On the night of May 26 armed insurgents from the Donetsk Republic stormed, looted, and torched the Druzhba Arena in Donetsk.
The arena is the only professional capacity arena in the country and home to the HC Donbass hockey team, Ukraine’s top professional & international team. The gunmen stole plasma TVs, equipment, safety deposit boxes, and a company car before destroying surveillance equipment and setting the building ablaze.
The team is owned by Boris Kolesnikov, a close ally of Rinat Akhmetov and top ranking member of the Party of Regions.
The team issued a statement saying it was deeply angered by what happened and emphasized: “We call on those people who still sympathize with the rebels of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, terrorizing East Ukraine – think: Is this a “future” they want for themselves and their children?
On May 22 in Donetsk, the founding congress of the newly formed New Russia Party (officially the Social-Political Movement – Party of New Russia) took place, led by Pavel Gubarev, paramilitary leader and self-declared ‘People’s Governor’ of the Donetsk People’s Republic. The purpose of the party, Gubarev said, was to create “a broad platform for a future political force.” He addressed the crowd with policy issues, the goals & objectives of the party, and proclaimed the foundation of a (another) new state he called New Russia – which he stated would be the party’s first goal. The second goal would be the nationalization of property owned by oligarchs who resisted the party – namely, billionaire Rinat Akhmetov.
The news follows similar announcements murmured on May 6 when renegade Ukrainian MP Oleg Tsarov issued a similar declaration on the creation of a new ‘Federal Republic of New Russia,’ though details of its organization were limited and official word had been quiet since. Tsarov has been trying to carve out a place for himself in separatist politics after his bid in the presidential race failed to gain traction in Ukraine’s southeast, and has since remained in the easternmost province of Luhansk. The declaration earned him a place on the European Union’s sanctions list.
The First Congress
A Collective of the Far-Right
The first congress of New Russia’s eponymous party was attended by pro-Russian separatist officials of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Donbass Militia and Donetsk Republic leader Pavel Gubarev. Notably, Gubarev was previously a member of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity, which is part of the World Union of National Socialists. The leader of the RNU was recently implicated in rigging the Donetsk Republic referendum, and openly admitted to his presence in the region.
Also in attendance were Alexander Prokhanov, described as “a devout Stalinist and notorious anti-Semite whose ideology bears strong marks of Russian fascism if not Nazism (including fascination with the idea that Russia is the true “mystical womb” of Aryan civilization);” Alexander Dugin, a controversial ideologue known for his admiration of fascism and the killing of Ukrainians; and Valery Korovin, a political analyst who calls for “the domination of leftist economics and rightist politics.” Both Prokhanov and Korovin are members of the Izborsky Club, a group which advocates for a continental “Eurasian Empire” to “save the peoples of Russia from degeneration and outside attack.”
Dugin expanded his thoughts on the self-declared state later online, calling it a response by those who “reject the Kyiv-Galician identity” in favor of an “ethno-social” Cossack way of life. The party’s purpose is also a rejection of “Jewish oligarchs,” “pro-American liberals,” and “Catholics, Protestants, and Schismatics.” He also describes an ongoing “war with liberal Nazis.”
Clearly being a driving political hand behind the party and new ‘confederation’, Dugin says that New Russia will be independent but part of ‘Eurasian integration’ which will facilitate a restoration of ‘Great Russia’, and essentially sees the polity as both a satellite state and key to the revival of the Russian Empire. However, he plainly states that the region won’t join the Russia Federation as Crimea did. The official party programme states it will be a sovereign federation.
Donetsk will act as the capital city of the federation, and Russian Orthodox Christianity will be given ‘special status’ as the official state religion. Ukrainian (which he refers to as ‘Little Russian’) should be the second official language (though the official party guide contradicts this). Nationalization of major industries is a must.
While the creation of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics is considered the first phase of the project, the second phase is surprisingly said to be causing rebellion in the western Ukrainian province of Zakarpattia. The third phase is a further expansion to central and western Ukraine.
Given the political leanings of those involved in the congress, the symbology used by the party follows a predictable, but attention grabbing motif.
Officially, the new national flag was presented by a speaker as a take on the St. Andrews Cross, with white representing “purity and honesty,” and red representing blood. However, most will likely see the flag for what it most ostensibly is: a near recreation of the American Confederate battle flag, a symbol which remains highly controversial in the United States and often associated with racism. The flag made its first appearance on the Facebook account of Pavel Gubarev in December, months before eastern unrest. The unofficial rationale behind the decision could be multitude: rebellion, confederacy, ‘state rights’ (regional autonomy), and a desire to provoke the U.S. (a stated enemy); of course, the reason could also be more insidious.
