of teachers, doctors and civil servants in the cities and areas controlled by DNR and LDR separatist gunmen? Who will ensure business and trade can return to normal?

Residents will certainly have much to think about before any elections..

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