People’s Republics: Summating the Donbass Socio-Political and Economic Experience – Part 2

0 178

April 27, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by Jafe Arnold – 

The People’s Council of the DPR votes to declare independence in April 2014

Continued from Part 1 

The Formation of the DPR and LPR’s Political Party Systems: Between the Russian Spring and Ukrainian Statehood Experience

The birth of the people’s republics of Donbass took place under the banner of an ideological construct which was christened the “Russian Spring” (mimicking the “Arab Spring”) in the works of Moscow publicists. Skipping over the fact that this term does not fit the situation in Donbass (the young and growing population of the Arab Middle East vs. the old and declining population of Donbass), it is impossible not to recognize the immense mobilizing importance of this term at the initial stage of the movement. 

The popular movement in Donbass began under slogans proclaiming the construction of a Russian state and/or socially just state. A most wide spectrum of socio-political forces supporting Donbass – from radical Russian nationalists and monarchists to left communists and anarchists – was united by a common rejection of Ukrainian neo-Nazism and the distinct characteristics of Ukrainian statehood such as bureaucratization, ultra-centralism, corruption, and oligarchic dictatorship. In the protest portion of their program, the Donbass popular movement’s activists declared solidarity with the slogans of the Euromaidan which dreamed of burying the “old” Ukrainian state. The “Revolution of Dignity” (the official name employed in Ukraine for the Euromaidan) ended in the complete collapse of all hopes, which even the most ardent supporters of the Euromaidan are now forced to admit. But what brought victory to the Russian Spring and the republics of Donbass?

On April 7th, 2014, the People’s Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic was established which declared itself to be the highest authority in the republic. The body consisted of around 70 people elected through co-opting a deputy from either a local labor collective or municipal social organization (depending on the size of the population) who thus became the representative of their city or district in the DPR’s highest organ of power. All the municipal organizations of the former Donetsk region (with the exception of the repressive organs that were actively loyal to the new Kiev regime, i.e., the Ministry of Internal Affairs and SBU) were represented in the DPR’s People’s Council. A significant part of the People’s Council consisted of existing deputies from city and district councils, i.e., people elected to local organs of power and possessing municipal experience. In addition to this group, the DPR’s People’s Council co-opted representatives of labor collectives and social organizations operating in the municipalities. 

Thus, at the emerging stage of its statehood, the DPR and LPR realized the basic principle of popular sovereignty which found reflection in naming the republics “people’s republics.”

The deputies of the People’s Council carried out the main portion of the work on drafting the DPR Constitution and preparing the referendum on independence. On April 7th, 2014, the council issued the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Act on State Independence of the Donetsk People’s Republic. 

Despite increased political, informational, and military pressure and provocations, a referendum was held in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions which asked the question: “Do you support the Act on the Independence of the DPR/LPR?” In the Donetsk region, 89.7% of voters said “yes”, while 10.19% of the region’s residents voted against self-determination and .74% of ballots were recognized as invalid. Turnout was 74.87%. 

“Referendum May 11th [2014]: YES for the Republic! For Novorossiya! For Donbass!”

In the Lugansk region, independence was supported by 96.2% of voters and opposed by 3.8%, with a total turnout of 81%. The referenda essentially legitimized what would become the second party to the inter-Ukrainian conflict, the People’s Republics, which opposed the illegal government in Kiev on ideological, political, and military grounds. On May 14th, the People’s Council of the DPR was transformed into the Supreme Council of the DPR consisting of 150 deputies (although the actual number was lower). Following the referendum, ministries and departments began to be formed, and on May 14th, 2014, the Constitution of the DPR was adopted.[3] 

Elections to the constituent composition of the People’s Council of the Donetsk People’s Republic were held with observance of all democratic procedures, whereas the same could not be said about the extraordinary Ukrainian presidential elections held on May 25th, 2014, which were marked by gross procedural violations. The lack of equal competitive terms in the media and electoral commissions, and intimidation and violence against the candidates and voters of the “South-East” made the Ukrainian election campaign into sham democratic elections. 

