On June 7-8, 2014 a conference of left associations, movements, groups and initiatives of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine took place near Minsk.
This paper was presented there. It is of interest as it establishes that the Russians have always been a national minority in Donetsk and Lugansk. This is in sharp contradiction to Russian government and ‘communist’ claims.
(These statistics are confirmed in eds. Klaus Bachman and Igor Lyubashenko, ‘The Maidan Uprising, Separatism and Foreign Intervention’, in the article by Adam Balcer, ‘Borders Within Borderland: The cultural and ethnic diversity of Ukraine’, Frankfurt am Main, 2014, pp. 87-118).
The article by Latur undermines the position of Putin who artificially conflates the minority of ethnic Russians of Lugansk and Donetsk with the majority of ethnic Ukrainians who speak Russian to argue that the Russian state is liberating a Russian majority. It also annihilates the argument of José María Sison, Chairman Emeritus of The International League of Peoples’ Struggle, that there exists a Russian majority in the Donbass which is why there is a need to support the Russian imperialist aggression on Ukraine.
There is a classic Stalin’s definition of a nation: “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.”1 On the one hand, this definition is static, reflecting neither the foundations of the birth nor describing the dynamics of the nation. On the other hand, sociocentric ethnos, the biological part of the nation, is taken out of the brackets. Let’s schematically outline the picture of the formation of the nation.
Obviously, nations begin to appear with the advent of the capitalist (industrial) mode of production, when there is a need to integrate more people into production, as well as territories to establish production. In addition, the region of exchange between people has expanded significantly due to new opportunities for transporting goods and services. The territories that later became the territories of nation-states were occupied by various, usually closely related, ethnic groups that formed a common socio-cultural, including linguistic, identity. Of course, the plurality of ethnic groups led to the formation of a nation based on one or several of the most closely related ethnic groups, which determined, if not quantitative, then the qualitative composition of the nation in view of the possession of basic resources (including infrastructure and power in all connotations) and / or means of production. Other ethnic groups, which constitute border and transitional structures with other nations, subsequently became national minorities.
At the same time, peripheral ethnic groups were included in the socio-cultural and economic space of the “central” nation in various ways. These could be equal and unequal rights in the distribution of the product of production and ownership of the means of production. Equality in this case implies either quantitative equality, or an equal share in production relative to the quantitative composition of the ethnic group, or a simulacrum when relations are accepted by all parties as equal, but in fact they are not. Inequality, like equality, can also be quantitative and qualitative. It is important to note that the main starting point is the consent of ethnic groups to a similar mode of production and distribution, otherwise any relationship will be perceived as unequal and lead to ethnic conflicts if the ethnic group is isolated on the territory of a given nation state and does not have its own national state, or national conflicts.
Now we need to superimpose interclass and then intergroup interaction on this simplified scheme of central and peripheral ethnic groups. Thus, the social space of the nation state is complicated both by the existence of class struggle within individual ethnic groups, and by the existence of class struggle at the level of the nation as a whole. At the level of the nation, individual ethnic groups can occupy, as we have already written earlier, different places in the social hierarchy. For example, one of the ethnic groups may prevail in the capitalist class, and the other in the proletarian class, which will lead to the superposition of inter-ethnic tension on inter-class tension. And at the same time, the ethnic minority can identify with the majority in the class struggle, denying their ethnicity, placing their social identity higher.
Of course, all of the above is only an approximate diagram, but it will allow us to project the main points of the situation in the south-east of Ukraine. After all, in order to express any opinion about the situation, it is necessary to understand it.
Let’s start with a schematic consideration of the dynamics of ethnic groups in the south-eastern regions of Ukraine. Despite the fact that the composition of the population of Ukraine in general and the south-eastern regions in particular is multi-ethnic2, for consideration we will single out two ethnic groups that are “background” for these territories, prevailing in quantitative and qualitative composition.
