The Return of Novorossiya

by Andrew Stuttaford

The New York Times picks up on an important element in Putin’s TV appearance yesterday:

MOSCOW — Even as the world’s top diplomats were gingerly drafting a tentative accord to “de-escalate tensions” in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin was on national television here, brashly declaring Russia’s historical claims over Ukrainian territory, reiterating a threat to use military force and generally sounding a defiant, even mocking, tone toward the United States….

Mr. Putin, appearing cool and confident during a four-hour question-and-answer show, referred repeatedly to southeast Ukraine as “New Russia” — a historical term for the area north of the Black Sea that the Russian Empire conquered in the 1700s. And, he said, only “God knows” why the region became part of Ukraine in the 1920s, signaling that he would gladly correct that error. Mr. Putin’s use of the historical term “Novorossiya,” or “New Russia,” to refer to southeastern Ukraine, which he had not emphasized previously, suggested that he was replicating Russia’s assertions of historical ties to the Crimean Peninsula before its occupation and annexation.

…Novorossiya generally refers to a broad area, stretching from what is now the border of Moldova in the west to the Russian border in the east, including Donetsk, the port city of Odessa to the south and the industrial center of Dnepropetrovsk to the north. On the question of Ukraine, Mr. Putin repeated his assertions that Russia feels an obligation to protect ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine, where they are a large minority of the population. “We must do everything to help these people to protect their rights and independently determine their own destiny,” he said.

“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast,” he added. “It’s New Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there. We need to encourage them to find a solution.”

Meanwhile, helping confirm the impression that the next moves in this dance are being prepared, the EUObserver reports:

BRUSSELS – Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have declined to honour a peace deal brokered in Geneva by the EU and US with Russia.

Denis Pushilin, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, told press in Donetsk on Friday (18 April) that his forces will not surrender arms, vacate government buildings, or put off a referendum on independence on 11 May.

“[Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov] did not sign anything for us, he signed on behalf of the Russian Federation … We will persevere until the end,” he said, according to Reuters, in a reference to the Geneva accord.

“As far as vacating of buildings and areas is concerned – everyone must leave them including [Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy] Yatsenyuk and [interim President Oleksandr] Turchynov – as they also took them illegally … We are ready to do it after them,” he added.

One of the bizarre cocktails described in Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow-Petushki, a dark and chaotic fable written during the Brezhnev era, is made up of the following ingredients: White Lilac (50g), Athlete’s Foot remedy (50g), Zhiguli beer (200g), Alcohol Varnish (150g).

The name of this delightful concoction?

The Spirit of Geneva.

Sounds about right. 

The Corner

The one and only.