Together, civil society of Ukraine, Russia and the EU are working to create a “Map of the Conflict Actors in Donbas”

On May 28, 2020, an expert discussion took place on a large-scale document “The Map of the Conflict Actors in Donbas” prepared in cooperation with the CivilM+ Platform.

It has taken about two years to collect information about those involved in the armed conflict in Donbas. The experts from the “Democracy House” have drafted this ambitious document which nevertheless covers only a part of the whole spectrum of the actors. In parallel, other experts have written several self-standing publications on the matter. The process was led by Olena Zakharova, the Head of the NGO “Ideas of Change”.

“The purpose of our work on the “Map of the Conflict Actors” is to define the range of interests and influences, as well as the relations between individual actors at different levels, in order to be able to develop a strategy of the civil society action in the process of peaceful conflict resolution and for dealing with its consequences,” explained Zakharova.

The “Map of the Conflict Actors” is a brief informational and analytical review of the positions, interests and actions of officials, political parties, organizations, and other actors. All of them, in this or that way, have a role to play in resolving the Russian-Ukrainian armed conflict in Donbas. The review covers four groups of actors: Ukrainian actors, Russian actors, quasi-state formations “DPR” and “LPR”, and international actors.

Before the publication becomes available for the public, it was presented to independent experts: historians, political scientists, human rights defenders from Ukraine, Russia, and the EU. The experts highly appreciated the work that had been done and supported its continuation, including in an interactive online format.

To complete their work on the current first volume of the review, the authors received a number of recommendations. During the online meeting, the participants also discussed the possibility of using the “Map of the Conflict Actors” in advocacy work, as well as to increase the influence of civil society on the political processes related to the war in Donbas.

Two external experts have made a thorough review of the document, Mr. Alexander Morozov, political scientist and researcher at the Boris Nemtsov Academic Center for Russian Studies at Charles University (Prague, Czech Republic), and Wilfried Jilge, historian, Associate Fellow at the German Foreign Policy Council/DGAP (Berlin, Germany).

“The important work has been done, and I have read it with great interest. The publication fulfills an ambitious task: to cover the entire spectrum of actors [involved in or influencing the situation in Donbas], including those holding insignificant positions today, but with big institutional potential. What I would add to this description is a playbook, i.e. the analysis of how this or that side acts, what tools it uses,” summed up Alexander Morozov.

Wilfried Jilge stressed the importance of the section about the actors from the self-proclaimed “DPR”/”LPR” (certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions that are not controlled by the government of Ukraine) because there is a lack of reliable and complete information about them in the European discourse. Jilge also suggested issuing a separate paper within the project “The Map of the Conflict” on the role of civil society in Ukraine since 2014:

“It is important to reflect on what has or has not been done. CivilM+ is a civil society. We need a detailed analysis of the resources and capacities of civil society, as well as of the new actors who emerged in the civic and political sectors, including in regional politics, in 2014. It is also necessary to analyze political and systemic factors that may limit the activities of the CSOs and hinder the change of elites in Donbas. Understanding of these processes will enable CivilM+ to continue to effectively support the influence of civil society in the region and to strengthen the influence of the independent civic actors on the course of the complex negotiations”.

Valerii Novikov, the Head of Luhansk Regional Human Rights Centre “Alternatyva” stressed thе importance of developing contacts with actors in the territory that is temporarily not controlled by the government.

“Now is the time to establish contacts with those actors in this territory who have the potential of being influential, reliable and legitimate. Among those several million residents, we should look for people who can share credible information about life under occupation and build the dialogue gradually. Through dialogue, people learn more about the post-conflict stage and at some point, this network of contacts can have a positive impact on reintegration”.

Associate Professor at the University of Paris Nanterre (France), sociologist Julia Shukan suggested expanding the section with the actors in the Ukrainian Parliament. In particular, to add information on the human rights and reintegration committees.

“It is also important to note and consider the positions and actions of those members of parliament who were elected from Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the first-past-the-post basis. We also need to know and consider the representatives of local authorities, heads and other officials of military-civil administrations. Often, they are opinion leaders and have the authority,” said Shukan.

Several experts stressed the importance of a detailed representation of Russian actors in the overview. First, to demonstrate the role and responsibility of the Russian Federation in starting and continuing the conflict in Donbas. Second, to facilitate the search for actors who are willing and available to cooperate to advance the agenda of peace, both in relation to Donbas and to the region as a whole. Third, it is important to go beyond the simplified paradigm that “one person in the Kremlin decides everything”.

“Of course, Putin’s position is decisive in this matter and the conflict resolution is blocked in the Kremlin. Yet, Russia does have a few independent media outlets, groups in social media with thousands of followers, political scientists and experts with different views, and human rights defenders. Also, few officials hold a position that is different from that of the Kremlin’s. Yes, they are very few, but they are there. We, as independent civil society activists, have to have a good understanding of who can be our interlocutors in Russia and pay very serious attention to this matter,” said Stefan Melle, the Head of the German NGO DRA.

Alexander Morozov also suggested showing the position of Russian media [as one of the actors]:

“…institutions in Russia are weak and subordinate to the Kremlin, but in Russia, media fulfill the role of the parties. We need to see them as actors. Some of them adhere to the Kremlin’s positions on the [conflict] resolution, but there are also those in opposition. Popular Russian media have different views on the Minsk process”.

The mode of operations within the CivilM+ Platform allows to involve experts from different countries in the analysis. This, in turn, makes it possible to analyze the situation around the conflict in Donbas from various perspectives and in different aspects. Also, the joint work on the “Map of the Conflict Actors” enables experts to share knowledge and engage in a dialogue about the conflict resolution, to find entry points to influence its peaceful resolution.

The CivilM+ Platform will continue implementing a project on mapping the actors of the conflict in Donbas and is open for cooperation with experts from Ukraine, Russia and the European Union. Such cooperation may take the following forms: writing analytical publications on individual actors; conducting peer review of analytical publications; participation in the development of a methodology and in expert discussions of analytical papers; organization of discussions/presentations of the “Map of the Actors of the Conflict” in their respective communities; participation in working on the digital version of the map. If you are interested in joining our pool of experts, please contact the head of the subproject, Ms. Olena Zakharova, at ole.zakharova@gmail.com.