At the end of the 19th century (1897 census), Ukrainians dominated on the territory of modern Donetsk and Luhansk regions (Ekaterinoslav and part of Kharkov provinces). Russians made up to 18%. Thus, the assignment of the south-eastern regions of Ukraine to the “primordially Russian territories” looks extremely doubtful. From a de jure point of view, for almost 100 years, the territories have belonged to Ukraine, both as part of the Ukrainian SSR and as part of an independent republic. So de facto. the territory was initially dominated by the Ukrainian-speaking population, and the Russians were only the second ethnic group.
According to the ethnic composition of the left-bank Malorossiya for 1897
Russian population in 1917-1989 thousand people
Dynamics of the ratio of Ukrainians and Russians in percent 1959-2001
During the existence of the USSR, the ethnic ratio began to change. For the USSR, even to a greater extent than for tsarist Russia, the centrifugal spread of Russians was characteristic. This was due to the increased potential mobility of the population and the desire to increase the share of the “main” nation in the ethnic composition of the union republics. As we see in “Table 2”, the number of the Russian population on the territory of Ukraine for the period from 1917 to 1989 increased by 3.1 times. As for the percentage, the percentage of the Russian population in the Donetsk region increased from 37.5% in 1959 to 43.6% in 1989, for Lugansk 38.7% and 44.7% respectively. Most likely, this is due not only to migration processes, but to the semi-forced assimilation of the local population with the backbone nation for the USSR.
The next stage was the period of independence. Here, the opposite situation is already observed – for the period from 1989 to 2001 the percentage of Russians in the Donetsk region falls from 43.6% to 38.2%, in the Lugansk region from 44.7% to 39%. This is connected, firstly, with the centripetal movement of the Russian ethnos in the 1990s, and secondly, with the beginning of Ukrainisation and a change in the self-identification of individual Russians living on the territory of Ukraine.
In terms of considering self-identification, three studies conducted by the Razumkov Center (Ukrainian non-state analytical centre founded in 1994 – editor’s note) are interesting. In the first survey, it was proposed to answer whether the respondent would choose Ukraine as his “Motherland” if he had the opportunity to choose. A high frequency of “no” answers falls on the east and south of Ukraine. For the east it is 18%. Poll #2: “Would you give up Ukrainian citizenship for the citizenship of another country?” East answers “yes” in 26.2%. What kind of citizenship do residents of eastern Ukraine want? 31.7% of respondents want Russian citizenship.
Unfortunately, we were unable to find data on the number of Russian speakers in the eastern regions of Ukraine, but we can rely on indirect data from a study conducted by the Razumkov Center in 2006. According to the data obtained, even in the east of Ukraine, 85.2% of respondents are sufficiently proficient in the Ukrainian language. However, in everyday life, most likely, at least 36.8% use it. Thus, with the predominance of ethnic Ukrainians, or, more precisely, those who identify themselves as Ukrainians, language “scissors” arise.
Regarding the economic component, the majority of production in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions is represented by the coal mining industry, processing of ferrous and non-ferrous metals, machine-building and chemical production. About 70% of manufactured products are exported abroad. The share of exports to Russia is 24.7% for the Donetsk region, and 33.0% for the Lugansk region. However, the share of exports to the EU countries is no less. For Donetsk region – 14.1%, for Lugansk – 36.7%. Which speaks of the dichotomy of interests of the big bourgeoisie – the need to maintain friendly relations with all major partners. Most likely, Akhmetov’s “strange” position is connected with this – an attempt to maintain sovereignty between two fires. Consumers in the Russian Federation, as well as in the EU, ultimately do not care who exactly will own the enterprises, as long as the products continue to be supplied. However, it is easy to understand that if the Russian Federation supports the “separatists” on formal grounds (“Narodovoltsy", defenders of the Russian people), then for the EU they look like a direct threat to supplies, even if this does not significantly affect production. In addition, the EU expects that the new Ukrainian government will lobby for the interests of the EU, establishing the order of behaviour of the big bourgeoisie in the southeast. And the “separatists” are just a group with the intention to become the big bourgeoisie in this region, and their position is extremely shaky.
