Lugansk after the Coup: Towards a Unified Donbass People’s Republic?


November 25, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

Donetsk People’s Republic leader Alexander Zakharchenko

In our previous article, we proposed three possible scenarios for the resolution of the crisis in the Lugansk People’s Republic: (1) a compromise between the head of the republic, Plotnitsky, and Interior Minister Kornet; (2) early elections; (3) unification of the LPR and DPR. At the time, I refrained from expressing my own opinion. As of November 25th, some further important developments have taken place which I believe are positive, or even optimal. 

It has since been confirmed that Plotnitsky has left for Russia. On the morning of November 25th, Lugansk Information Center published an official statement by LPR State Security Minister Leonid Pasechnik which said that Plotnitsky had submitted his resignation citing health reasons. Pasechnik announced that he would assume the position of acting head of the republic in accordance with Plotnitsky’s own decision. 

Thus, the Lugansk People’s Republic has officially experienced a change in government, both de facto and de jure. 

Interestingly enough, according to Pasechnik’s statement, Plotnitsky will continue to represent the republic as a participant in the Minsk process. I see a contradiction here. Lugansk Information Center still presents Vladislav Deynego as the republic’s representative to the Minsk Group. It is thus likely that Deynego will continue to manage the republic’s regular work in the Minsk Group while Plotnitsky will represent the LPR in Minsk on “festive” official occasions as the symbolic person whose signed the Minsk Agreements for Lugansk. 

On a side note, allow me to say that my colleagues and friends in Donbass and I have hoped that Deynego will be dismissed from both this post and his position as head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His more than strange statement that the LPR is possibly willing to join Ukraine has left the impression of an ideological, or perhaps political bind with the Ukrainian lobby in the now former LPR leadership. I hope and expect that Deynego will be investigated and soon dismissed.

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Meanwhile, the existence of an acting head of the LPR means that the republic must schedule early elections for a new leader. Elections have long since been scheduled for next year, but no election date has ever been announced. The very fact that they will be held speaks volumes. I must admit that I was deeply afraid that Lugansk would be pressured by conservative forces in Moscow to preserve the existing government. Let us discuss this point in greater detail.

Moscow has huge influence on the republics of Donbass – influence, but not authority. I believe that Moscow has healthily assessed the risks and benefits of a change in government in the LPR and has recognized the result of the latest whirlwind of events as a fait accompli. Today Lugansk Information Center published an official congratulation from the Russian State Duma deputy and coordinator of the Russia-Donbass Integration Committee, Andrey Kozenko, for Leonid Pasechnik. Thus, Russia has officially recognized the change of government, thereby breaking with its established tradition of supporting existing authorities and stability. 

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It is fundamentally important that elections in the LPR be held in accordance with democratic principles and procedures, with free competition and the participation of international observers. However, such must automatically exclude pro-Ukrainian candidates. As a point of comparison, we can recall the Ukrainian presidential elections of May 2014 which featured gross violations of the law and democratic principles, and were held after the foreign-backed violent overthrow of the legal Ukrainian government. These “elections” were accompanied by a massive information and political campaign of support for the “correct” candidates, i.e., Euromaidan supporters, while the candidates from the Russian regions of Ukraine, such as Dobkin and Tsarev, not only received threats, but they and their campaign headquarters were physically assaulted by Euromaidan militants. The results of the elections were rigged, tacit admission of which could even be found in Ukrainian sources. Petro Poroshenko, the protege of the United States, won the first round of elections, while the much more experienced and popular politician Tymoshenko suffered and accepted crushing defeat. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs committed a big mistake in recognizing the results and Poroshenko’s election. The repercussions of this mistake can still be felt today. 

I believe that the election of a new head of the Lugansk People’s Republic will be welcomed by the population, which hopes that along with a new government will come positive changes and the beginning of economic restoration at a pace comparable to in the neighboring Donetsk People’s Republic.

In fact, yesterday I met with colleagues from Lugansk and learned a lot of interesting information, part of which I am happy to share with the readers of Fort Russ. The most important point I heard was that unification with the DPR is now being evermore discussed and planned in Lugansk. I received precisely the same reports from my contacts in Donetsk. For now, much remains unclear about the ways, forms, and pace of such a hypothesized unification, so I’ll limit myself to my own considerations. Most likely, what will happen is not the establishment of a single People’s Republic of Donbass, but a federation encompassing the LPR and DPR under the de facto leadership of Donetsk as the most economically, politically, and demographically powerful pole. The first such proposals to unite the republics could already be heard on November 21st-22nd, and these voices were coming from the LPR itself. 

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Serious criticism can be admitted as to the quality of the DPR leadership, but it is nevertheless qualitatively better than the LPR’s. The leader of the DPR, Alexander Zakharchenko, wields authority not only in both republics, but also among both military and civilian circles. Some in Lugansk hope that Zakharchenko’s experience and authority will allow a new order to be introduced a process of reconstruction launched. This does not necessarily mean that Zakharchenko himself will be the leader of a Donbass federation, but the main point is that Donetsk would assist Lugansk with personnel and management in maintaining stability and launching an industrial recovery process.

The creation of a suprastate structure, a federation of Novorossiya or Donbass, seems to me to be the most optimal scenario. First of all, this step would open up such a federation for new members, such as those regions of Ukraine that want to escape the Kiev regime. Secondly, a Donbass federation would have serious socio-economic, military and political resources. The total population of the DPR and LPR now is around three million, with 2.2-2.3 million living in the DPR. Even if unification is not achieved, closer cooperation would still be a momentous step. 

However, we should recall that on May 11th, 2014 the people of the Lugansk region voted for the sovereignty of the Lugansk People’s Republic, and this expressed will of the people must be respected. Plus, the LPR is a sovereign subject of the Minsk Agreements. This means that any unification process would be far from automatic. Complex and sometimes conflicting tasks would have to be resolved, such as preserving the sovereignty of the republics in tandem with establishing effective federal unity capable of combining economic, socio-demographic, and military resources. This would be no easy task for the young, war torn Donbass republics.

At any rate, it is clear that the project of a “greater Novorossiya” or Malorossiya is once again front and center and gaining new momentum. This is a positive result of the recent shake up in Lugansk. 

Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public Initiatives. 

Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Masters in Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 

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