Assessment of Alexander Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya” Proposition

Michael Sheldon is a recent graduate of the Peace and Conflict Studies BA at Malmo University.  Through his academic pursuits and private initiatives, Michael has conducted analysis on the conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014, specializing in rebel forces.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Alexander Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya” Proposition

Date Originally Written:  August 16, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  August 21, 2017.

Summary:  The Malorossiya proposition, as presented on July 18, 2017 by head of Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) Alexander Zakharchenko, was intended to absorb Ukraine in its entirety under rebel control, relocating the capital to Donetsk.  While success seemed unlikely, there were local political objectives to be gained.  After less than a month, the project was cancelled, likely to be succeeded by similar proposals.

Text:  On July 18, ‘Head of the Republic’ of ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ Alexander Zakharchenko announced the Malorossiya project at a press briefing[1].  The news came as a surprise to virtually everyone in-and-outside of rebel territory.  Along with the press briefing, two papers were released to the public through a local “DNR” news organization “DNR-Pravda”, one being a political statement in relation to the project, and the other being a “constitutional act”[2].

Recalling the “DNR” constitution as presented in 2014[3] during the early days of separatism, the constitutional act as it was presented in written form differed in several respects.  Firstly, this act is technically not a legal document and only serves as a guideline for an actual constitution to be adopted by referendum.  The primary goal of the Malorossiya proposal was Ukrainian unification under the federal umbrella of ‘Malorossiya’, literally meaning ‘little Russia.’  The proposed capital for this new federation would be the city of Donetsk, the current capital of ‘DNR,’ granting Kyiv the status of cultural capital.  Other political provisions were also made, reflecting the Soviet nostalgia that has been salient in the separatist states.  This was made apparent especially in the clauses stipulating a union of states between Russia, Belarus and ‘Malorossiya,’ and “Rehabilitation of the Soviet legacy.”

Zakharchenko’s move came long after the apparent failure of a previous ‘Novorossiya’ (New Russia) project, which aimed to create a confederation between the two rebel entities ‘DNR’ and ‘Lugansk People’s’ Republic’ (LNR/LPR)[4].  While the Novorossiya project by and large turned out fruitless, it had come to hold great cultural value ever since the beginning of the conflict early 2014.  The very concept of Novorossiya stipulates a regional type of brotherhood in the region of Ukraine spanning from Odessa to Kharkov, regions with larger Russian ethnic populations.  This concept has come to have not only great cultural significance for inhabitants in regions controlled by rebel authorities, but has also come to dictate cooperation between the two rebel entities LNR and DNR.  This cooperation primarily comes in military support from DNR, which has lended its 7th Separate Mechanized Brigade[5] to LNR, and assisted in providing security and rapid reaction forces to internal instability in LNR[6].

In part, at least on a broader grassroots level, these factors have contributed to the chilled reception that the notion of an analogous Malorossiya project experienced.  The concept of Novorossiya and its flag had come to symbolize separatism in the east, for which many had given their lives, but would now be scrapped in favor of a unification project.  This combined with the lack of progress made with the Novorossiya project over the past three years left Zakharchenko with a skeptical population.  Denis Pushilin, chairman of the People’s Soviet (Council) of the ‘DNR’ also came out reserved on the topic of Malorossiya, stressing the need for parliamentary process, but also that there was no legal or normative basis for what Zakharchenko planned to carry out [7].  Igor Plotnitsky, head of ‘LNR’, was not enamored with the idea of ‘Malorossiya’ either, claiming that ‘LNR’ had not been notified of Zakharchenko’s plans prior to the press conference.  The Kremlin also denied involvement in the project [8], and while it is hardly a reliable source for this conflict, it is difficult to imagine that they would have any stake in a power struggle between the two rebel ‘republics.’

At first it seemed that the project could yield some positive results for Zakharchenko and solidify his personal power within ‘DNR.’  As it was planned, the project would have thrown the participating states into what was referred to as a “transitional period” for three years[9].  Possibly a motivating factor for announcing the proposition, this transitional period clause could have helped Zakharchenko put off elections even further, enabling a perpetual state of deferral.  Neither ‘DNR’ nor ‘LNR’ are strangers to putting off elections, something which each have done twice the past three years[10].  The constitutional act also speculates denying political parties to act as ‘political subjects’, and proposes transitioning to personal representations.  Other positives for Zakharchenko in this proposal are the political points he likely hopes to win with it.  For one, pushing for a ‘Malorossiya’ encompassing all of Ukraine (Crimea included) sends a signal of reconciliation, albeit on his terms, enabling him to further the narrative of an uncooperative and unreasonable Kyiv, these notions are echoed by Vladislav Surkov, advisor to president Vladimir Putin[11].  Secondly, Zakharchenko effectively brought up the notion of Donetsk having sovereignty over ‘LNR’, which had seen its fair share of instability and coup attempts in the past.

