Russian parliamentarians move to ‘defend compatriots’ by recognizing Donbas pseudo ‘republics’
Viacheslav Volodin, speaker of Russia’s State Duma, is threatening ‘consultations’ in the coming week on a proposed ‘appeal’ to Russian President Vladimir Putin ‘asking’ him to recognize the Russian proxy ‘Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics’ [D-LPR’]. ‘Appeals’ have been a favourite of the current Russian regime since 1 March 2014 when Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN waved about a piece of paper claiming it to be a letter to Putin from ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asking him to send troops into Ukraine. This new appeal also proposes further Russian aggression and would, if acted upon, spell Russia’s unilateral rejection of the Minsk Agreement.
Some of the same Russians who helped Russian soldiers seize control of Crimea in late February 2014 were responsible for the seizure of Sloviansk in April 2014 and subsequent creation of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’. While Russia has armed, financed and controlled ‘D-LPR’ since that time, it has, up till now, refrained from formally recognizing these illegal structures.
The draft resolution on the proposed appeal to Putin was registered in the State Duma on 19 January 2022. It is, officially, a private initiative from Gennady Ziuganov and other members of Russia’s Communist Party. Unofficially, it seems quite possible that the communists were chosen to put forward a proposal that the Kremlin is either considering or wants to have ‘on the table’. Speaker Volodin is from the ruling United Russia party which has openly collaborated with the proxy ‘republics’ and which one of the former Russian ‘DPR leaders’ Alexander Borodai now represents in parliament.
In his comment on the ‘Communist Party initiative’, Volodin notes that Sergei Mironov, the head of the faction ‘Just Russia – For Truth’, has also indicated their support for the resolution. He mentions that Vladimir Zhirinovsky, head of the so-called ‘Liberal Democratic Party of Russia’ has expressed himself “on a larger scale”. While it is not at all guaranteed that Zhirinovsky’s faction would not support the resolution, for the moment Zhirinovsky appears to be against the move, saying it will not help “Russians in Ukraine”, nor Russia’s strategic security. He believes that the resolution will simply lead to further western sanctions. So too, admittedly, would Zhirinovsky’s ‘ambitions’. He told RIA Novosti that they need “to hit so that everybody remembers it.” His party’s position is “that all of Ukraine should once again become a part of Russia” [sic].
Volodin hints that deputies from the Unted Russia could support the resolution. In his rendition, “they are also concerned by the issue of protection for the life of Russian citizens and their compatriots living on the territory of DPR and LPR”.
Kazbek Taisayev from the Communist faction in the State Duma first reported that a resolution had been drafted on 9 January this year. He said that it was analogous to resolutions on recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the results of Russia’s 2008 war against Georgia. He reiterated that there is no alternative to the Minsk Agreement only to then accuse Kyiv of deliberately dragging out its implementation and saying that “today our citizens, our people, our compatriots, our relatives and loved ones are dying. We cannot accept that and we will resolve this task unequivocally.”
It is no accident that Taisayev should have been reminded of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. That was the first time that Moscow used a ploy which it is now applying in occupied Donbas. The ‘citizens’ that all of these Russian politicians speak of with such pathos were provided with Russian citizenship in order to justify Russian intervention. It was recognized as a ploy even back in 2008 when the mass issue of passports preceded open aggression. The situation in Donbas is especially cynical since it was only in 2019 that Putin signed the first decrees making it very simple for Ukrainians living in any part of Donbas, and not only those areas within the proxy ‘republics’, to obtain Russian citizenship. Claiming with pathos now that Russia must “protect its citizens” may work among those Russians who are exposed only to state media propaganda, but will hardly convince the international community.
The possibility that Russia will ‘recognize’ entities which they are internationally understood to fully control has been mentioned on very many occasions since 2014. On 1 December 2021, Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov stated that the prospects for such recognition were “difficult to predict”.
Ukrainian political analyst Vitaly Portnikov has expressed scepticism as to this being a private ‘communist’ initiative. He points out that Ziuganov is as much of a puppet as Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnyk, the nominal leaders of ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’, respectively, “only he gets better fed”. Portnikov says that, at first glance, the suggestion of recognizing the ‘republics’ seems absurd. This would demonstrate to the world Moscow’s refusal to comply with the Minsk Agreement and the illusion in Ukraine would disappear that there could ever be the possibility, under Putin, of reaching an agreement, reinstating Ukraine’s territorial integrity. “This illusion is an important weapon in Putin’s pressure on Kyiv, and this weapon is used not only by Russian, but also by many irresponsible Ukrainian politicians from among representatives of the authorities”.
On the other hand, he believes, the Kremlin could be considering various reactions to the inevitable refusal of the West to agree to Russia’s ultimatum regarding NATO. If Putin backs off a total invasion, he could use such ‘recognition’ as his reaction to not getting his way.
This is no small thing. As Portnikov notes, Abkhazia and South Ossetia have been used as a base enabling “the effectively legalized presence of Russian forces”. Why would the Kremlin not try the same thing in Donbas? “After all, having recognized ‘the independence’ of the people’s republics, Russian forces could be already “on fully ‘lawful’ grounds be brought in, as some kind of ‘peacekeeping forces’ and at the request of the supposed republic leaders”. ‘D-LPR’ could then be used for further shelling of Ukrainian territory, without any Normandy format negotiations.
This is a very dark scenario and, at present, there is no indication that Moscow is planning to formally recognize structures that only Russia pretends have any autonomy. On the other hand, Portnikov is certainly not alone in suspecting that the communists are mere puppets in this enterprise.
The Minsk Agreement is largely moribund and everybody knows that Russia is a party to the conflict. Russia’s effective acknowledgement of this through the ‘recognition’ of its proxy ‘republics’ would still not be a small thing that the West could see as a ‘minor incursion’ worth accepting in exchange for Russia’s removal of its vast military build-up from Ukraine’s borders. They would be back, and, as Portnikov warns, would now be openly within Ukraine’s territory.