Beyond that, the party crest (seen in the Novorossiya newspaper a day prior) is somewhat innocuous with its wheat, spoil tips, and prolific Golden Eagle soaring above. The eagle, known as a berkut in Ukrainian, was intentionally chosen as a divisive nod to the reviled and disbanded special police force of the same name that was involved in widespread police brutality and the murder of EuroMaidan protesters, but unsurprisingly heroized by Russia and pro-Russian separatists alike.
In recent months Russian president Vladimir Putin has made ominous statements referring to Ukraine’s southeast in the archaic “New Russia,” (Novorossiya) and in parroting revisionist history lamenting that “Only God knows” why these historically Ukrainian lands were “transferred” to [Soviet] Ukraine in 1920. “I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya [New Russia] back in the tsarist days—Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa—were not part of Ukraine back then.” What he says is partially true, as Ukraine did not exist as a state ‘back then’. Neither did the Russian Federation. Semantics aside, in reality, Soviet Ukraine was birthed in the eastern city of Kharkiv in 1919, and even after a Russian-backed civil war against a unified (if tumultuous) unified Ukrainian state in Kyiv, the southeast remained integral to the territorial unit that is Ukraine through all its incarnations (and no transfers have ever occurred). Despite this, use of the colonial-era term has been explained as a case of irredentism, used increasingly by Russian neo-imperialists.
It is still to be determined what purpose a party such as this will have in Ukrainian, or separatist politics. While the political aspirations of the now terrorist-branded Donetsk Republic may have been too small in scope for Gubarev, creating such a party is a clear attempt to consolidate and unify separatist forces which have been plagued with infighting in Donetsk, and with no clear direction or coordination between the Donetsk and Luhansk camps. Moreover, the Congress is also a clear attempt to establish a single-party system in these self-declared democracies.
Russian historian Sergey Lebedev recently called Moldova’s Russian-occupied region of Transnistria “the first liberated part of New Russia” and these escalating developments in its name are cause for concern as each successive move since the invasion of Crimea has been predictably telegraphed in advance. If Gubarev’s social media postings are to be prophetic of his intentions, a map posted in late January adorning the party’s flag indicates supporters’ eyes are set on 9 southeastern regions in order to create a “politically stable Ukraine.” Will the South rise again? Based solely on the will of the people and the military setbacks in successfully gaining a foothold in the Donbas, the aspirations of the New Russia Party are currently nothing short of a pipe dream.
Donetsk, Slavyansk, Kramatorsk—is what a land without nationalism actually looks like: corrupt, anarchic, full of rent-a-mobs and mercenaries. For the most part, the men in balaclavas who have assaulted Ukrainian state institutions under the leadership of Russian commandos are not nationalists; they are people who will do the bidding of whichever political force pays best or promises most. And although they are a small minority, the majority does not oppose them. On the contrary, the majority is watching the battle passively and seems prepared to take whichever government they get. Like my friends in L’viv, these are people who live where they do by accident, whose parents or grandparents arrived by the whim of a Soviet bureaucrat, who have no attachment to any nation or any state at all.
Thus do the tiny group of nationalists in Ukraine, whom perhaps we can now agree to call patriots, represent the country’s only hope of escaping apathy, rapacious corruption, and, eventually, dismemberment.
And this should be no surprise: In the nineteenth century, no sensible freedom fighter would have imagined it possible to create a modern state, let alone a democracy, without some kind of nationalist movement behind it. Only people who feel some kind of allegiance to their society—people who celebrate their national language, literature, and history, people who sing national songs and repeat national legends—are going to work on that society’s behalf.
In truth, you can’t really make “the case” for nationalism; you can only inculcate it, teach it to children, cultivate it at public events. If you do so, nationalism can in turn inspire you so that you try to improve your country, to help it live up to the image you want it to have. Among other things, that thought inspired the creation of this magazine 100 years ago.
Ukrainians need more of this kind of inspiration, not less—moments like last New Year’s Eve, when more than 100,000 Ukrainians sang the national anthem at midnight on the Maidan. They need more occasions when they can shout, “Slava Ukraini—Heroyam Slava”—“Glory to Ukraine, Glory to its Heroes,” which was, yes, the slogan of the controversial Ukrainian Revolutionary Army in the 1940s, but has been adopted to a new context. And then of course they need to translate that emotion into laws, institutions, a decent court system, and police training academies. If they don’t, then their country will once again cease to exist.
