On Russia in World Affairs

Adieu, the People's Republics of Novorossiya!

May 27, 2014
Yesterday, the people of Ukraine have elected a new president. A billionaire, Petro Poroshenko, has a host of daunting tasks at hand. Amid the Kremlin's belligerent policy towards Kiev, Poroshenko has to modernize the economy, diversify Ukraine's gas supplies, quell the separatist rebellions, and integrate the country into the European Union. Fortunately, at least one of these tasks can almost be crossed off the list. The president elect has vowed to pay his first visit to the separatist region of Donetsk, where having failed to derange Ukrainian elections in the region, the separatists did not pass the legitimacy test. I will suggest in what follows that Poroshenko's visit will only underscore the separatists' defeat: hence the efforts of the latter to prevent the president's appearance in the East. 
Writing in their seminal book on democratic consolidation in 1996, Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan noted: "A further complication for democracy and occassionally even for interstate peace arises when a large minority in a country is, or could be, considered by a neighboring state as an irredenta ... However it starts, when irredentist politics become dominant they represent a serious strain on democracy in both the external 'homeland' of the minority and the neighboring nation-building state." In the Ukrainian context, irredentist politics is running out of steam. 
Instead of creating stable and inclusive governance, the People's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk have turned into anarchy camps run by former convicts and other shady figures. In its essence, the separatists' strategy boils down to the following components: terrorizing the populace and appealing to Russia. But even the Kremlin is getting weary of the separatist movements in Eastern Ukraine, with Putin himself showing timid support for the rebels. Without external support, separatist enclaves will disintegrate and terror will cease. This is what the leaders of self-proclaimed republics are most afraid of.
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has a difficult choice to make. By stopping to fund the separatists, Putin will lose his influence on Ukraine, which is decidedly oriented towards Europe, and the Novorossiya project will finally come to naught. On the other hand, by continuing to support the rebels, the Kremlin will waste a lot of oil and tax-payers' money and further intensify Moscow's already inflamed relations with the West. One thing is clear however: as soon as Putin decides that there is no rationale in keeping the separatist leaders afloat, Ukraine will be able to begin its path to democratization anew. In light of positive political dynamics in the country, there is every reason to believe that illegitimate separatism will not stand for long. So let's bid adieu to the People's republics!
Linz, J., and Alfred Stepan (1996). Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation. The Johns Hopkins University Press.
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