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Russian clout grows in Donbas

Kremlin issues decree easing trade restrictions between Donbas and Russia in move experts say is step towards annexation

Talha Yavuz   | 17.11.2021
Russian clout grows in Donbas Ukrainian army conduct a drill with military tanks while military activity continues in the Donbas region, Ukraine on April 18, 2021. ( FILE PHOTO - Anadolu Agency )

KYIV, Ukraine

As Moscow continues to grow its influence in parts of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatists, goods produced in these areas will soon enjoy equal status with products made in Russia, according to a recent decree from the Kremlin.

The decree, signed by President Vladimir Putin on Monday, gives Russian authorities a month to make the necessary legal arrangements for this measure that lifts quantity-based trade restrictions between Russia and the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Basic goods from Donbas will be sold in greater numbers on the shelves of Russian chain stores, while the region's coal and metal products will be easier to import by Russia.

Coal reserves of 60 billion tons

With an estimated coal reserve of 60 billion tons, the Donbas region once produced some 75% of all Ukrainian coal before the pro-Russian separatists announced their so-called independence.

Metallurgical products, as well as diesel locomotives and industrial equipment, manufactured in Donbas are also expected to have easier access to the Russian market.

Until 2014, Donbas used to be responsible for 30% of Ukraine's total exports.

Russian passports for 600,000 people

Earlier in 2018, Putin had signed another decree that recognized various legal documents in Donbas, such as passports and birth and death certificates, as valid in Russia.

The Russian Interior Ministry later announced in February that more than 600,000 people in the region had been granted Russian passports.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in May that the same measures had been introduced before in Crimea and that this would be the first step towards annexation.

In 2014, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, a move widely viewed as illegal by the international community.

Kyiv also took issue with Russia allowing passport holders in the region to vote online in Russian parliamentary elections in September.

Russia is known to provide military support, along with economic and social assistance, to Donbas.

Multiple reports by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), allege that Russia has provided tanks, anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-tank arms to the region.

Diplomatic note of protest to decree

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry sent a note of protest to Russia following the latest decree from Moscow.

Highlighting that the move demonstrated Moscow's aim to draw the separatist-controlled Donbas into its own political and economic sphere, the note said that such actions contradicted Russia's obligations under the 2014 Minsk Protocol.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he discussed this issue with France and Germany, which he expects to condemn the decree.

De-facto annexation

Denis Moskalik from the Ukrainian National Institute for Strategic Studies told Anadolu Agency that the decree was amounted to legalizing the integration process of Donbas into Russia, as well as related past measures introduced to support the separatists.

Moskalik went on to say that the current situation of Donbas was more beneficial to Russia than annexation, and that this move, along with the concentration of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, were meant to pressure Kyiv ahead of talks under the Normandy format.

Another analyst, Gleb Parfenov, said the decree was part of the de-facto annexation of Donbas by Russia.

Noting that Russia provided passports in the region and that education institutions there were in close cooperation with Russia, Parfenov said those with Russian passports had to participate virtually in the elections of September.

He further said that, in practical terms, the region had already been annexed by Russia though this has yet to be completed legally.

Donbas crisis

Demonstrations erupted in the capital of Kyiv on Nov. 21, 2013, after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did not sign a European Union Association Agreement that sought closer economic ties with Russia.

After Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014, demonstrations grew and pro-Russian separatists declared their so-called independence in Donetsk and Lugansk in the eastern part of the country.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in clashes between separatists and the Kyiv government since 2014.

*Writing by Ali Murat Alhas

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