Social organizations became an important source for forming the DPR and LPR’s administrative apparatus and political class. In certain areas of the LPR and to a lesser extent in the DPR, a decisive role was played by Cossacks, primarily those tied to the non-registered (social, not state-subordinated) Cossacks of the Don. The leader of this military-political group was the famous field commander, Pavel Dremov. Plans for a “Stakhanov Cossack Republic” are attributed to him. (The headquarters of the Ataman Platov 6th Separate Motorized Infantry Cossack Regiment of the LPR’s People’s Militia, which counted upwards of 2000 men, was located in Stakhanov). 

At the initial stage of the republics’ existence, charismatic local leaders (P. Dremov in Stakhanov, I. Bezler in Gorlovka, I. Strelkov in Slavyansk, A. Mozgovoy in Alchevsk, etc.) were essentially unaccountable to the republican leadership in Donetsk and Lugansk. The political leaders of the DPR and LPR (at that time D. Pushilin and V. Bolotov respectively) did not enjoy prestige in military circles.

At the first stage, under the banner of the Russian Spring, the formation and development of the Donbass republics unfolded along the principle of popular rule with great importance attached to local self-government or literally “authority on the ground.” In some cases, local authorities operated according to the laws of “military democracy” (for example, in P. Dremov’s “Cossack Republic”). This process had a downside which became apparent after the outbreak of the war. “Military democracy” often transformed into anarchy and a form of control by armed groups over certain territories and their local population. Meanwhile, the introduction of elementary order and security as well as improving the efficiency of armed forces demanded that the numerous militia brigades be transformed into a regular armed forces subordinate to a centralized command. 

The process of centralizing armed groups thus affected both the military and civilian spheres. According to mid-level representatives of the DPR military command surveyed by us as well as civilian experts in both republics, this process can overall be considered to have been a success. Even the Ukrainian Armed Forces, “volunteer battalions”, and Western military experts have noted the improved manageability of the DPR and LPR’s armed forces. Like any complex social process, transforming the militia into a regular army did not take place without certain costs. For instance, experts have noted a decline in DPR and LPR soldiers’ ideological motivation and an increasing percentage of opportunists who serve merely for wages and privileges. 

The armed forces of the DPR and LPR are currently the most important social institution whose political role does not correspond to their actual status. If the desire for a representative of the military can be seen in the leader of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, a veteran of the Donetsk Oplot brigade, then in the LPR, since Ataman Pavel Dremov’s death, the military has been essentially deprived of representation in the supreme organs of power and political influence. 

The republics have since developed their own organs of power and political party systems bearing a pronounced specificity. First and foremost, all Ukrainian parties were banned from operating on the republics’ territory, a decision motivated by Ukrainian parties’ agreement to work in the Verkhovna Rada after the February 2014 coup, a move which legitimized the new Kiev government and “Anti-Terrorist Operation.”

- Advertisement -

In the DPR, two real political forces formed which are represented in parliament. First, there is the Donetsk Republic social movement, which was founded by Andrey Purgin and then transformed into a party under the same name and is currently headed by the DPR leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, and People’s Council Chairman Denis Pushilin. The second party, or rather conglomerate of parties and movements, is Free Donbass. the programmatic differences between the two parties represented in the People’s Council of the DPR are minimal. 

“The Donetsk Republic social movement”

“The Free Donbass social movement – A Land of Justice”

Two parties have also taken shape in the LPR, namely, the Peace for Lugansk movement, which is headed by the republics’ head, Igor Plotnitsky, and the Lugansk Economic Union. These political forces are active outside of the halls of parliament as well. Peace for Lugansk’s ideologues have proudly proclaimed a surge in the movement’s ranks, which number 87,500.[4] According to one of the movement’s leaders, the movement’s main ideological goals are fighting fascism and uniting the Russian World. 

“Peace for Lugansk”

A conference of the Lugansk Economic Union

Such a two-party system allows its leaders to rather stably control the political process in the republics. While communist ideas are popular among the Donbass population and the communist parties in the DPR and LPR could count on electoral support, in the conditions of a semi-wartime situation, the current leadership of the republics is not interested in creating a highly competitive political party environment. However, the “parties of power” themselves are increasingly resembling the banned Party of Regions, of which many of them are actually clones.

