Donbass People’s Republics: Ceasefire and class struggle

A ceasefire agreement signed in Minsk, Belarus, on Sept. 5, under the auspices of the Trilateral Contact Group, went into effect at 6 p.m. local time. The parties to the agreement were the governments of Ukraine and the Russian Federation and the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The document was also signed by Alexander Zakharchenko and Igor Plotnitskiy, heads of state of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, although they were not listed in the preamble among the parties that “reached an understanding with respect to the need to implement the steps.”

The 12-point agreement came two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a seven-point peace plan following consultations with Ukraine’s President Peter Poroshenko on how to end the civil war in the Donbass region, formerly a part of southeastern Ukraine.

Among the main features of the agreement: a bilateral ceasefire in Donbass, to be monitored by the OSCE; an exchange of prisoners; a Law on Special Status “With respect to the temporary status of local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and the Lugansk regions” and early elections to be held there; an amnesty “in connection with events that took part in certain areas of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine;” and measures for the economic revival of Donbass. (The complete text in English is available at

Some major U.S. and European media dismissed the agreement as a Russian maneuver. Many expressed skepticism that the ceasefire would hold, while others hailed it as a “framework for peace” and the beginning of the end of Ukraine’s civil war.

Yet within 24 hours after the ceasefire took effect, Ukrainian military forces had violated the agreement at least 10 times, according to the People’s Republics. Artillery shelling continued around Donetsk city, Schastye, Pervomayskaya and Kyrovsk.

In Mariupol, a key city of southern Donetsk that people’s militias were poised to liberate before the ceasefire, Ukrainian forces targeted the resistance with missile launchers. Additional Ukrainian troops moved into the city, along with units of the National Guard, composed of hardcore fascists in uniform — the backbone of the U.S.-backed junta in Kiev.

Things remained quiet in the Lugansk region, with many refugees returning home. Barricades were removed from the capital city’s streets, and people claimed their dead. (Journalist Graham Phillips via Twitter)

Meanwhile, there were reports of battered Ukrainian military units being “rotated out” and fresh reinforcements sent into Donbass, along with new and heavier weaponry provided by NATO — from 32 tanks in Debaltseve to several ballistic missile systems in Artemivsk.

For the anti-fascist forces, Donetsk military Commander Igor Bezler warned, “The Kiev junta used the first day of ceasefire to regroup and reorganize forces, and then resumed military operations.”? Deputy Defense Minister Pavel Skakun added: “From past experience we know that Kiev uses every war break for regrouping forces. We would have been very surprised if it had not happened this time.” (InSerbia News, Sept. 7)

A breathing spell for Kiev?

Many in Donbass, from militia commanders to the rank and file, are questioning the rationale for the ceasefire. Others, like “Ghost” Battalion Commander Alexey Mosgovoi, are outraged. Why now, they ask, and why on these terms?

Of course, an end to the Ukrainian junta’s attacks on civilians, even a partial and temporary one, is welcome. On Sept. 8, the U.N. Committee on Human Rights reported that 3,000 people have died in the fighting since April. Many believe the true number of causalities to be 10 times that.

But after two long summer months of bloody siege by the junta’s forces, the people’s militias were ready to take the offensive. They were liberating towns and villages that had been brutally occupied by the Ukrainian army and National Guard.

Kiev’s terrorist offensive was broken and its troops were in disarray, with many defecting or surrendering. Doesn’t the ceasefire agreement amount to little more than giving the junta a desperately needed “breathing spell” to reorganize and rearm?

Further, the agreement as written offers no recognition of the independence or even long-term autonomy for the Donbass region. And it suggests that it will remain within the political framework of Ukraine, despite the May 11 referenda in which voters overwhelmingly chose to establish the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, now united in the political entity of Novorossia.

At a time when the imperialist-backed junta was on the defensive, perhaps even near total collapse, why an agreement where most of the concessions seem to be coming from the resistance — and on the most fundamental issues?

Russia’s contradictory role

It is widely understood that the agreement was the Russian government’s initiative. It was timed to coincide with and offer a counterpoint to the belligerent NATO summit meeting in Wales. There, Washington led the charge for the formation of a “rapid strike force” and new sanctions aimed at Russia, new NATO bases in Scandinavia and, of course, more and bigger weapons for the Kiev regime.

