Malorossiya: Between Virtual Strategy and Political Future – Part 2


July 28, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

Continued from Part 1

The news of Malorossiya from Donetsk indeed caused a storm, and not only in Ukraine. Both Berlin and Paris voiced negative views on the resolution, and Kiev, of course, promised to destroy Malorossiya. In Russia, whereas the idea has been welcomed with enthusiastic support by the public, very many in ruling circles have reacted to the declaration of Malorossiya with great caution. 

Russia’s special envoy to the Minsk negotiations, Boris Gryzlov, has claimed that the project is inconsistent with the Minsk Agreements. On the other hand, in Grzylov’s opinion, everything fits into place if this project is considered an element of information war. To build on Gryzlov’s assessment, allow us to recall that Ukraine is constantly on the attack in demanding that Minsk 2 be abandoned, the Anti-Terrorist Operation Zone be ended, and martial law be imposed instead. In this sense, the declaration of Malorossiya can be seen as a verbal, information offensive. 

Russia’s special envoy to the Minsk talks, Boris Gryzlov

The Russian President’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, has offered an evasive yet concise response to Zakharchenko’s Malorossiya initiative. “For now I’ll leave this topic without comment. It is subject to interpretation,” the Kremlin’s spokesman said.

Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov

On July 19th, the Russian President’s aide responsible for the administration’s Ukraine policy, Vladislav Surkov, held a meeting with experts at which he offered his appraisal of the initiative. What we know of this is thanks to the head of the Center for Current Policy, Aleksey Chesnakov, who participated in the meeting. Chesnakov quotes Surkov for RIA Novosti as saying: “All of this ‘hype’ over the imaginary state of Malorossiya is overall healthy. The main thing here is that Donbass is fighting not for secession from Ukraine, but for the latter’s integrity – for all of Ukraine, not for part of it. A civil war is raging in Ukraine between people who see the country’s future differently.” Chesnakov further quotes the president’s aide: “Ideological war, in which slogans and utopias confront one another, is part of any war. Kiev has its Eurotopia. Donetsk is responding with its idea of Malorossiya. Broad inter-Ukrainian discussion is flaring up in which can be seen the different levels of organization, argumentation, and IQ of the disputing parties.” 

Presidential aide Vladislav Surkov

Overall, the Russian elite’s attitude towards the Malorossiya project has been characterized by restraint and detachment. Yet at the same time, we believe that the theory that the Malorossiya project is merely Zakharchenko’s private initiative is unrealistic. Some Russian agencies probably support the project, but, as can be seen, they are not decisive when it comes to Russian policy in the former Ukraine. 

Even more surprising is the sharp criticism that this act has been met with in the neighboring Lugansk People’s Republic and even the Donetsk People’s Republic’s own ruling circles. For instance, the Chairman of the People’s Council of the LPR, Vladimir Degtyarenko, has claimed: “The Lugansk People’s Republic did not send its official delegates to Donetsk to participate in the meeting of representatives of Ukraine’s regions. Moreover, we were not even aware of the intention to hold this event and this issue was not agreed upon with us.” Degtyarenko also stressed that “at the moment, the feasibility of such a step is questionable” insofar as “such decisions can only be made upon taking into account the opinion of the people. Moreover, we are currently observing the Minsk Agreements, to which there is no alternative.”

Chairman of the People’s Council of the LPR, Vladimir Degtyarenko

The LPR’s envoy to the Minsk negotiations, Vladislav Deynego, has also claimed that the establishment of the new state of Malorossiya is “untimely”. Deynego was supported in his statement by his Donetsk colleague, the speaker of the People’s Council of the DPR and representative of the republic to the Minsk group, Denis Pushilin. The latter has complained that the People’s Council of the DPR did not participate in the initiative’s deliberation. The criticism voiced of the Malorossiya project in both the DPR and LPR speaks to the Peoples’ Republics’ different approaches and reflects an ideological and political struggle within the ruling institutions of the DPR and LPR. 

This is an indirect confirmation of the fact that Malorossiya was “invented” in Donetsk, not Moscow. Otherwise, both Donbass republics would have acted as a united front and jointly upheld the project. 

LPR envoy to the Minsk talks, Vladislav Deynego

DPR People’s Council Speaker and Envoy to the Minsk talks, Denis Pushilin

Several days ago I managed to meet with a group of representatives of social and political circles in the LPR to discuss the news of Malorossiya in depth. Their overall assessment of the project was cautiously supportive. At the same time, however, very critical remarks were heard. While basically agreeing with the idea of proclaiming Malorossiya, my Lugansk colleagues pointed to the weak level of the congress’ organization and the fact that its basic issues have not been analytically thought through. Allow me to present two of their most important points of criticism.

Firstly, no representatives of the LPR were invited to the congress, and the republic first learned of the proclamation of Malorossiya from media reports. This is a strange occurrence given that the DPR and LPR have always acted as a united front and shared information of a military and political nature. 

LPR head Igor Plotnitsky 

Secondly, and most importantly, the people of the LPR (and probably the DPR as well) do not want to return to being part of Ukraine, even under the name “Malorossiya.” In the republics of Donbass, which are virtually daily subjected to bombardments by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Ukrainian economic blockade, attitudes towards Ukraine can be summed up in a simple word – “hatred.” Thus, it is more than understandable why the population does not and will not want to live with Ukrainians in one state. Zakharchenko’s decision to establish Malorossiya without consulting the peoples of the DPR and LPR has thus been perceived as an adventure and violation of democratic principles.

Critical remarks on the Malorossiya project have also been voiced by my long-standing partners in Donetsk political circles. These friends of mine are veterans of the founding of the DPR and have treated the proclamation of the Constitutional Act of Malorossiya as a concession to Ukraine and violation of the basic decision of the republic’s people expressed in the referendum on May 11th, 2014. On that day, more than 90% of residents of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions voted for independence from Ukraine and supported the creation of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

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The criticisms of the Donetsk congress and the act of proclamation of Malorossiya have very serious grounds. In certain critical articles on the topic, attention has been drawn to such being a contradiction of the Minsk Agreements. In my opinion, however – and I agree with Minister Timofeev – these contradictions are only illusory, as the proclamation of Malorossiya in fact violates not the Minsk Agreements, but the results of the popular plebiscite – the highest manifestation of democracy – of May 11th, 2014. If in May 2014 the people of Donbass almost unanimously voted for secession from Nazi-oligarchical Ukraine (in the Lugansk region, for instance, 96% voted for such), then in July 2017 such a manifestation of popular will has been faced with the declaration of becoming part of Malorossiya, i.e., Ukraine without Nazis and oligarchs. 

Does this notable aspect of the Malorossiya project put the popular, democratic essence of Donbass’ self-determination into question? How should the People’s Republics use their popular mandate to shape the future of Donbass and Ukraine? In the third part of our article, we will address these burning questions and present our own considerations on the future statehood of decaying Ukraine and unbroken Donbass. 

Continued in Part 3

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