The fate of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics and how to reintegrate the breakaway territories into Ukraine came up repeatedly during the Minsk talks aimed at bringing peace to eastern Ukraine. Yet not one of the parties in the talks currently has a reintegration road map for the peaceful handover of control over the territory—including the state border—from the separatists to the Ukrainian authorities.
The Minsk accords state that the Ukrainian constitution must be amended to grant special status to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and that they should start functioning under that status after local elections carried out in accordance with Ukrainian law. Restoring control of the state border to the Ukrainian government should start on the first day after the local elections and end after “full political regulation.” This suggests that the unrecognized republics will continue to exist for some time after the elections, until control over the border is handed over completely, meaning there are two possible scenarios.
The first scenario is the voluntary dissolution of all regional authorities that are illegal under Ukrainian law before local elections are held. In this case, Kiev will have to allow the current authorities of the unrecognized republics to take part in the elections. During the transition period, when the state structures of the self-proclaimed republics have already been dismantled but the new Ukrainian authorities have not yet been elected or started work, the power vacuum could be filled by a UN administration, while responsibility for security could be handed over to international police forces or UN peacekeepers.
In this scenario, the process of disarmament and demilitarizing the conflict zone would also have to be completed before the elections. The legitimacy of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics relies largely on force, and the disarming of the separatists before the vote could result in the power structures effectively ceasing to exist before new ones have been elected, which is why the UN would have to obtain broad powers over the territories.
The second scenario is the voluntary dissolution of all regional authorities that are illegal under Ukrainian law after local elections are held. In this scenario, the co-existence of parallel authorities would essentially be recognized for a period that would have to be agreed on and formalized separately by both sides of the conflict and endorsed by international intermediaries.
The terms of any voluntary disbandment will only be determined after Kiev, the representatives of the regions elected under Ukrainian law, and representatives of the separatists resolve the issue of handing over control of the border. It’s possible that the dissolution of the self-proclaimed republics could be spread out over several phases dovetailing with the stages of expanding Kiev’s control over the territories.
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