The first offensives to take northern Ukraine ended in bitter failure for Russian President Vladimir Putin, forced to withdraw his troops around kyiv. The master of the Kremlin is reviewing his objectives: the priority is on taking Donbass, a mining region in eastern Ukraine, hoped for before May 9.
For Vladimir Putin, the reasons for seizing the Donbass are multiple and primarily historical. Conquered by the Russian Empire in the second half of the 18th century, the region was incorporated into “New Russia”, a territory stretching from Odessa in the west to Mariupol in the east and as far as Dniepropetrovsk in the north. .
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The Russian ethnicity constitutes a significant minority in this part of Ukraine. At the end of the 19th century, it represented nearly 30% of the population. In the early 2000s, it accounted for nearly 40% of the population of oblasts (administrative regions) of Donetsk and Luhansk. A third region makes up the Donbass: thecounty of Rostov, located in Russia.
Russian speakers also account for almost 75% of the region’s inhabitants, in particular due to the forced Russification carried out by the Soviets during the repopulation which followed the Second World War. It is on this high proportion of Russian speakers that Vladimir Putin relies to accuse – without proof – the Ukrainian army of “genocide” in eastern Ukraine.
A mining basin
Moscow could also see in the conquest of Donbass a formidable economic opportunity in the long term. The region has nearly 2.8 million hectares of arable land, according to the FAO. A major asset, especially in the Russian perspective to strengthen its control over the production and export of wheat – of which 40% of Ukrainian production is located in the eastern regions.
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But the major economic interest of the Donbass remains its underground resources. The region is an important mining basin (Donbass is indeed a contraction meaning “Donets coalfield”) whose coal-fired power plants produce 40% of Ukrainian electricity. The two oblasts in the region produce a third of Ukraine’s coal production.
Since 2014, pro-Russian separatists have been battling the Ukrainian army for control of Donbass in a conflict that is believed to have killed 14,000 people. Vladimir Putin recognized the independence of the two administrative regions of Donetsk and Luhansk as well as the authority of the separatist leaders on February 21. A political offensive prefiguring the start of the military invasion launched three days later.