Little Russia

‘New Russia is dead! Long live Little Russia!’ Aleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), announced today the formation of a new state, Malorossiia, ‘Little Russia’ (the name by which Ukraine was known in the time of the Russian Empire). According to the rebel leader’s plan, Malorossiia will replace Ukraine, whose capital will move from Kiev to Donetsk. Ukraine will keep its current borders, but change its name, and be reformed into a federation, whose regions will have broad autonomy. At least, that is the idea.

It’s an odd one. Zakharchenko simply isn’t in a position to determine the future constitution of Ukraine, let alone its name, and I can’t in a hundred years imagine most Ukrainians accepting his proposal (while one can say for certain that a large chunk of them never would). Also, it appears that Zakharchenko forgot to consult his fellow rebels in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) before announcing his new project. The chair of the LPR parliament Vladimir Degtiarenko said that the LPR did not send any delegates to the conference at which the project was announced, and in any case didn’t support the idea. Malorussia, it seems, is dead at birth. The story rather undermines the idea that everything that happens in the DPR is dictated by puppet masters in the Kremlin. One would imagine that if the Kremlin was behind this, it would have bothered to check with the LPR first. So either this wasn’t the puppet masters’ idea, or they are bizarrely incompetent. It seems more likely that this was Zakharchenko’s own initiative, a conclusion which has left pundits scratching their heads and wondering what on earth he’s up to.

Over the past three years, Zakharchenko has seemingly adopted just about every conceivable position about the DPR’s future. Sometimes he’s in favour of joining the Russian Federation; other times he’s for the DPR’s independence; sometimes he says that he is committed to the Minsk process, and thus reintegration into Ukraine; other times he says that Minsk is dead and reintegration is no longer possible. Reading between the lines, it’s fairly clear that what he really wants to do is join Russia, but now he’s dropping that, and returning to the idea of rejoining Ukraine, but with a twist, namely that it won’t be Ukraine anymore.

A possible explanation for all this tacking hither and thither is that it represents Zakharchenko’s efforts to satisfy the various constituencies on which he depends. On the one hand, there’s his supporters in Donetsk, who for the most part, one imagines, have long since burnt their bridge with Ukraine and have no intention of going back. On the other hand, there’s the people paying the bills in Moscow, who, one suspects, would be only too happy to see the DPR vanish back into Ukraine if only some way could be found of doing so without losing face (which, of course, there isn’t, short of the extremely unlikely event of the total collapse of Ukraine and the DPR army marching into Kiev). Perhaps somebody in Moscow has made it clear to Zakharchenko that he should forget any ideas of unification with Russia, and so he’s come up with some hairbrained scheme of how he can imagine being back in one country with his former Ukrainian compatriots. It gets Moscow off his back while making it clear to the guys in Donetsk that he’s not planning to sell them down the river. This sort of makes some sense, but I can see this irritating Zakharchenko’s Muscovite sponsors as well as his LPR allies. And it has already gotten France pressuring the Kremlin to get Zakharchenko to back off, with the French Foreign Ministry declaring that the scheme is contrary to the Minsk agreements. I’m not sure that I see how the Malorossiia project is going to make the DPR’s life any easier.

Writing in Lenta.ru, journalist Igor Karmazin provides another explanation: the move is possibly connected to plans being discussed by the Ukrainian parliament to change the status of the war in Donbass. If the plans go ahead, the war will cease to be called an ‘anti-terrorist operation’. Instead, the Ukrainian government will recognize the DPR and LPR as being occupied by the Russian Army, and that Ukraine is thus in effect at war with Russia. Responsibility for the war zone will pass from the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) to the Army. From the DPR’s point of view, this is seen as proof that the Ukrainian government has finally turned its back on Minsk, and that a return to full-scale war is inevitable. Given that, goes the logic, it makes sense for the DPR to prepare for war, including establishing a plan for its broader political objectives. Perhaps, suggests Karmazin, Zakharchenko also believes that the Ukranian ‘regime’ is bound to collapse, and is preparing the ground to seize power himself throughout the country.  Maybe that’s right, but again, it’s just speculation.

In a way, none of this matters. Little Russia isn’t going to happen. But in another way, it does matter, as it sheds some light into what Ukraine’s rebels want, as well as the nature of their relationship with both Ukraine and Russia. The problem is interpreting that light. What does it all mean? Damned if I know. It’s all rather puzzling. I await enlightenment.

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20 thoughts on “Little Russia”

  1. “Reading between the lines, it’s fairly clear that what he really wants to do is join Russia, but now he’s dropping that, and returning to the idea of rejoining Ukraine, but with a twist, namely that it won’t be Ukraine anymore.”

    You were not reading their program document attentively, Professor, because it says here, that Malorossiya will join Russia and Byelarus in the format of the “Union State” (rus. “Союзное государство”). Thus fulfilling the dream of any cat – “to eat the fish and to swing on a chandelier” (c).

    Professor, why won’t you translate their program for everyone to see and judge, how much its (un)realistic?