Despite the ceasefire agreement, President Obama vowed to push ahead with sanctions against Russia. And NATO is moving forward with provocative war games in Latvia, the Black Sea and even near Lviv in western Ukraine.

Russia is, of course, well within its rights to take any measures needed to defend itself from NATO imperialism and create dissension between Washington and its European Union allies. In any conflict between Moscow and Washington, anti-imperialists stand for the defeat of U.S. imperialism.

The Russian capitalist class aspires to an independent role on the world stage, and that makes it a threat in the eyes of Wall Street. And from Syria to BRICS to Ukraine, Russian President Putin has found himself forced to counter U.S. hegemony.

But for workers and oppressed people who support the revolutionary developments in Donbass and the socialist ambitions of the people there, it is important to remember that Russia is a capitalist state, ruled by its own oligarchy, which Putin represents. Within Russia, Putin has carried out severe repression against the communist left and workers’ movements.

Russia’s goals and aspirations in the struggle against a pro-fascist, pro- NATO Ukraine on its border may overlap with those of the antifascist, working-class-rooted struggle in Donbass, but they are not the same.

Increasingly, Moscow has demonstrated its willingness to reach a compromise that leaves the far-right junta in power and Donbass under the rule of local oligarchs viewed as more friendly to Russia.

Further, it is apparent that the Russian government would not welcome a revolution on its doorstep that is moving in the direction of socialism — especially given the enormous amount of solidarity with Donbass, rooted in Soviet-era internationalism, among the Russian masses.

Donbass leadership changes

In mid-August, during the most difficult days of the siege, the entire top leadership of the Donetsk and Lugansk people’s governments resigned or was replaced, including former Donetsk Defense Minister Igor Strelkov, who commanded enormous respect as the leader of the people’s militias.

During the siege of Slavyangrad last spring — where Strelkov took personal command — he challenged Moscow’s international diplomatic maneuvers by demanding arms and troops to defend the population.

It has also been reported that Strelkov squelched a possible deal on the future status of Donbass between Moscow and Mariupol-based oligarch Rinat Akhmetov when he withdrew the militia from Slavyangrad in early July to bolster the defense of Donetsk city.

Among those who resigned or were replaced were those like Strelkov, who stood for the slogan “To Kiev!” which signaled the overthrow of the junta, and former Lugansk leader Valery Bolotov, who openly favored nationalization of industry.

This should not be read as a condemnation of the new leadership, reportedly local activists of good standing. What role they will ultimately play remains to be seen.

But these changes in leadership were the prelude to Russia’s decision to move ahead with its humanitarian aid convoy in August. The flow of humanitarian aid and Russia’s political support were crucial to the militia’s ability to break the junta’s siege.

Here the contradiction between capitalist Russia and the revolutionary state-in-formation in Donbass and other areas of Southeast Ukraine becomes inescapable.

Novorossia needs Russian solidarity and assistance. But if it is to be anything other than a temporary, unstable buffer zone, then the workers and their militia will have to transcend whatever brakes Putin and the Russian oligarchs attempt to put on their struggle.

They will need to take popular measures to empower the workers and appeal to the Russian and Ukrainian masses, while striving to maintain a strong anti-fascist, anti-imperialist united front.

Colonel Cassad, a communist military analyst based in Crimea, has written an important analysis, “About the ‘Truce.’ ” (English translation at

It reads in part: “Despite the political truce, the war as such continues, because the logic of the conflict demands its resolution by military means. The inertia of war triggered new firefights, shelling, and combat. At the same time the junta openly and publicly demonstrates that it uses this ‘ceasefire’ for accumulating forces and for preparing a new offensive.

“The USA looks at this approvingly, because the military solution of the problem of Novorossia and the final defeat of Russia in the fight for Ukraine [are] among its national interests. It is absolutely irrelevant what will be the state of the junta — while it remains in power, it will be used against the Russian Federation. The suffering of the population, victims among soldiers, destroying the infrastructure — from the point of view of the USA, all of this is just insignificant collateral damage.

“So, from the military point of view, only a complete destruction of the fascist junta is the best guarantee for ending the war.” n