Based on all indirect statistics, we can say that the south-east of Ukraine is a region with significant Russian influence. This is confirmed by the ethnic, linguistic and economic component. We can talk about the pro-Russian mood of up to 20% of the population. But this does not mean that all of these 20% are ready to fight to be Russians or to be part of the “Russian world”. Then who is fighting in the southeast and for what?
But let’s start with those who do not fight. The majority of the population of the southeast has been and is in a state of series.
Outwardly, they are all disunited, atomised, but their entire practice is aimed at maintaining the status quo. Any change in the situation is perceived by them as directed against their being, and any person, agent, group or team advocating a change in the situation as a stranger, an enemy, subject to elimination. Change for them is always perceived as a change for the worse, respectively, and change is always the worst. But the rejection of change and the elimination of the alien takes place not through action, praxis, but through inertia, statics. Hence the mass vote of the southeast for Yanukovych and the Party of Regions. They voted not for action/change, but for maintaining their modus vivendi. In linguistic form, this is well described by the saying “if only there was no war.” Although, as subsequent events showed, this led to the beginning of the clashe.
The events in Kiev, which led to the formation of new groups and collectives, as well as vague rhetoric around the language issue, set the series in motion. Under the pressure of circumstances, primarily of an ideological nature, each individual faced the need for self-identification and association in groups and collectives on the basis of self-identification. This is how a wide team was formed, the basis of which can be expressed as: “we don’t care what you do there, but don’t you dare change something here.” It was this collective that formed the areal protests in the southeast. But other people took advantage of its motivational component and mass character. The intention to reject otherness became a support for pre-existing, often disparate groups that professed other goals than the preservation of the status quo. For these groups, the protest moods became a “social lift” that allowed them to form a different system of power instead of or in parallel with the existing one. This became all the more possible, because the “official” authorities were represented by people at the time of the events in Kyiv who had lost real power, or who did not have the potential to choose a side. The fish rotted from the head. Thus, a situation arose when the masses wanted to preserve the pre-existing situation, saw the central government as a threat to their existence, and the existing power structures could not / did not want to make decisions and implement them in practice. And the place of “official” power structures was taken by groups that had active supporters and were able to act with impunity.
It is quite likely that the Russian Federation was also interested in the activities of these groups, which represented the interests of the petty bourgeoisie in its striving for enlargement, the criminal elements who wished to legalise themselves as the bourgeoisie, and individual factions of the big bourgeoisie, striving for even greater enlargement. The Russian Federation, unofficially, as in Crimea, supported the most active part of the protesters financially, providing “military advisers” and human resources. Of course, all the evidence that we can find on this topic is circumstantial, but it remains a fact that through such support, the Russian Federation achieved or tried to achieve several goals that were beneficial only to it. The maximum programme, most likely, was the separation of the southeastern regions of Ukraine (Odessa, Nikolaev, Kherson, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkov) in favour of Russia. The minimum programme was the destabilization of the situation in Ukraine as a whole and the disruption of early presidential elections, which would mean the preservation of the status of illegal, illegitimate Ukrainian government. This would expand Russia’s room for manoeuver in the international political arena, including in terms of legalizing the seizure of Crimea. However, subsequent events showed that, unlike the events in Crimea, actions on the territory of continental Ukraine are associated with a number of difficulties for the “defenders of the Russian world”.
As it turned out, firstly, the “Russian spring” does not enjoy the support of the general population. Secondly, the new Ukrainian authorities, thanks in part to Crimea, managed to consolidate to eliminate internal and external threats. Thirdly, many of the “vacillating” representatives of the authorities managed to either go over to the side of the “junta” or were excluded from the field of power. Fourthly, formed from volunteers (people who clearly understood what they would fight and against whom) on the principle of self-organization, the National Guard battalions were able to successfully replace the wavering Ukrainian army. It should be noted that the material support of the National Guard comes at the expense of the population on a voluntary basis, which brings us back to “first”. Fifth, in many regions it was possible to extinguish the protest wave that could be used by pro-Russian groups by changing the leadership to a tougher one, acts of terror that received the right coverage. One can argue for a long time who exactly prepared and carried out the provocation in Odessa, but the fact remains that the “anti-Maidan” activity in the Odessa region is dying down.
