Even without the ongoing military standoff, the reintegration of the Donbas region is a challenging prospect. Some people think it is going to be a very easy process, but history shows us that one wrong step during reintegration can damage the whole nation as it can lead to terrorism and economic crisis. However, nothing justifies Russia’s actions in stoking and maintaining the Donbas crisis. Nor does the Donbas justify a Russian invasion. The reintegration of the Donbas must be achieved. It just must be done carefully and correctly.
When thinking about reintegration, many will immediately think of the economic implications and consequences. However, it is the political implications that will bring the most difficulty. Fully bringing the Donbas back into the fold will take many steps that cover all the current cultural, economic, and political complications. We cannot simply anxiously wait and see for a potential Russian invasion; we also need to be preparing for a solution that will bring the Donbas crisis to a successful resolution.
When I have discussed the Donbas conflict with others, we have all agreed that the main challenge will be the immediate chain of events after the end of military action in the region. You may see the “easier” more extreme solutions for these events but that would be a mistake. International politics is built on compromise nowadays and we are all better off for it.
As we think about the possible ways to resolve the Donbas crisis and reintegrate the region, we should be looking to our history and the history of the wider world. We have made mistakes in the past, but this is an opportunity to make our country better and make Ukraine whole again. Being content to leave the political situation of the Donbas region as uncertain will be harmful to the whole region. Once reintegrated, we will need to ensure that the region cannot be destabilised in the same way. Weak local government and its poor synergy with the national government must not be allowed to return. This weakness is part of what lead to the conflict in the Donbas and is a mistake that will need to be corrected.
What is clear though, is that the reintegration of the Donbas will not be quick and easy fix. Any so-called solution that promises to be a simple and swift resolution to the crisis must be rejected out of hand. Pretending to ignore the long-term and underlying factors that led to this crisis will only mean that the Donbas could be isolated again, tensions exploited and stoked by Russia before the conflict is reignited again.
I believe that one of the best solutions will be to have a new system of political representation in the Donbas. It would include Ukrainian, Russian, and local political parties in the Donbas. This is a risk, but a necessary one to ensure that Ukrainian politics can become more serious and learn to compete effectively against Russian propaganda. Moreover, this would not be a permanent situation but simply a temporary measure to ensure a smooth reintegration.
This would not be a perfect solution that would need some thorough work. However, it is focused on prioritising the needs, values and wishes of locals in the Donbas. This is essential, as we need to prevent Russian propaganda from being able to continue to stoke tension by claiming that “Ukraine has abandoned the Donbas and does not think about its people”.
We need to think outside the box so we can lead to a process that successfully reintegrates the Donbas. We must have a political culture that sets aside ambition and comfort aside and looks for the common good. The world is complicated, but great nations do not shy away from their problems but face them head on. I believe in Ukraine’s potential, and our creativity and sensible dialogue will be needed to fully reintegrate the Donbas back into its true home.