Anne Applebaum is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and has acted as editor at The Economist, and a member of the editorial board of The Washington Post.
One day following a local separatist referendum, the commander of the Donbass People’s Militia, the paramilitary wing of the Donetsk Republic Organization, Igor “Strelkov” Girkin has declaredhimself “Supreme Commander” of the fledgling rebel territory. In his decree, in addition to giving himself absolute authority over all military and security structures and demanding sworn allegiance within the next 48 hours, he declares outright war against Ukraine and all military or police units stationed in the province. Girkin then lists Ukrainian and U.S. officials who will be ‘prosecuted’ for ‘perpetrating massacres’ (including CIA director John Brennan), and concludes his declaration by requesting military assistance from the Russian Federation.
It is unknown at this time if his self-appointed position will conflict with self-proclaimed ‘People’s Governor’ Pavel Gubarev. Girkin has been a vocal critic of separatist authorities in Donetsk, and has publicly stated that there have been conflicts with Republic leadership in Donetsk prior to their working agreement. “The agreement wasn’t easy for us, because in the resistance we have quite a lot of grievances about the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic, which has been able to do almost nothing since the seizure of the Donetsk governor’s office.”
Below is his statement:
1. Reassign myself as the Supreme Commander of the DPR, and all permanently stationed military units on the republic, including security, police, customs, border guards, prosecutors and paramilitary structures.
2. Entering into the territory of the DPR forces of the counter-terrorist operation (CTO) under Ukrainian rebels who are neo-Naz0 groups (the so-called “National Guard”, the Right Sector,” Lyashko’s Battalion, etc.) are subject to detention and, in the case of armed resistance, will be destroyed on the spot.
4. All the soldiers and officers of the armed forces, internal security forces, the Security Service, the Interior Ministry and other paramilitary structures of Ukraine from now on will be considered to be illegally within the territory of the DPR. Within 48 hours they are required to swear allegiance to the DPR or leave the country. All will come under the command of the DPR authorities and will be guaranteed the preservation of military and special ranks, salaries and social security (assuming nothing to do with the commission of serious and very serious crimes).
5. Given the urgency of the situation in the country, the Kiev junta unleashed genocide on the Donetsk population, and the threat of intervention by NATO, I refer to the Russian Federation with a request for military assistance to DPR.
‘Strelkov’ has been described by Ukraine’s security service as a Russian colonel and resident of Moscow. He is currently a target of European Union sanctions, and was named by the EU’s Official Journal to be on the staff of the Russian foreign military intelligence agency (GRU), and a key figure involved in the military takeover of Crimea as an assistant on security matters to Sergei Aksyonov, Crimea’s self-declared prime minister.
This act comes a day after Donetsk’ regional referendum, which was internationally condemned by western nations and the OSCE as illegitimate. Reports on the day of the poll showed evidence of mass voter fraud and intimidation. The run-up to the referendum involved the seizure of thousands of pre-filled ballots, and a tapped phone call released by the SBU which unveiled Russian involvement and premeditated fraud.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) has releasedevidence concerning the preparation and coordination of the Donetsk Republic’s planned referendum with Russian foreign agents, in particular, leader of the neo-Nazi paramilitary group Russian National Unity Alexander Barkashov.
In the purported conversation, the leader of Orthodox Donbass, a group working with the separatists, discusses the need for Russian military support and that the Republic’s forces are not likely to withstand the ongoing fight with Ukrainian military by the May 11th referendum date, and that such a province-wide measure could not be held so long as Ukrainian forces remain in the region. In response, the voice said to be Barkashov insists that not cancellation or postponement can be allowed to take place, and that the results should be fabricated if need be. At first he suggests penning in a 99% vote in favor similar to the Crimean scenario, but then lowers the figure to a slightly less incredulous 89%. Barkashov then mentions that “everyone is keyed up, even [Chechen leader Ramzan] Kadyrov” and that he had written to Vladimir Putin concerning the events.
Recall that the Donetsk Republic’s self-described “people’s governor” Pavel Gubarev is a former member of the neo-Nazi paramilitary group, but this new evidence would suggest his ties to the group are still strong. Gubarev has remained separatist leader in absentia since his arrest on March 6th.