What’s next after referendum in Eastern Ukraine?

I think it is safe to say that the results were decided log time before the referendum. So my question is: How will Kyiv and how will Moscow react in your opinion?

Taras KuzioResearch Associate, Centre for Political and Regional Studies, Canadian Institute for Ukrainian Studies, University of Alberta

Firstly, we need to state that the Russian leadership’s distancing of itself from the separatists is a sham (i.e. calling upon them not to hold a referendum). This was to back up the claim that Moscow does not control them and to halt further sanctions.

There will be the continuation of the ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) until the new president is elected, either on May 25 or two weeks later. From then Viktor Yanukovych is in the bin of history and Russia can no longer claim he is the “legitimate” president.

Then President Petro Poroshenko or Yulia Tymoshenko have three options:
1. With elected legitimacy increase the new president increases the intensity of the ATO to achieve defeat of the terrorists. This will inevitably lead to civilian casualties which would lead to increased public support for separatism. If it turns very ugly Russia could militarily intervene.
2. Accept the reality on the ground and grant wide ranging autonomy, free economic zone or something similar. This would not be federalism which has zero support and would not be the same as reform of the (inherited Soviet) administrative-territorial system which is needed but would take years and with Council of Europe advice. Unitary France and autonomous Corsica could be an example.
3. Extreme case: some pro-Western Ukrainians would agree to the Donbas joining Russia. Without the Crimea and Donbas the pro-Russian lobby drops to a minority, the Party of Regions is finished as a political machine and parliament will always have a pro-European majority.

From the viewpoint of the separatists and Moscow there are three options:
1. Autonomy inside Ukraine which Donetsk-Moscow would see as a way of dictating terms to Kyiv.
2. Donbas becomes a Trans-Dniestr, de jure inside Ukraine but de facto under Russian control.
3. “Re-union” with Russia.

Ievgen VorobiovAnalyst, Polish Institute of International Affairs

Indeed, Donbass insurgents will declare the self-determination of the “Republic”. Kyiv will go into complete denial (“the referendum bears no legal consequences” etc). Ukraine’s authorities will try to keep military presence near crucial towns (Sloviansk, Mariupol), even though attacks will clearly damage its standing with the local population.

Moscow will recognize the referendum results as a “confirmation” of the demand that the “dialogue” with the East is necessary  and will step up threats to demand the withdrawal of military forces. However, I expect no rhetoric calling on Donbass to be annexed by Russia in Moscow, instead they will highlight the illegitimacy of the current authorities and the invalidity of the upcoming election.

Maksym BugriyNon Resident Fellow, Jamestown Foundation

I think that neither state would officially recognize the referendum. Its results will have a propagandist and political value. It is meant to provide more legitimacy to separatist insurgents in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts backed by Russia. Hence Kremlin may argue that Kyiv ‘does not listen to its people’ and would hope that the insurgents would receive more popular support. The referendum will also make it more difficult for Kyiv to hold Presidential elections in the southeast. Whereas the Ukrainian government might possibly rely more on local elites and oligarchs, such as Rinat Akhmetov to establish the dialogue with population representatives and not let them become hijacked by the separatists. In a positive scenario (the one that avoids the war) this may lead to negotiated de-escalation process in which Moscow would possibly have a certain leverage.

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