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Russia to withdraw from Donbas in 2018, Ukraine deputy minister says

The Russian government will withdraw from Donbas in 2018, Yuriy Hrymchak, the deputy minister of the occupied territories and internally displaced persons, told Ukrainian television on Aug. 9. The process of Russian withdrawal was delayed by the trade blockade on Donbas, he said, which was imposed by activists in February and later adopted by the Ukrainian government. As a result of the blockade, the Ukrainian budget “didn’t receive some rather serious money,” he said, estimated that it cost 1.5% in GDP growth.


The Russian government may decide to attempt “a last fight for Ukraine” in November, Hrymchak said. “That’s when (Russia) will try to activate everything that it has to destabilize the situation in Ukraine in order to not withdraw” from Donbas, he said. 


Zenon Zawada: Time is slowly but surely working against the Russian government as economic sanctions continue to mount. Sooner or later, Putin will have to decide whether to withdraw from Donbas, or mount an offensive. Hrymchak’s estimate of November for such an offensive is entirely possible, but we give the odds at no better than 50/50. At the same time, Putin could decide that he’ll have better chances to collapse the Ukrainian government during the 2019 elections. Putin could also decide to abide by the Minsk Accords, the fulfillment of which will also work in Russia’s interests in destabilizing Ukraine.


If Putin does withdraw from Donbas in 2018, it will mark the beginning of the decline in his support among the Russian public, as well as the oligarch class. Again, we view the odds at no better than 50/50 since Putin desperately doesn’t want to lose power. Though no one can predict what Putin will do in Donbas, we are certain he will not withdraw from Crimea. Therefore, while some sanctions may eventually be removed in relation to Donbas (depending on what Putin decides), another set will remain in place in relation to the Crimean occupation. Which means that withdrawing from Donbas alone won’t solve his problems.
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