The Russian-occupied Donbass enclave in eastern Ukraine is on the verge of economic and social collapse. That grave fact casts the Russo-Ukrainian war in a different light. Normally, wars are fought over prize territory: winners gain it, losers lose it. In this case, the implosion of the Donbass means that whoever controls the enclave is, in fact, the loser. As the man who owns the enclave and is likely to do so for the foreseeable future, Vladimir Putin is thus the loser. And both Russia and Ukraine know it. According to United Nations data, of the 5 million people who formerly populated the enclave, nearly 2 million have left since March 2014. Since many of these refugees are educated, middle-class professionals who are unlikely ever to return to a war zone, the enclave has suffered an irreparable loss of its intellectual and human capital. Of the 3 million who are left, about 2 million are children and pensioners — leaving 1 million working-age adults to support them, service the crumbling economy, and do the fighting. According to the National Bank of Ukraine, GDP in the Donbass has collapsed, with industrial production falling by over a third in 2014, and construction by over a half. Many bridges and rail tracks remain destroyed. Only one third of residents receive a steady wage. Large swathes of the territory suffer from gas, water, and electricity shortages. And Kiev stopped paying pensions to enclave residents in late 2014. Unsurprisingly, the decline of the Donbass has continued apace in 2015. Although refugee streams appear to have abated — those most able to flee have already left — economic decline and flight will continue as long as the war does. In time, the enclave’s population will consist of senior citizens barely surviving off their private plots, children forced to fend for themselves on the street, overworked women, and desperate men who opt either for alcoholism or for the material compensations of fighting — and dying — within the separatist ranks. (In the photo, a resident of the Donbass village of Nikishino talks to neighbors outside her destroyed home.) The longer the fighting continues, the less will the Donbass be able to sustain itself and its war-fighting capacity and the less will the separatists be able to create a functioning political entity.
Thursday, May 07, 2015
"Winning" the war in Ukraine