Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard
In Donbass the 100-year anniversary of the Donets-Krivoy Rog Republic (DKR) was widely celebrated. Moreover, the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) officially declared itself it as its historical assignee. This means that “independent Ukraine”, if it considers itself as the successor of the Ukrainian People’s Republic from 1918, has no historical and legal rights to Donbass.
“We went down the path of our ancestors”
In the republic’s museum of local history an exhibition devoted to the history of the Donetsk Republic was opened. This is a special event: the museum was crushed by Ukrainian shelling in 2014. Back then the verdict was sad: “it can’t be restored”. And that’s why the opening of an exhibition in the new museum about the history of the revived republic is all the more remarkable and symbolic for Donetsk citizens.
The scale of festive events is explained by the fact that the DPR officially declared itself as the historical assignee of the Donetsk Republic of 1918. This symbolical step, according to the authorities of DPR, will show the inhabitants of Donbass that the current State formation wasn’t born from nothing, and that it has serious and old historical prerequisites. “We went down the path of our ancestors,” stated the leader of the republic Aleksandr Zakharchenko.
Indeed, the events of recent years in Donbass bear a strong resemblance to what happened a century ago. The DKR was created as a response to the separatist Ukrainian project, and also as a response to the illegal coup staged by the Central Rada in Kiev as a way to keep economic and cultural ties with Russia. And back then, as there is now, there were hot discussions about the rights of the Russian and Ukrainian languages, the federal arrangement of Ukraine, and the geo-strategic choice between the West and Russia. If to take newspapers of those times and to replace the names of politicians and parties, then we will receive a practically the same thing that the modern media writes about today.
When there is talk about the present DPR or LPR, many people, first of all remember this same Donets-Krivoy Rog Republic – and it occupied territories that were much more expansive than the current Donbass. This is Kharkov, Sumy, Ekaterinoslav, Zaporozhye, and Krivoy Rog. The leader of the DPR Zakharchenko, speaking at a meeting in Donetsk, made a resonant statement that caused rage in the Ukrainian media: “Our ancestors drew a map for us. Kharkov and Taurida were listed. We will expand it a little bit. We will probably also need Bessarabia… And it is this map we also have to work to”.
What prevents the unification of Donbass
The Donetsk public who gathered at the meeting joyfully supported Zakharchenko’s statement. But experts ask themselves a question: if the leaders of the rebellious Donbass count on the restoration and even expansion of the borders of the 100-year-old Donets-Krivoy Rog Republic, then what prevents the unification already now of two parallel projects — DPR and LPR?
The leaders of the two republics, fighting against the post-Maidan Ukraine, reported about the creation of a Customs union. However, even here they face serious difficulties. In comment of RIA Novosti Aleksandr Zakharchenko explained: the fact is that both republics “independently from each other developed their legislation, methods of management, and now have many divergences in customs, fiscal, and excise rules”. According to him, “preliminary comparison of the legislative bases of the DPR and LPR revealed asynchrony of one-and-a-half dozen legislative acts and bylaws, which should be reduced to a common denominator for the creation of a Customs union”.
The Director of the Institute for Peacekeeping Initiatives and Conflictology Denis Denisov in comment to the agency relegated the problem of asynchrony in the development of internal political processes to second place. But the most important thing, in his opinion, is that “within the framework of the Minsk negotiation process the representatives of the DPR and LPR have two voices, and not one, which could be the case in a unified State”. The expert pointed to one more factor: “There is a traditional competition among the political elite — ‘Donetsk’ ones and ‘Lugansk’ ones — expressed by a competition in management efficiency and the quality of the development of the republics”.
However many experts, including both Donetsk and Lugansk citizens, don’t exclude unification. Denis Denisov considers: “In the future it is rather possible that the DPR and LPR will be able to unite into a uniform political formation if such an initiative is supported by most citizens of the Donbass republics”.
Ukraine without eastern borders
The relevance of the question of the successorship of the Donetsk Republic is amplified also by the fact that in Kiev, at the initiative of the odious head of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory Vladimir Vyatrovich, the discussion about the recognition of the current Ukraine as the rightful successor of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UPR) of the same 1918 inflamed.
From the point of view of the convinced Ukrainian nationalist, Vyatrovich is, of course, correct. Indeed, it is strange that Kiev demolishes all monuments to leaders of the Soviet Ukraine, tries to damn and bury into oblivion their names, but continues at the legislative level to officially call their country the successor of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
However, Vyatrovich doesn’t take into account that the UPR battled against the Soviet Ukraine, and lost. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was factually created by the merger of three republics, recognised by Moscow 100 years ago — actually, the Soviet Ukraine (Vyatrovich will be surprised, but originally that one was also called the Ukrainian People’s Republic) and the Donetsk and Odessa republics. And if now Kiev refuses to consider this merger as lawful, having isolated for itself only the UPR, then if there is an acting assignee of the Donets-Krivoy Rog Republic it is possible after all to raise the question also about the legality of the current borders of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian leadership (in particular, via Petro Poroshenko’s lips) declares that Russia and even the international community in 1918 allegedly recognised the borders of the UPR, where both Donbass and Kharkov were included. This doesn’t correspond to the historical reality at its root. Having concluded the Brest Treaty with Ukraine in February 1918, Germany and Austro-Hungary stipulated only the Western borders of the UPR. According to this document, Kiev had to define the northern and eastern borders in direct negotiations with Moscow.
In May of 1918 these negotiations indeed began in the Pedagogical museum of Kiev, and, after lasting several months, ended with nothing – the Russian delegation left Ukraine, without having recognised the accession to it of neither the Donetsk Republic nor Odessa. These formations were included in the unified project of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1919, when Petliura’s troops of the UPR were crushed by the Bolsheviks.
I.e., Russia never recognised the inclusion of Donbass in the structure of Petliura’s UPR. And if now Kiev at the official level calls itself the historical and legal assignee precisely of the UPR, and not the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, then many will remember Zakharchenko’s words about the restoration of the borders of the Donets-Krivoy Rog Republic, which had no relation to Petliura’s project.
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