Unifying the DPR and LPR: Political Reality vs. Ukrainian Propaganda

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December 7, 2016 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Verkhovna Rada deputy and Ukrainian military propagandist Dmitry Tymchuk has stated that the Donetsk People’s Republic’s guard is preparing to be deployed to the Lugansk People’s Republic “to hold operations on unification into a single state formation.” Tymchuk wrote this on his Facebook on December 7th. “Such rumors have been noted among police officers in Donetsk and Gorlovka as well as in several army units of the DPR’s 1st Army Corps,” Tymchuk noted. 

What’s behind this statement: something real or another Ukrainian propaganda action?

Ukrainian tactics center around driving a wedge between opponents. I’ve already written about how Kiev has attempted to drive a wedge between Moscow and Minsk over the course of this November, but suffered defeat in these efforts. Ukraine has declared not only Russia, but Belarus to be its enemy. I think that the same effort could be behind this affair. Tymchuk is an infamous provocateur whose statements are often clumsy. 

Although this tactic is obvious, absolutely no real strategy can be seen in the Ukrainians’ actions on the Donbass front. This is a characteristic of the Ukrainian “stateless” mentality typical of the residents of hamlets and villages, not large cities. Yet another condition is that, amidst a relative lull in the fighting in Donbass, it is especially important for them to “polish” the operations of Ukraine’s punitive troops. Tymchuk’s statement is therefore more of a spectacle for reporting back to the Ukrainian leadership.

Yet, in addition to the propaganda interest of the Ukrainians, there is a quite realistic grain of truth in this issue. I have repeatedly said in interviews that the unification of the DPR and LPR is long overdue. The LPR is a small republic in terms of territory and population and, despite all  huge disadvantages, the experience of statecraft in the DPR has been more successful than in the LPR. 

But unification also has its dangerous sides. It would be very undesirable for such to be taken advantage of by former Ukrainian politicians who see a springboard for their own ambitions in the unification of the Donbass republics. Unification is necessary, but with secure positions for the local Lugansk promotees in the “new, big” republic. 

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I’ve studied Donbass for approximately 12 years and very well know that Lugansk has always feared being absorbed by Donetsk. These fears must be considered and the rights of Lugansk residents negotiated. But the most important, in my opinion, should not be procedural matters, but the creation of a more flexible and decentralized state structure in which a maximum number of rights and opportunities will be afforded to the municipal levels. Alas, this is wishful thinking, especially in times of war and blockade. But overall, the experience of statecraft in the DPR and LPR is a repeat of the experience of the centralized state of Ukraine, albeit to a lesser degree.

If the DPR and LPR will be unified, then this will not happen by dint of guard forces or any armed forces at all. Both republics are brothers in arms and on this account differ from the Ukrainian political scene. In Ukraine, Ukrainians from one branch of government can really shoot at Ukrainians from another branch. For example, there has been a long-standing split between the SBU and Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the army is wary and even hostile towards all structures. Not to mention the more fractional division between parties and hostile camps. 

Of course, opposition groups are present in the Donbass republics, but an armed seizure of power as described in Tymchuk’s statement is impossible. Again, it is difficult to call this a strategy of information war against Donbass, since Ukraine has none at all. The Ukrainians are guided by primitive tactics in which even the slightest, potential discord in the enemy camp is promoted to the maximum.

Psychologically, Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky are quite different as politicians and leaders, or rather are quite opposite. Alexander Zakharchenko, with whom I twice had the opportunity to have extensive contact in October 2014, is a man of great charm and the honor of both an officer and a human. Of course, this does not count out the criticism addressed to him concerning the quality of governance in the DPR, but some of my friends in military circles of the DPR saw him in battles, observed him in difficult operations that he led, and can say that the army, albeit critical of public policy in the DPR, supports him as their own. I would say that this is correct. 

Indeed, there is much more order in the DPR in comparison to neighboring Lugansk, even given the criticism of which there is plenty. In my opinion, Alexander Zakharchenko is the only politician in both republics whose level the others in power don’t measure up to. Add to this that he is a media figure, a person capable of speaking coherently and looking competent on screen. Not a single other leader in the DPR and LPR boasts this talent. Perhaps Andrey Purgin has potential as a politician, but he can only with great reservation called an official figure of the DPR.

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The future will show under what terms and in what forms the unification of the two Donbass republics will be realized. But this unification, in my opinion, is only a matter of time. 

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