East Ukraine Separatists Announce Creation of New State: "Little Russia"
18 July, 2017
Oleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) Photo credit: EPA, ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO

Separatists in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region have unveiled an improbable plan for the future of their unrecognized “state” — and it looks quite a bit like the distant past.

Oleksandr Zakharchenko, leader of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR), announced today the establishment of a new state called “Malorossiya,” or “Little Russia”, reported Interfax

The name is throwback to the Russian Empire, when it referred to the broad territory populated by Ukrainians. It distinguished Ukraine from Russia (Velikorossiya or “Great Russia”), while implying that Ukrainians were a sub-group of Russians, rather than a separate nation.

And much like the historic “Malorossiya” that described all of Ukraine, the separatist one also appears to lay tacit claim to the entirety of the country.

According to Zakharchenko, “Ukraine cannot be rebuilt in its previous form.”

“We, representatives of former Ukrainian regions, with the exception of Crimea, declare the establishment of a new state, which will be the successor to Ukraine,” the separatist leader declared. “We agree that the new state will be called Malorossiya, because even the name ‘Ukraine’ has discredited itself.”

Zakharchenko stated that the capital of this “state” will be Donetsk.

“Malorossiya” will also officially adopt the flag of Bogdan Khmelnitsky as its own. Khmelnitsky was a 16th and 17th century Ukrainian Cossack leader who led an uprising against Poland, established a Cossack state in Ukraine, and aligned his people with Russia.

Zakharchenko also said that a “state of emergency” must be introduced for three years in Ukraine to “avoid chaos.”

According to the DPR’s website, separatist leaders signed a “political declaration on the creation of the new state as the legal successor of Ukraine” on July 18.

Zakharchenko’s plan has sparked immediate controversy. An anonymous source in Russia’s presidential administration told the RBC newspaper that the DPR leader’s plan was not coordinated with the Kremlin. It even caught Vladislav Surkov, Russia’s pointman on Ukraine, off guard, the source said.

Surkov wasn’t alone. Representatives of the DPR’s neighbor, the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic,” also denied involvement, the TASS news agency reported, citing comments from the LPR “presidential administration.” Volodymyr Dehtyarenko, chairman of the LPR’s parliament, put it more bluntly: the LPR leadership “wasn’t even aware” of plans for the creation of Malorossiya.

Politologist, Aleksei Chesnakov, who is close to the Russian president's advisor to the “DPR” and “LPR”, Vladislav Surkov, told the Russian information agency, TASS, that writers and bloggers close to the self-proclaimed "DPR" authorities presented the “Malorossiya” project. According to him, people in the “republic” are not taking the idea seriously. ​

“The project is more literary than political, the ‘Malorossiya (Little Russia) project’ has nothing to do with real politics,” Chesnakov says. It’s created a lot of noise, but after a month or so, people will forget about it, including the authors,” added the analyst close to Surkov.

Chesnakov obviously meant the Russian author, Zakhar Prilepin, who now leads a ‘DPR’ battalion and calls himself Zakharchenko’s advisor. Prilepin also attended the press-conference and even said:

“We have declared our dream. It seems to me that the ‘Donets People's Republic’ now has every reason to declare itself the start of a new statehood,” the writer and militant Prilepin said about his own aspirations.

The press-secretary to the Ukrainian president, Svyatoslav Tseholko, wrote on his Twitter page that the ‘Novorossiya project is dead and buried. Ukraine will return sovereignty to Donbas and Crimea. P[resident of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko - ed.]”. The president is currently on a state visit to Georgia.

Ukraine’s representative in the political subgroup of the Minsk peaceful agreements, Olga Ayvazovska, told Hromadske that she could not comment on this information and, on Wednesday, during the working group’s regular meeting, they will “look at what happened”.

The “Malorossiya” announcement is not the first time separatists in eastern Ukraine have attempted to form a new “state” with a historical name. In 2014 and 2015, the DPR and LPR planned to unite as “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia” — a historical term that described parts of Ukraine from the mid-18th century to the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. That plan failed.

But Zakharchenko’s latest unusual declaration comes at an inopportune moment. Tomorrow, on July 19, negotiators representing Ukraine, Russia, and the separatists will hold another meeting in Minsk. They are scheduled to discuss prisoner exchanges between Ukraine and the self-proclaimed “republics.”

In denying involvement in Zakharchenko’s plan, the LPR’s Dehtyarenko emphasized that “currently, we are following the Minsk Accords, to which there is no alternative.” 

/by Matthew Kupfer @Matthew_Kupfer, Chen Ou Yang, Sofia Fedeczko