As a result, the “separatists” managed to gain a foothold only in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, but even there they do not control the entire territory. They managed to secure a corridor for the access of material and technical means from the territory of the Russian Federation, knocking out Ukrainian troops from part of the border crossings. However, the “people’s trust” in the “separatists” as the defenders of the “Russian-speaking” population from the Ukrainian “Bandero-fascists” is fading away with an increase in the number of clashes. Witnesses point out that the “separatists” are fighting defensive battles, hiding behind non-combatants and urban infrastructure (kindergartens, schools, churches, gas distribution stations, water treatment plants). Among other things, they provoke civilians and even journalists to come under fire, using further civilian casualties in the “information war”. Confidence is also not added by cases of robbery, seizure of buildings, including private property, kidnappings for ransom and torture of civilians. As a result, the behaviour of the civilian population is subject to a dichotomy. On the one hand, the proportion of supporters of a “united Ukraine” who see Ukrainian military as liberators is increasing. There is information about the support of part of the population of the Ukrainian army and the National Guard through the provision of food to the fighters and information about the activities of the “separatists”. Part of the population decided to leave the area of hostilities. According to various sources, more than 100 thousand people have already left for Russia (FMS data as of July 3): more than 100 thousand citizens of Ukraine turned to departments of the department for advice on the issue of a long stay on the territory of the Russian Federation. – approx. ed.). Oddly enough, this also does not speak in favour of the “separatists”. People preferred to leave rather than defend the interests of the “defenders of the people”. Some of the refugees declare that they will return to their settlements after the end of the anti-terrorist operation.
So, we came to the conclusion that despite the presence of border ethnic tension in the south-eastern region of Ukraine, spurred on by the crisis of self-identification against the backdrop of the weakness of the existing government, the majority of the population is inclined to maintain a series and avoid direct conflict. This confirms the presence of refugees and the events after the “pacification” of Slavyansk. One of the reasons for the retreat of the “separatists” can be considered the absence of those willing to fight and the limited number of personnel available. At the same time, no “filtration camps” and “Babi Yars” are formed either on the territory of Slavyansk or in its vicinity. According to the “separatists”, the Ukrainians are carrying out a “genocide” of the Russian population. In this case, only in Slavyansk “Bandera” would have to kill at least 50 thousand people.
So we return to the question of who is ready and is waging an open struggle for power in the south-east of Ukraine? People from what social classes and population groups benefit from it? In whose worldview is this form of struggle organically woven?
We can conditionally divide all “separatists” into several large groups that intersect ideologically, but have differences, including antagonistic ones.
1. Monarchists and people infected with great-power ideology. Some of them, such as Strelkov-Girkin, consciously came to fight, one might even say that they were consciously preparing for such a step all their conscious lives. Some, such as Gubarev, were already here, being members of pro-Russian, pro-imperial parties and organizations. It is this faction that is leading ideologically and occupies the majority of leadership positions.
2. Petty bourgeoisie and criminal gangs. This element is the smallest in the “separatist” movement, but unlike all the others, it most holistically presents its economic tasks for consolidation, unlike other factions. That is why they are able to discard the ideological husk about the protection of the “Russian world”, “the geopolitical confrontation between the Sea and the Land” [Latur is referring to an old book on geopolitics by Alfred Mahan and his concepts which are extremely popular among Russian Rightists ed]. Ideologically, this is a faction of hidden traitors of the “resistance”. The moment they realize that “separatism” cannot accomplish their tasks, they will leave the ranks of the “militias” and most likely go over to the side of the Ukrainian government.
3. Lumpens. This faction, due to the narrowness of the perception of the surrounding world and the tendency to a simplified, “black and white” analysis of reality, ideologically significantly intersects with the “monarchists”. Economically, they see participation in the “militia” as a social lift and expansion of the role of perspective. At the same time, being significantly socially maladjusted, they are prone to direct or indirect sabotage of the leadership’s actions. Plus, providing them with more favourable conditions for existence can also lead to a betrayal of the interests of the “resistance”.
