Putin Valdai 2017
© Alexander Zemlianichenko, APRussian President Vladimir Putin gestures speaking at a meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.
On October 19th, at a session of the Valdai discussion club, Russian President Vladimir Putin made a number of important and even programmatic statements concerning not only current issues, but also the conceptual foundations of relations between Russia and the West. While these statements deserve a separate, larger article altogether, here we will limit ourselves to analyzing President Putin's statements on the situation in and around Donbass.

According to Putin, Ukraine must grant the Donbass republics a special status and adopt an amnesty law in order to resolve the conflict in East Ukraine. If this is not done, he argued, then any seizure of the border between Russia and the unrecognized republics would lead only to a tragedy comparable to the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina. "There would be a massacre. But we will not allow this," Putin said.

The Russian leader also reiterated that the current situation in Ukraine is none other than the result of the unconstitutional, armed seizure of power in Kiev which was supported by the West.

On October 20th, Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, clarified Putin's statements. The presence of international observers on the border between Russia and Ukraine, Peskov emphasized, would not save the inhabitants of Donbass from the fatal threat posed to them by Kiev. "It is obvious that these observers could be followed by Ukraine's armed forces, and not only them, but also groups of extremists who are well known for their inhumane actions," Peskov said. The Russian President's press secretary most likely had in mind the Ukrainian "volunteer battalions", some of whom, such as Tornado, Donbas, and Aidar, are infamous for mass kidnappings, torture, and the murder of civilians. These groups' ranks include criminals (Aidar, Donbas) and ideologically-motivated Nazis (Azov) from Ukraine, Russia, and Western European countries.

MInsk agreement leaders Ukraine
© WikimediaLeaders of Belarus, Russia, Germany, France, and Ukraine at the February 2015 summit in Minsk
Putin also called on Russia's Western partners to return to the principles and modalities of the Minsk Agreements. Thus, Moscow obviously no longer sees the Kiev regime as a serious and independent party in negotiations. Peskov in particular drew attention to this, reiterating that restoring Ukrainian control over the border is "one of the last points [of the Minsk Agreements]." Indeed, the agreement signed on February 12th, 2015 clearly emphasizes the need for a clear and consistent realization of agreements before any border control can be handled. Only following a complete ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons, complete amnesty, the release of all prisoners of war and political prisoners, and the holding of local elections does the ninth point of the document provide for the transfer of the border controlled by the DPR and LPR to Ukrainian border guards.

As is well known, Ukraine has not fulfilled a single point of the Minsk Agreements, yet it still demands that control over the border be handed over. On this note, Vladimir Putin has very clearly presented for the international community an idea of what would happen if Ukraine were to be given control over the border prematurely and contrary to the provisions of the Minsk Agreements. To this end, he employed an analogy to the events in Srebrenica, the Serbian prisoner of war camp.

I think that this comparison was not made coincidentally. Putin could have brought up the death camps organized by Bosnian Muslims or Croats, but he mentioned none other than Srebrenica. Thus, he sent the boomerang back in the West's direction. After all, it was Western, and mainly American and German media that created and spread the myth of a genocide waged by Bosnian Serbs. This myth was later applied to Kosovo and Metohija as a pretext for the declaration and recognition of independence for the criminal and terrorist "state" of Kosovo. Those familiar with the circumstances of the civil war in Bosnia and Herzegovina know fully well that ethnic cleansing was carried out by all sides of the conflict. The "Srebrenica massacre" is a well known product for consumers of Western media and memes, hence why Putin used it.

Yet there is one inaccuracy in this comparison, which I think President Putin deliberately made. In ethnic and religious-confessional terms, the people of Donbass who are threatened with massacre are no different from the residents of the neighboring regions of Ukraine. Indeed, people fighting in the UAF and Nazi paramilitary groups have Russian names and the DPR is headed by an ethnic Ukrainian, Alexander Zakharchenko. In late June 2014, I even saw a volunteer in the DPR militia from Western Ukraine.

Thus, God forbid, if Ukrainian troops enter Donbass, the ensuing massacre will not be merely ethnic and religious. It will be a genocide against the anti-fascist population as a whole. In my opinion, it would thus be more correct to draw an analogy with the civil war in Spain which led to enormous casualties and even the exodus of part of the population in the face of the atrocities of General Franco's regime. Of course, Russian Donbass is quite different from the Basque country or Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War, but this analogy has some conventionality.

Back in June when I visited frontline cities in the LPR, I heard one local businessman say words which reflect the general opinion of the population of the Lugansk region: "If Ukrainian troops come here, they will massacre everyone." This includes those who have actively supported, founded, and defended the LPR, as well as those who simply couldn't leave their homes to flee the war.

President Putin is perfectly aware of the potential threat of a Ukrainian genocide against Donbass. Therefore, his message was aimed not only at the West, which is lobbying for border control to be handed over to Ukraine in violation of the Minsk Agreements, but also to Ukraine itself. Russia, as Putin said, will not allow the population of Donbass to be massacred. Poroshenko will be remembered as a Ukrainian Pinochet, not a Ukrainian Franco.