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.