Consider the main political lines of “resistance”. First of all, in relation to the “foreign policy” of the self-proclaimed republics. We will deliberately bypass the question of language. It creates only a background and ground, but is not the main one, and all the main figures of the “separatists” are well aware of this. Here are the three main intentions of the “separatist” movement:
1. For joining Russia. As we pointed out above, part of the population is morally ready to change Ukrainian citizenship to Russian. Often this is due not only to ethnic ties, but also to the economic component. The overwhelming majority of the population of the southeast considers the standard of living in Russia to be higher than the standard of living in Ukraine. The Russian Federation would also consider this option acceptable. Although after joining the standard of living could be significantly reduced. Most coal mines would be closed. In Russia, from year to year, coal mines already existing on its territory are being closed. The Russian economy does not need Ukrainian mines as they are not profitable. However, more or less painless accession could be carried out only within the framework of the “peaceful” stage, after the implementation of the “popular referendum”. The referendum was held only in conditions of unfolding hostilities. In addition, the “legality” and “legitimacy” in the conditions in which it was held raised doubts not only among the Ukrainian authorities and Western countries. Due to the loss of time, Russia, as expected, lowered the “joining” on the brakes.
2. For the federalisation of Ukraine. An idea supported by the majority of the population of the southeast. Within the framework of federalisation, they would receive relative economic and socio-cultural independence from Kyiv. Federalisation also suits the big bourgeoisie, which became the master of the situation within the federal region already de jure, while maintaining formal independence from both Kiev and Russia. The petty bourgeoisie supports federalisation as part of the enlargement project.
3. For the creation of a new sovereign state “Novorossia” without “loan interest” and other “Jewish tricks.” A fictitious formation that exists only in the head of its “leaders”. In fact, this is a “plan B” in connection with the failed accession to Russia, when to abandon everything is impossible due to the numerous oaths of allegiance to the “St. George stripe” and many civilian dead and there is a need to do something. But “doing” this way remains at the level of a “simulacrum project”.
All of the above can be reduced to three main contradictions that the “separatists” face:
1. Between “separatists” and their enemies. One should proceed from the fact that initially the south-eastern “separatism” was represented by two tendencies: the most numerous, but also the most passive, “peace” faction and the small “war” faction fuelled by Russian imperialists. The “war” faction initially saw in the new Kiev authorities “fascists”, “Ukrainian Zhidobenderovtsy” [Jews + Bandera supporters], “Ukrops” [Ukrainian Patriots] and set as its task not only “disconnection from / joining”, but also the protection of the “Russian world”, as well as the subsequent attack on Kiev. At the same time, the “peace” faction, as the most massive, was used at the initial stages by the “war” faction as an offensive weapon. At this stage, the contradiction between the “separatists” and the new Kiev authorities was not antagonistic. However, the Ukrainian authorities at that time were not legalised and, realising their legitimate, but illegal status, could not make changes in the basic law required to pacify the “separatists”. In fact, Kyiv asked for a delay until the “legalization” of power. This requirement was in conflict with the tasks of the “war” faction, which, hiding behind the motto “Kiev does not listen to the East”, completely seized power.3
And finally turned the confrontation into the form of an armed conflict. It is quite possible that the threat of a full-scale armed conflict was a bluff – no one expected that the collapsing Ukrainian army and the Kiev authorities, consisting of contradictory groups, would be able to organise at least the illusion of resistance. The separatists were wrong. They made a mistake, not taking into account the nationality of the new regime. Not taking into account that “separatism” has become an organising factor for the population of Ukraine. If earlier the forces of Ukrainians were directed against the Yanukovych regime, then the “separatists”, having raised the fallen banner, became the number one target. And if not only the “Bandera fascists” who overthrew Yanukovich are now fighting for Ukraine, but the entire Ukrainian people, then this is the achievement of the “separatists”. In their infantilism, the DNR and LNR are reminiscent of Scooperfield travelling to San Comariq [a reference to a Nikolai Nosov children’s book popular in Soviet times]. He drinks the soda that pours from the top shelf and calculates the economic benefits of drinking, but in the end, he gets hit on the head with a bottle.
