Wednesday, January 20, 2016

US Appears to Have Accepted ‘Donbas Model’ Not Only for Ukraine but for Other Conflicts, Russian Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 20 – Petr Iskenderov, a researcher at the Moscow Institute of Slavic Studies and a commentator for Russia Today, says that it now appears the US has accepted what he calls “the Donbas Model” for the resolution not only of the conflict in Ukraine but for similar conflicts elsewhere.

            That model, he says, is where decisions are reached not by the country whose territory is directly affected but rather by diplomatic efforts “among the leading world powers” to find “a balance of forces” acceptable to them not just between states but within them (

            Given Iskenderov’s role as a propagandist, it is entirely possible that he is presenting what he and his bosses would like to be the case as a reality already achieved. But his words are important because of what they say about Moscow’s thinking now not only about Ukraine but about the international system as such.

                Among the commentaries about the January 15 meeting between Vladislav Surkov and Victoria Nuland, the Moscow analyst says, he was especially struck by one by Aleksandr Chalenko on the Internet portal (

             Citing an unnamed source “close to one of the members of the Russian delegation at the talks in Kaliningrad,” Chalenko wrote that “’Surkov and Nuland achieved a number of compromises on Ukraine’ concerning the methods of ‘forcing Kyiv to the fulfillment of Minsk 2.’”

              That source also said that “’the American side had agreed to consider the status of the Donbas proposed by the Kremlin,’” which would involve among other things the right of the governments there to be involved in foreign policy activity and even to conclude international treaties.”

              That there might be “an analogy between the conflict in the Donbas which has divided Ukraine and the Kosovo conflict has been remarked even earlier,” Iskenderov says. But this report about the Surkov-Nuland talks suggests that the Americans and Russians may be converging on that option.

              That makes a re-examination of the Yugoslav case especially instructive and “useful,” he says.

             During the 1990s, five elf-proclaimed states arose on the territory of the former Yugoslavia, but they have had very different fates depending on how much support they received from the outside world. The problems arose because the international community sanctioned the division of Yugoslavia “along the borders of former republics” but “refused to recognize” any divisions within them as the basis for changes.

              “As a result,” Iskenderov says, what happened there “became not ‘the self-determination of nations’ but the self-determination of administrative units (republics) which in and of themselves had a conflict-generating potential.” As a result, the peoples of the former Yugoslavia and “in the first instance the Serbs remained divided and ‘un-self-determined.’”

              (Iskenderov does not say but clearly implies that exactly the same thing happened in the case of the demise of the USSR, with “administrative units” achieving “self-determination” but peoples and especially the ethnic Russians not having any opportunity for that within the other republics.)

             “One must recognize that the adaptation of ‘the Kosovo model’ to the Donbas is thinkable only if the West applies pressure, but it is improbable considering that the application of ‘the Kosovo model’ in the Donbas would give force to movements in support of ‘the Russian world’ in many parts of post-Soviet Eurasia,” the analyst continues.

             That isn’t something the US and the EU would welcome, and just as baseless are expectations that the DNR and the LNR could be “liquidated” militarily as was the Serbska Kraina in Croatia. Thus what remains is “the Dayton model” which is quite applicable, he argues, to “the conflict which has divided Ukraine.”

              Of course, Iskenderov argues, “models for the resolution of conflicts similar to those which is now present in the Donbas exist not only in the Balkans.”  They exist in the Caucasus in the cases of Abkhazia and South Osetia. “Besides this, world practice is familiar with a broad specter of legal forms of the existence of state formations” in which part of the territory of one state may enter into relations or even be subordinate to another state.

               This arrangement may be called “a confederation” or “associate statehood” or something else. And he points out that the last such example involved Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1878-1908 “when these two provinces formally remained in the Ottoman Empire but in fact were under the administrative control of Austro-Hungary.”

              But what matters, Iskenderov says, is not the name but arrangements which correspond to “the balance of forces between the leading world powers [and] that concerns the future fate of the people of the Donbas.

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