Foreign Policy reports that the newly declared "People's Republics" of Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa in eastern Ukraine have announced the return of "Novorossiya" (New Russia)—and are arguing among themselves as to who shall lead it. In the running is one Valery Kaurov, the Moscow-exiled leader of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine—and a former businessman who is wanted in Ukraine for his calls for separatism. The Washington Post adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the "Novorossiya" concept, recently saying: "I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days—Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa—were [sic] not part of Ukraine back then. The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained."
The LA Times reminds Vladimir that many of "the people" brought in by Russia to populate the territory after it was taken from the Ottoman Empire by Catherine the Great in the 18th century Russo-Turkish wars were actually not Russian: "Luhansk was founded in the late 1700s by an Englishman, and Donetsk was established in 1865 by a Welsh entrepreneur, who built a steel mill and opened coal mines. For almost a century after its founding, the settlement was known as Yuzkovo (as close to the name of its founder, John Hughes, as the residents could manage) before being changed to Donetsk in 1961." Whoops.
The World Post offers another such paroxysm of Putin puffery: "Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows." Actually, ex-Novorossiya was incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1922, the Foreign Policy Research Institute notes, adding: "If all of these provinces are either annexed by Russia or form a nominally independent federation of 'Greater Novorossiya', the population of Ukraine would drop from 46 million to 25 million. This would not only subtract nearly 45% of Ukraine's 2013 population but also roughly two thirds of its GDP, given that the country's eastern and southern provinces are far more industrialized than those of the center and west."
What's particularly ironic about all this is that Putin and his Russo-separatist clients in Ukraine are mirroring the atavistic ethic of the Chechen rebels who have declared a "Caucasus Emirate," a would-be a resurrection of the insurgent state established by Muslim rebels in Chechnya and Dagestan the 19th century. They've hubristically laid claim to every piece of ground ever held by Muslim insurgents in Russia, reviving the Muslim names for these enclaves much in the way that Putin is now reviving the notion of Novorossiya.
In addition to paradoxically legitimizing Chechen rebel claims, Putin also risks inviting Turkish ultra-nationalists to get in on the act. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has already pledged to support the Crimean Tatars who now find themselves again under the rule of their historical Russian oppressors. You can bet that the extremists on his right flank are salivating over far-fetched schemes to reconquer ex-Ottoman territories north of the Black Sea.
We've noted elsewhere the irony that the jihadists who want to re-conquer Spain for a new Muslim caliphate are perfectly mirrored in the Zionists who treat the ancient borders of the Hebrew kings as a cosmic real estate deed. We aren't saying that contemporary borders are sacrosanct (as anarchists, we'd like to do away with them entirely), and we acknowledge the right of the oppressed and excluded to struggle for autonomy—under any state they find themselves under. But the logic of endless separatism leads straight to hell, as we saw in the ex-Yugoslavia 20 years ago—with minority breaking off from minority breaking off from minority (e.g. Metohija breaking off from Kosova breaking off from Serbia), until the entire region is a patchwork of militarized ethno-supremacist mini-states. And it was bad enough in the Balkans, thank you. The stakes for world peace are inestimably higher in Ukraine.
We are encouraged by the decision of the Crimean Tatars not to seek independence from Russia or re-union with Ukraine, but to struggle for autonomy and dignity in the new order. Their courage is owed every solidarity from the outside world. And may their principled restraint prove contagious.