    “What does it all mean? Damned if I know. It’s all rather puzzling. I await enlightenment.”

    But you make our guesses. Why not point out the obvious bits? This happens after G20 and the appointment of the well-known hawk (Walker?) as the “special ambassador” or whatever is his title to supervize Russia-Ukrainian conflict. Now its obvious that his efforts will fail. Question – qui bono?

    My opinion – epic trolling of the svidomites. Top kek.

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      1. “Or it could be trolling of the Kremlin and Kremlin’s so-called ‘partners’.”

        The idea of the “trolling” is to solicit a butthurt, hysterical reaction from your target. Kiev and “our Western partners” giddily obliged. Gryzlov-man was the only one on the Russian side to mutter womething disaprovingly. But, given that no one treats the Minsk ambassadorship seriously (even the Ukr, lest they won’t send Kuchma to be his counterpart), I think that the appointment of Gryzlov to be Russia’s representative during “talks” and “consultations” in Minsk was, in fact, a form of cruel and unusual punishment, for all things said and done by Gryzlov in his capacity as EdRo’s frontman. So we can safely disrefard everything said by him.

        Now, both France and Germany *demanded* for Russia to “condemn” this. Do you really think that we gonna do that? Personally, I doubt. Meanwhile, Poroshenko took the bait and began beating in the wardrums, promising to return “occupied territories”. Kremlin now can only shrug, roll the eyes and say: “And you expect us to deal with these uncooperative people?”

        My theory is that Volker being appointed Hudsucker Proxy. The USA want to insert itself into the Minsk format… but they can’t. They want to influence the talks… but they can’t. There is a demand to “Do Something!”, as usual, so they opted to appoint someone who’s going to fail and take the blame. Meanwhiile, nothing gonna change. Well, at least till the new electoral cycle in the Ukraine.

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    1. The envoy is Kurt Volker, who is retired from the US Foreign Service. He has been characterized as a “hawk” but it is premature to judge what effect his involvement might have.

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  2. I think you might be a bit harsh here on Zakharchenko. He is at least someone who keeps throwing out ideas and tries to find a way out of the current status quo. I have little respect for the leadership of the LPR; there is little coming from them that has been helpful at all. In any case, if there is a leader with a pliable vision, it definitely is Zakharchenko; he probably has a bit too much charisma for Putin’s liking, but he’s head and shoulders above anyone in that dreadful Ukrainian political group of professional victims.

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    1. I agree. I think Zakharchenko, if he survives all the Ukrainian assassination attempts, is positioning himself to become the future President of all of Ukraine (or Malorossiya, or whatever).
      And that would be by election, not “seizing of power”.
      I really wish Western pundits would stop translating the Russian word “vlast” as “power” and start translating it, properly, as “government.”
      As in “elected to the government” or “ascending to the government”, rather than “seizing power”, which is simply a prejudical trope.

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  3. If you are a puppet master you don’t need to consult other puppets before throwing such a bizarre idea on the table when the only purpose is raising some buzz in the news. On the contrary, the more chaos and distraction the better.

    And this tactics is proven right by this article, where a renowned expert on Russia has just spent an hour, carefully researching sources and citing other experts about a mercenary, temporarily controlling 2 million province dictating the borders of a 44 million country. Rather than, for example, feeling uncomfortable on the anniversary of downing MH-17.

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    1. “And this tactics is proven right by this article, where a renowned expert on Russia has just spent an hour, carefully researching sources and citing other experts about a mercenary, temporarily controlling 2 million province dictating the borders of a 44 million country. “

      1) What “mercenary”?

      2) What’s that “44 million country” you are talking about?

      “Rather than, for example, feeling uncomfortable on the anniversary of downing MH-17.”

      Gee, I know, right? Chief svidomites in Kiev have no shame.

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  4. Hi, everybody, I finished my translation of the Malorossiya founding document.

    If you read it, you see that it basically continues the debate, just where it left off 3 years ago, between Regions and pro-Maidan parties. Regarding EU vs CIS, multi-vectored economy, etc.
    But incorporating all the experiences of the past 3 years and seeing the necessity for, e.g., de-Nazification and de-Banderization.

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  5. Thank you for this, Paul. You’ve made sense of the fact that one can’t make sense of this Little Russia idea. I am Ukrainian on my mother’s side, and somehow I understand that.

    I hate being a grammar janitor, but this one really bugs me:

    “hairbrained”: It’s harebrained (although it does injustice to hares, as they are pretty smart animals).

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    1. “I am Ukrainian on my mother’s side, and somehow I understand that.”

      How does a fact that you are genetically part Ukrainin make you “understand” that Malorossia “makes no sense”?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “Just like genetic Russians “simply know” that democracy makes no sense in Russia?”

        Please, provide us with actual quotes and evidence, that some fairly inportant Russians do claim such thing, and, as the basis of their argumentation, use the genetic factor.

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  6. What country are YOU from, my dear Harry?
    If you’re from the U.S., then I guess nobody bothered to inform you that the U.S. is NOT a democracy.

    Never actually was one, at any time in its history, least of all now.

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