Fighting for “New Russia”

29.06.2014 - 16:04

Russia’s official news agency, Novosti, on 26 June used the term “Novorossiya” to describe the territory of the newly declared “Union of Novorossiya” in contrast to the territory of Ukraine. Europe has a new political reality -- an armed struggle for a territory whose very name evokes geopolitical confrontation.

Until recently, Novosti had only used the term “Novorossiya” to reflect use of it by other people. In early June, Novosti was still usually referring to the name of the entity by placing it in quotation marks or describing it as the so-called Novorossiya. In the Novosti geopolitical reality of late June 2014, Novorossiya now apparently joins Abkhazia and South Ossetia as an independent political territory. Supporters of the new entity in eastern Ukraine have designed a new flag (and even several variants) for what they are calling a newly independent part of the “former Ukraine”, to mimic diplomatic parlance for the former Yugoslavia.

One of Russia’s independent researchers, Dmitry Trenin, reported in 2011 that at the time of the Orange Revolution and Ukrainian interest in membership of NATO (around 2005 and following), “some not entirely academic quarters in Moscow played with the idea of a major geopolitical redesign of the northern Black Sea area, under which southern Ukraine, from the Crimea to Odessa, would secede from Kiev and form a Moscow-friendly buffer state, ‘Novorossiya’.” Trenin concluded that by 2010 the prospects for such a set of circumstances had dimmed.

In a long interview on 17 April, President Putin referred to the troubled region in eastern Ukraine as “the Russian southeast. It’s New Russia.”. He followed with this: “Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in Czarist times. They were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there. We need to encourage them to find a solution.” In May and June 2014, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin met with leaders from Transdnistria in Moldova and the leader of the Novorossiya Popular Front, Igor Tsarev, in Moscow. 

Thus while most Western media reports of the past week have been focused on the so-called cease-fire talks or on so-called negotiations between Ukraine and its rebels, a very different picture has rapidly crystallized in the reports of the Russian government media that focusses more on the new political entity called Novorossiya. Novosti is now referring to the anti-rebel forces in this region as “forces under the control of Kyiv”. 

By contrast, the word Novorossiya does not turn up on the Russian Foreign Ministry Russian language website, and appears only once on the Presidential Russian language website (the 17 April interview). So for now at least, as of 27 June, the Russian government is maintaining radio silence on the emergence of the new entity.  

The online news site, Information Agency Novorossiya, lists eight of Ukraine’s provinces (its entire south all the way to Odessa) as part of Novorossiya. Russia’s government-owned news agency TASS has reported that the new entity is already seeking membership of the Eurasian Customs Union, led by Russia and comprising so far Belarus and Kazakhstan. We can expect strong reaction from USA and EU to the unification of the two rebel governments (Donetsk and Luhansk) and the emergence of the new entity. 

On 26 June, the Chairman of the new Union of Novorossiya, Tsarev, who had met with a team sent by Kyiv to open consultations, set terms for any formal talks “with Ukraine” that were tantamount to recognition of the full political independence of the new entity. Russia’s official media appear to support his view.