The high percentage of the new “party of power’s” representation in the managerial staff of both republics includes former functionaries of the Party of Regions. Over the course of our interviews with experts, almost all respondents noted a disturbing trend: the de-facto return of the Party of Regions and Ukrainian officialdom to the DPR and LPR’s political and administrative structures along with a deepening separation between the management class and the population. The former Regionalists occupy an increasing number of places not only in administrative organs, but also in the DPR and LPR’s party structures. This is the same process which Trotsky defined as the “bureaucratization of a backwards and isolated workers’ state and the transformation of the bureaucracy into an all-powerful privileged caste.”

Awareness of this ongoing process can even be gleaned from the official publications of the DPR and LPR. On January 14th, 2017, DPR head Alexander Zakharchenko “delivered a harsh ultimatum to unscrupulous leaders”, promising to personally oversee the work of the Donetsk Republic movement’s public receptions. His statement voiced a hard-hitting assessment of the activities of the “party of power” which has turned from a “liaison between the government and people” into a bureaucratic obstacle. Zakharchenko also highlighted an increase in the number of complaints from the population over the work of the Donetsk Republic movement.[5] 

After the coup in Kiev, Ukrainian customs officers (one of the single most corrupt clusters of public servants in Ukraine) supported the new Kiev government and subsequently fled to Ukraine after the fighting started in Donbass. By the summer of 2015, however, they returned en masse to their service places, and customs offices in the DPR and LPR came to be staffed mainly by Ukrainian customs officers loyal to the Kiev government. The same applies to the leadership of the customs departments in the LPR. The high percentage of Ukrainian public servants that have returned to Donbass following the Minsk Agreements have settled into the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Ministry of State Security structures. Absurd cases are known in which graduates of Ukraine’s SBU academy born in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions have returned to their places of residence in Donbass to work for the state security ministries of the DPR and LPR. Ukrainian officials have likewise penetrated civilian agencies in the DPR and LPR, the only exception in this regard being the People’s Militia in the DPR and LPR which fulfills the functions of a defense ministry.

In some of the DPR and LPR’s government agencies, returning Ukrainian officials are already predominant, especially in tax and levy ministries which are particularly “ripe” for corruption. Fiscal functions are thus being carried out by specialists whose loyalty to the Donbass republics is in the very least questionable. It is only natural that in the opinion of interviewed representatives of the DPR’s business circles, all information on Donbass business activity is instantly known in Kiev. 

Simultaneously with the return of Ukrainian officialdom to the political and administrative structures of the DPR and LPR, veterans of the movement for establishing the People’s Republics have been increasingly politically marginalized. Of the first members of the People’s Council and Supreme Council of the DPR, only a handful retain any significant posts in the political and administrative spheres. The Party of Regions, which lost the battle to supporters of establishing the DPR and LPR in spring 2014, is now consistently regaining its lost positions in a “cadre counter-revolution.”

Influential but informal institutions are also present alongside the DPR and LPR’s formal administrative and political elites. An especially significant and even decisive role in the Donbass region is still played by the oligarchs. This role has far from disappeared from the region’s economic life. It is well known that the Party of Regions was the political institution of the Donetsk financial-industrial oligarchy in post-Soviet Ukraine. In the Donetsk region and DPR, the “king of Donbass,” the oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, retains particular relevance. Akhmetov’s “private armies”, according to some accounts, even supported Russian Spring activists in Donetsk. With regards to the situation in the Lugansk region, one can speak of a behind-the-scenes role reserved for the oligarch Alexander Efremov (the head of the Party of Regions’ faction in Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada from 2010-2014, and the leader of the party’s Lugansk regional organization).

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000}
p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 11.0px Helvetica; -webkit-text-stroke: #000000; min-height: 13.0px}
span.s1 {font-kerning: none}

De-oligarchization is currently underway in the Donbass republics, but this campaign has so far acquired only rather vague contours. It affects not only the economic sphere, but also political and social relations, to which we now turn in the next part of our article.

Continued in Part 3 


[3] Украина: война с собственным народом. Доклад Московского бюро по правам человека. 19/05/2014  // URL: 


p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 26.0px; font: 17.0px Helvetica}
p.p2 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; line-height: 26.0px; font: 17.0px Helvetica; min-height: 20.0px}
span.Apple-tab-span {white-space:pre}


Subscribe to our newsletter
Sign up here to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly to your inbox.

Get real time updates directly on you device, subscribe now.