Rostov Monument Signals Shift in Russia’s Donbass Policy


October 17, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by Jafe Arnold – 

On Monday, October 16th, the first monument in Russia dedicated to volunteer fighters in Donbass from both Russia and other countries was unveiled in Rostov-on-Don. The “To the Heroes of Donbass” monument’s unveiling ceremony was held in the central Ostrovsky Park and was timed to match up with the third congress of the Union of Donbass Volunteers. 

The location of this monument is noteworthy. The Rostov region borders the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, and it was Rostov-on-Don that became the first major hub through which the Donbass People’s Republics received humanitarian aid and volunteers. 

As federal media have reported, the ceremony was attended by the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, Vladimir Putin’s aide, Vladislav Surkov, and the head of the Rostov-on-Don city administration, Vitaly Kushnarev. “Today is a remarkable day for the city of Rostov-on-Don. We are opening a memorial in honor of those people who, at the cost of their lives, proved that the Russian World can be saved. On behalf of the city administration and Rostov’s residents, I want to thank you for everything that you’ve done to save the Russian World,” Kushnarev said before those gathered. 

Alexander Boroday (first Prime Minister of the DPR), Alexander Zakharchenko (current DPR head), and Vladislav Surkov (aide to President Putin) at the ceremony. 

This was the official facet of the event. But now let’s talk about the “unofficial” part.

As far as I can remember, this is the first such case in which the head of the administration of a city with a million-strong population has openly praised the values of the Russian World and called Donbass volunteers defenders of such. Such statements, and such a high-profile monument ceremony, are unthinkable without approval from Moscow. 

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One can expect a fury of protest to come from Ukraine’s foreign ministry and General Consulate in Rostov-on-Don. In fact, an information campaign against the monument has apparently already been launched. A number of mocking and frankly absurd comments on the monument have already appeared on city and regional media portals. The majority of them, in my opinion, are the work of the Ukrainian diaspora and organizations whose aim is to discredit the volunteer movement in Russia.

Also indicative of the importance of this event was the presence of Alexander Zakharchenko, whom the whole world sees as the leader of Donbass. In my opinion, this event can be seen as a sign of the possibility of uniting both Donbass republics or, more likely, as a political step towards establishing “Greater Donbass,” i.e., the liberation of the Ukrainian-occupied lands of the DPR and LPR (and perhaps even the regions of Novorossiya). Zakharchenko might have already begun preparing himself for this role. 

The most interesting of all, however, is the presence at this “separatist” ceremony of the political heavyweight and Putin aide, Vladislav Surkov, who is known to usually hang back in the shadows. The fact that Surkov participated in the monument’s unveiling is, in my opinion, evidence that Russia is gradually transitioning towards a more active, offensive Donbass policy. This is somewhat of a protracted reaction following Surkov’s meeting with Ukraine’s “American lawyer,” Kurt Volker. 

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Indeed, it seems like this monument to Russian volunteers in Donbass in Rostov-on-Don is Russia’s response to the US’ ultimatum. Therefore, I am inclined to see this event as an important symbolic and political sign. 

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