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Kyiv risks divided Ukraine

Johann Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Johann
March 18, 2017

As tempers flare in Ukraine, it is Kyiv — of all actors — that is undermining national unity. The Poroshenko administration's blockade of occupied Donbass could lead to the demise of the east, Bernd Johann writes.

Ukraine Blockade von Transportwegen - Kohletransport bei Donezk
Image: Reuters/K. Chernichkin

For weeks, conflict has been escalating in eastern Ukraine. Hardly a day goes by without an exchange of fire. Heavy weapons are being used again. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which should be monitoring to ensure that the long-established ceasefire is respected, can scarcely deliver more than helpless reports of a war that is still not over after three years.

Politically speaking, all sides - the leadership in Kyiv, as well as the separatists and their supporters in the Kremlin - are pouring fresh fuel on the fire. They are cementing the division of Ukraine step by step. And now it is Kyiv itself that has moved to speed up this process: The Security Council of Ukraine has decided to stop all freight traffic with the rebel-occupied areas in Luhansk and Donetsk.

Armed activists surrendered

The financial transfer between Kyiv and the separatist parts of Donbass has long been interrupted - with devastating consequences for the people, especially the elderly. They must take the dangerous route across the dividing line to retrieve their pensions or other social benefits from Kyiv. With the economic blockade that has now been decided, Kyiv is also cutting back on shipments of all kinds of goods to Donbass.

The Ukrainian government, with President Petro Poroshenko at the head, is thus bending to the pressure of armed activists who interrupted the railways between Donbass and the rest of Ukraine two months ago. A few politicians in Kyiv have criticized this, as did Poroshenko. Now, a controversial action by activists has become a state blockade in the name of national security.

Residents left to an uncertain fate

Officially, Kyiv continues to stress that the occupied areas around Luhansk and Donetsk belong to Ukraine. The blockade on the movement of goods is theoretically to be stopped as soon as the separatists withdraw the recently decided illegal "nationalization" of factories. Ukraine is seemingly taking over the political initiative. But in actual fact it is likely to play into the hands of Russian separatists and Russia itself, who will say that Kyiv has given up the people of Donbass.

The Ukrainian plans for a reintegration could become so much wasted paper with such action. Politicians in eastern Ukraine - along with many in Kyiv - have long pointed out that Ukraine is doing too little to win back the people of Donbass. Now those goalposts seem to be moving further and further away.

Johann Bernd Kommentarbild App
Bernd Johann of DW's Ukrainian desk

Pushing partners away

With this decision, Kyiv is essentially also making fools out of countries that are working to resolve the Donbass conflict. These include Germany and France, which have always stood for the unity of Ukraine within the framework of the Minsk process - which is why they are opposed to any measure that could lead to a worsening of the conflict. The imposition of an economic blockade is precisely such a step. The German government's reaction to the blockade imposed by Kyiv and the illegal seizure of factories by the separatists is correspondingly sharp.

Only Russia, which after the annexation of Crimea launched the conflict in eastern Ukraine as well, will probably be pleased with Kyiv's moves, which provide it with a welcome opportunity. Only recently, the Kremlin began to recognize passports issued by the separatists in eastern Ukraine as valid travel documents. This recognition accelerates the process of division. The economic blockade in Ukraine is now pushing Donbass further into the arms of Moscow and advancing the division of Ukraine.

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