Zakharchenko soon became aware of the criticism that the proposition had received, and clarified that he was never establishing a new state, but merely proposing one shortly after the announcement[12].  Not even a month had passed before, on August 9, 2017, Zakharchenko officially abandoned the proposal as a result of the early resistance he had faced with regards to the name “Malorossiya” especially[13].  Nonetheless, Zakharchenko maintained that the proposal had not been in vain, as it had given way to a range of new interesting proposals.  Moving forward, it will be pertinent to keep an eye on similar proposals relating to a federal Ukraine under rebel control, undoubtedly other a different name.  Whether this would mean a revival of the Novorossiya project or a similar project under a new name is uncertain, but it is likely that Zakharchenko will continue to push for the underlying notions of the Malorossiya proposition.  This would entail a confederation of Ukrainian states under a pro-Russian leadership in Donetsk.  While such an undertaking is virtually impossible outside of rebel territory, it is possible that a Donetsk-led DNR-LNR confederation could gain enough local support to be feasible.  If one can ignore the overarching theme of Ukrainian unification, the proposal of a Malorossiya project serves as an important glance into the intentions of ‘DNR’ head Zakharchenko.


Endnotes:

[1] DAN-news. (2017, July 18). Представители ДНР, ЛНР и регионов Украины объявили в Донецке о создании государства Малороссия (Representatives of the DNR, LNR and regions of Ukraine announced in Donetsk the creation of the Malorossiya state). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://dan-news.info/politics/predstaviteli-dnr-lnr-i-regionov-ukrainy-obyavili-v-donecke-o-sozdanii-gosudarstva-malorossiya.html

[2] DNR-Pravda News Editor (2017, July 18). Декларация и Конституционный акт государственного образования Малороссия (Declaration and Constitutional act of the state formation Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://dnr-pravda.ru/2017/07/18/deklaratsiya-i-konstitutsionnyiy-akt-gosudarstvennogo-obrazovaniya-malorossiya/

[3] DNR Official Website. (2014, May 14). Конституция ДНР (DNR Constitution). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://dnr-online.ru/konstituciya-dnr/

[4] Lenta. (2014, June 24). ДНР и ЛНР объединятся в конфедерацию с единой конституцией (DNR and LNR will join the confederation with a single constitution). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://lenta.ru/news/2014/06/24/novorossia/

[5] DNR People’s Militia, 1st Army Corps. (2015, October 20). VK post. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://vk.com/dnrarmy?w=wall-51146063_5569

[6] Andrey, G. (2016, September 22). Захарченко: Для предотвращения переворота в ЛНР был переброшен батальон “Спарта” (Zakharchenko: To prevent the coup in the LNR, “Sparta” battalion was sent). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://life.ru/t/новости/907002/zakharchienko_dlia_priedotvrashchieniia_pierievorota_v_lnr_byl_pieriebroshien_batalon_sparta

[7] DAN-News. (2017, July 18). Вопрос создания Малороссии целесообразно вынести на обсуждение парламента и общественности – Пушилин (The issue of creating Little Russia is expedient for discussion of the parliament and the public – Pushilin). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://dan-news.info/politics/vopros-sozdaniya-malorossii-celesoobrazno-vynesti-na-obsuzhdenie-parlamenta-i-obshhestvennosti-pushilin.html

[8] TASS. (2017, July 18). Malorossiya project is personal initiative of self-proclaimed republic’s leader. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://tass.com/politics/956825

[9] DNR-Pravda News Editor (2017, July 18). Декларация и Конституционный акт государственного образования Малороссия (Declaration and Constitutional act of the state formation Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from  http://dnr-pravda.ru/2017/07/18/deklaratsiya-i-konstitutsionnyiy-akt-gosudarstvennogo-obrazovaniya-malorossiya/

[10] 112.ua. (2016, July 24). “DNR” again postponed “elections” in the occupied Donbas. Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://112.international/conflict-in-eastern-ukraine/dnr-again-postponed-elections-in-the-occupied-donbas-7515.html

[11] Denis, A. (2017, July 20). Реакция на Малороссию (Reactions to Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from https://cont.ws/@artemevsepar/668685

[12] Korrespondent.net. (2017, July 26). Захарченко рассказал о проблемах с “Малороссией” (Zakharchenko spoke about problems with Malorossiya). Retrieved July 26, 2017, from http://korrespondent.net/ukraine/3872258-zakharchenko-rasskazal-o-problemakh-s-malorossyei

[13] av-zakharchenko.su. (2017, August 9). Переформатирование Украины. Дискуссия продолжается… (Reform of Ukraine. The discussion continues…). Retreived August 16, 2017, from http://av-zakharchenko.su/inner-article/Zayavleniya/Pereformatirovanie-Ukrainy-Diskussiya-prodolzhaetsya2/

Assessment Papers Irregular Forces Michael Sheldon Russia Ukraine