Creation of Malorossiya in Ukraine

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

Russian backed rebels who have been fighting in eastern Ukraine have proclaimed a new state for the areas they control (around 19 provinces) in July 2017. 

The rebels have named it ‘Malorossiya’ or ‘Little Russia’, a lingual derivative of a historical ethnic province, completely coincidental to the current day, where once it’s ruling feudal baron pled allegiance to the Russian Czar.

The history of conflict actually goes back to more than thirty-three years. Around 10,000 people have been killed and 1.6 million people have been displaced. Since 2014, Moscow has consistently denied involvement for fighting in the area. This claim, in fact, has been contested though.  Some even claim that Kremlin has for a long time backed an insurgency and that many rebels have been Russian soldiers.

The Associated Press members, in fact, have documented how Moscow has been propping up the separatists in Ukraine with funds, weapons and recruits. 

The ongoing insurgency had resulted from the Euromaidan Movement that led to the resignation of Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovych. A civil unrest had escalated in his time because of a decision where government chose to suspend an association agreement with the EU and instead chose to stay close to the Euro-Asian Economic Movement and Russia.  These events ultimately lead to the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution followed by the War in Donbass, Russian military intervention and annexation of Crimea by Russia.

Many view this new state comprising of self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk Republics as part of a modern-day expansionist Russia. It was the rebel leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, from Donetsk side, who declared his area as part of the Federation of Malorossiya. He has even declared a three-year state of emergency and has also decreed their flag as a variant of that flown by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, the famous Cossack leader who led a revolt against Poland-Lithuania in the mid-17th century. A new constitution will also be drafted under broad discussions. These declarations provide some clues about the existing ideas and political approaches by some groups of the region.

Alexander Zakharchenko led the Minsk Protocols negotiation for the War in Donbass peace process in 2014. He also represented the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic in 2015, agreeing to the Minsk II peace treaty to alleviate the ongoing war. It has now been decided that the capital of the area will remain Donetsk, with Kyiv as a centre of “historical-cultural importance”.

Historically, the term ‘Malorossiya’ meaning ‘Little Russia’ has been used synonymously with  'Novorossiya' meaning ‘New Russia’. Tsarist administrators called the area as 'Cossack Hetmanate' what is now modern-day Ukraine. It was once part of Tsardom of Moscow and of a ‘triune Russian nation’ (an all-powerful Russian empire, consisting of Great Russian, White Russian and Little Russian subjects living in smaller nation states) inspired by the Russophile ideology. Patriotic Ukrainians, however, regard the name 'Malorossiya' offensive and synonymous with Russian imperialism.

Minsk Protocols did reduce fighting to some extent, but many minor skirmishes had continued.  When rebels launched offensives in Ukrainian controlled areas, it had resulted in a direct violation of Minsk Protocols. Under the deal, the rebels had to return control of the territories they had captured to Kyiv, while Kyiv had to allow a local election there and grant wider autonomy to the region. Many leaders had regarded these protocols as the ‘last chance’ for the resolution of the conflict. But nothing of sorts has happened.

The other measures of observed unconditional ceasefire had also failed including the release of war prisoners and constitutional reform. Over the time, Ukrainian leaders had vowed to fight against the rebels till the ‘liberation of Ukrainian lands from Russian occupants’, while rebels vowed to fight till victory. In fact, it had been too dangerous for the Ukrainian air force to fly in the rebel-controlled areas lately, as the rebels have brought down about twenty planes.

Russians call their military presence in the area through the prism of ‘humanitarian convoys’ that had actually come without the permission of Ukrainian government. In 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin actually justified the incursion as "defending the Russian-speaking population in the Donbass”. Also, it will be important to note that the region of Crimea is in a state of a ‘frozen conflict’ because Russia militarily controls the region while Ukraine still claims it as their part.

As of now, the rebels will continue their control of all-important southern and eastern provinces. The White House, under the leadership of Donald Trump, has been thinking of arming Ukrainian armed forces as a way of defending further inclusions in the country. Although, Kremlin has warned to act against any such military moves. In fact, if a conventional war happens, the Ukrainian military would likely have a hard time making Russians retreat.

However, if one goes by the polls, most recent that happened in May 2017, conducted by The Centre for East European and International Studies, called as ZOIS Report, the overall majority of respondents in the contested eastern territories were in favour of remaining with part of Ukraine, and one-third supported a special status for the territories within Ukraine.

Thus, the recent declaration of a new state lead by Alexander Zakharchenko by no means reflects the overall preference of the local population. The political leadership is also not united. It has also turned out that the leadership of Luhansk did not know about the creation of Malorossiya federation in Donetsk, and therefore they chose to refute reports of their participation. Will both of these self-proclaimed rebel territories (DNR and LNR) get stitched in the future? 


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