Shenanigans in Lugansk

The political shenanigans in the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) in Eastern Ukraine took a new turn today when LPR President Igor Plotnitsky fled the republic and turned up in Moscow. Power in Lugansk now rests firmly in the hands of LPR Interior Minister Igor Kornet, who continues to insist that he doesn’t intend to overthrow Plotnitsky, merely rid the republic of traitors in the President’s entourage. Kornet’s forces have arrested a number of senior LPR officials, accusing them of working secretly for the Ukrainian government in Kiev and of preparing to betray the LPR to the Ukrainian Army. I don’t believe it. My impression is that in the LPR treason is what you accuse your opponents of when you want an excuse to get rid of them. Be that as it may, the events in the LPR put the Russian government in something of a pickle.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Moscow isn’t in full control of events in Donbass. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any say in what goes on, nor does it mean that it can just ignore what happens there. It seems to me that it has the following options:

  • Recognize that Plotnitsky is a busted flush, discard him, and back Kornet. So far, the Russian government is insisting that what happens in Lugansk is an internal matter for the LPR. Maintaining this line would in effect amount to endorsing Kornet’s coup. The question would then arise of how to find a new President and who it should be.
  • Try and work out some solution which returns Plotnitsky to Lugansk as President, but which in effect makes him little more than a figurehead while real power remains with Kornet.
  • Find some way of restoring Plotnitsky to his previous position of authority.
  • Get around the whole problem by abolishing the LPR and merging it with the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), and forming a joint ‘Novorossiia’.

The third option – restoring Plotnitsky – seems rather impractical. The Russians aren’t going to want to start a civil war within a civil war, so military action against Kornet is probably out of the question. Perhaps some diplomatic way could be found to pressure him to give up, by for instance making it very clear to him that if he continues on his current path, Moscow will cut all support to the LPR. But such a threat isn’t very credible. This is one of those situations where the patron pretty much has to cave into the client. Reversing the coup would probably be a bad option for Moscow even if it were what it actually wanted.

In some respects, the fourth option – merger of the LPR and DPR – appears optimal. The DPR has always given me the impression of being much better governed than the LPR, and its leader, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, has a charisma which Plotnitsky lacks. The DPR no doubt looks pretty attractive from a LPR point of view. A merger would in practice probably be a DPR takeover, and might well strengthen both republics. It is, after all, somewhat ridiculous that such a small geographic area as rebel-controlled Donbass should have two separate governments and two separate armies.

The LPR admires the DPR. A meme doing the rounds on Twitter.

But while this option makes some sense, there are some problems with it. The only two ‘democratic’ votes which have taken place in the history of the LPR and DPR are the referenda of May 2014 which established the republics and the presidential elections of November 2014. Of course, one can argue about the quality of these elections and how truly democratic they really were, but the referenda and the elections allow the republics’ leaders to make a claim of legitimacy. Were Plotnitsky to be replaced, it’s hard to see what claim to legitimacy his successor could make. And since the LPR was established by referendum, it can be argued that it can only be dismantled by referendum. In a sense this is just a matter of formalities, but formalities matter, which is why even the Soviet Union went through the motions of elections.

Another problem with getting rid of Plotnitsky is that he signed the Minsk agreements, which provide the supposed road map to a peace settlement in Ukraine. If he goes, then his successor could claim to not be bound by the agreement. Moreover, if the DPR and LPR merge, then Kiev might have grounds to claim that since the quasi-states whose leaders signed the Minsk agreements no longer exist, it also is no longer bound by the agreements. That’s not something which Moscow would want.

So, it might be better to keep Plotnitsky. But it’s obvious that even if he were to return to Lugansk, he wouldn’t have any meaningful authority. One would imagine that Moscow wants to have its own man in the top spot in Lugansk, somebody it can count on to do what Moscow tells it when push comes to shove. But a Plotnitsky who’s more a puppet of Kornet than a puppet of Moscow wouldn’t be able to fulfil that role.

Overall, then, there aren’t any good options for Moscow. At this point, Kiev is probably enjoying the spectacle and thinking that things are going its way. But that might not be true either. A few weeks ago, LPR Foreign Minister Vladislav Deinovo remarked that Lugansk’s future lay back in Ukraine. Given that Kornet is justifying his insurrection on the grounds that LPR officials were conspiring to betray the republic to Kiev, one suspects that nobody in the LPR is going to be publicly repeating what Deinovo said for some time to come. An uncompromising line towards Ukraine is more likely.

In short, it’s a mess. I make no predictions as to what will happen next.


12 thoughts on “Shenanigans in Lugansk”

  1. “If he goes, then his successor could claim to not be bound by the agreement.”

    Is this really a concern? When government official signs an agreement, the obligation is assumed by the geopolitical entity, the LPR, not the person.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Indeed, but Plotnitsky’s signature was just as Plotnitsky, not as head of the LPR, since the LPR was something nobody recognized. Now, of course, that’s again just a formality, but someone could claim that it was Plotnitsky signing as an individual, and pledging his own commitment to the agreement, but nothing more, and so not binding on his successors. Not a very good claim, I admit, but that’s all one needs if one’s looking for an excuse.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Et tu, Professor? To resort to *this* meme-pic! AAAAA! What our world have become?!

    “Overall, then, there aren’t any good options for Moscow.”


    I recall too much “analytical op-eds” from, say, 2 years ago, which also claimed that “there aren’t any good options for Moscow” while talking about… everything, in fact, but mostly about Syria.


  3. I don’t think Moscow cares at all who is currently the chief looter in LDNR as long as they pay their share. It did not care about whatever Kadyrov is doing in Chechnya (you know, formally subject to Russian law) or Kuznetsov, Karpov and Stepanova were doing as tax officers as long as they paid to the Celloist. LDNR is definitely not a source of financial income for Moscow but it pays its share by engaging the junta in Ukraine and punishing them for breaking up with the Russian mir. If the puppets forget about this target, they will be immediately reminded about what they are expected to do for their right to loot that land. I think this is exactly what has happened, everything is back to normal. In a week or so everyone in Russia will remember that it was obviously evil Ukrainian spetznas that was provocatively walking on the streets of Luhansk in unmarked uniforms, no need to ask any further questions.


  4. I wonder if a middle ground might be possible. If it’s inadvisable to completely merge the LPR and DPR, maybe some form of confederation between the two entities could be worked out. Such a confederation would have to leave them each formally separate, but perhaps could allow for a common military and foreign policy. Kind of along the lines of what Gorbachev proposed for the reformed Soviet Union.


  5. LNR and DNR need to be united militarily to fight off the ukro-Nazis, irrespective of political integration, otherwise any miscommunications would allow the two regions to be split for a divide-and-conquer approach. The LNR also seems to have suffered from more blatant corruption involving drugs and the like, with the consequential murder of several capable anti-corruption leaders such as Mozgovoy. Maybe it is a matter of cleaning house prior to responding to the inevitable bug push from the Ukraine regime. The US is not be providing the ukro-Nazis with advanced weaponary just for the immediate corporate profits. There is something more behind this. US military have been spotted on the front line and the US military has totally lost face in Syria, so they will be out to stir up shit for that reason alone.


  6. Further, Russia has stated the Plotnisky’s approaches were problematic, so my guess is that he has been ‘invited’ to withdraw to Moscow. A similar thing happened with Strelkov who was playing silly buggers with weapons and military actions at Slavyansk in an attempt to get Russia to intervene directly. This was at a time when Russia was preparing the ground for the Syria actions which, unlike Ukraine,involved an existential terrorist threat to mainland Russia.


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