News Brief

Ukrainian Separatists Disagree Over Creation of a New State

The leader of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, a separatist-controlled region in Eastern Ukraine, announced the establishment of a new state which he claims will be a successor to Ukraine itself.

Speaking to journalists from Russia’s TASS news agency, the breakaway region’s leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, said that the proposed state would be called Malorossiya, which translates as Little Russia, because, he said, the name “Ukraine” has been discredited.

Zakharchenko claimed that separatist leaders in breakaway provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk had agreed on the Malorossiya name because the Ukrainian government was illegitimate and “the Ukrainian state, as it was, cannot be restored”.

The announcement, however, appears to have caught representatives of the neighboring breakaway region of Luhansk by surprise. Despite Zakharchenko’s assurances that the creation of a new country was coordinated, a local news site quoted the Luhansk separatists’ spokesperson Vladimir Degtyarenko saying that he learned about it from the media and that “no one has discussed this project with us.” The Kremlin has also dismissed the announcement, stating that Zakharchenko was acting on his own initiative.

Degtyarenko added that the Luhansk separatists “remain committed” to the Minsk agreements, the controversial ceasefire deal between the separatists and the Ukrainian government. Although largely ineffective, the deal is currently the only existing roadmap to ending the war, which has killed more than 10,000 people since it began in April 2014.

Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the spring of 2014, Kremlin-backed separatists in Donetsk held their own referendum on independence from Kiev and Russian state-owned media and Russian officials dubbed the region “Novorossiya”, or “New Russia.” The term was later dropped, a move which was interpreted as a sign of the Kremlin’s waning support for the region.

Reacting to Zakharchenko’s statement, a spokesperson for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko underlined his commitment to the Minsk Agreement and vowed that Kiev would reestablish control over the breakaway regions and Crimea.

Western governments have echoed Kiev’s claims that Russia is supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. Moscow has denied these accusations.