2. Between the “separatists” and the people. Here we will not consider the relationship between “separatists” and the entire Ukrainian people, but only the relationship between the “separatists” and the population of the south-eastern regions. As we wrote above, the “militias” could initially safely count on 20% of the support of the population. It is quite possible that when the confrontation between the “separatists” and the Ukrainian authorities was not yet antagonistic, support was higher. But fighting intervened, which, like any act of violence, polarises the opinion of both the participants in the conflict and the people involved. Initially, it turned out that the population is not eager to defend anything with weapons in their hands. Then, that does not strongly approve of the actions of the “separatists”. And after the liberation of a number of settlements, which does not at all approve of the methods of warfare used by the “separatists” and did not vote for the LNR / DNR. The population is actively fleeing and on both sides. It is possible to single out two types of attitudes and, at the same time, two phases of the behaviour of non-combatants. The first is characterised by moderate support for “separatism” and a desire to preserve the status quo (which we already wrote about above). The second is flight. The population is rather inclined to adapt to existing/formed power structures. Such behaviour is aimed at preserving the existing material well-being. For the majority, “separatism” cannot act as a “social lift”, and if it is, then the possible benefits do not outweigh the possible consequences of using such an instrument. All this against the background of the absence of a core idea. Even the full power of the Russian propaganda machine could not finally convince the inhabitants of the southeast that Ukrainians should be killed just because they are Ukrainians. And the clash of the inhabitants of Slavyansk with tons of sausage instead of “filtration camps” finally turned them into Ukrainians and opponents of “separatism”.
3. Among “separatists” themselves. This is the most difficult issue to consider, since all the information that we can rely on is either indirect or obtained from unreliable sources. However, we can talk about the presence of a certain number of different groups and formations that have their own field commanders. The groups are largely atomised, not subordinate to a single centre, or their coordination is achieved by an agreement between the field commanders. In this sense, the LNR/DNR exist as fictitious super-formations that act as a fixing object for a view from the outside, while de facto, like Novorossiya, do not exist. In addition, the groups are ideologically very different, ideologically representing almost the entire right-wing patriotic spectrum. The only thing that unites them is the war against Ukraine. If we allow, hypothetically, a cessation of hostilities and separation from Ukraine, then we can expect a civil war between groups of “separatists” already within the framework of Novorossiya for property and spheres of influence.
Summarising the above. The armed conflict on the territory of Ukraine has many dimensions and is built on a complex set of predetermined contradictions and contradictions formed in the process of development of the situation: ethnic, national, social, economic. This set of contradictions has now reached a state of extreme polarisation and cannot be resolved except through an armed conflict, where one of the parties will be physically destroyed. At the same time, it is important to understand that one of the parties is a “rising nation”, which no longer wants to be a “little brother”, and the second, represented by all possible types of archaic and xenophobic, is supported and used by the “big brother”. In this regard, any statements of the “leftists” about peace between peoples, about ending the conflict, firstly, are futile, since it’s the same as trying to stop the train alone, and secondly, ideologically they play into the hands of the “separatists” with whom the “Lefts”, if they are “Lefts” and not “Orthodox Communists”, have nothing in common
1. Stalin, I.V. Marxism and the national question, I.V. Stalin. Works. Moscow: OGIZ; State Publishing House of Political Literature, 1946. Vol. 2.
2. Up to 6% of Belarusians lived in the eastern regions at different times - here and further approx. ed.
3. The term “completely” is not satisfactory
to us. By “completely” here is meant the ideological, fictitious
side of power, and not control over the entire territory. The
control of the “separatists” was carried out in a significantly
limited number of settlements, and in a number of cities there
was a dual power for a long time. The division into the
political component of the DNR / LNR and the civil authorities,
which continued to support the vital activity of civil services.
to return to the September 2022 index.