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9 August, 2019  ▪  Denys Kazanskyi

ORDiLO: The new party line

What’s behind the flashmob about “Accept Donbas’s choice”?

Since the elections and the coming of a new president in Ukraine, the occupied counties of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblast have seen unprecedented processes start up. For the first time since 2014, official statements have talked about ORDiLO possibly returning to Ukraine – as an autonomous region, of course. Indeed, such a scenario was written into the very first Minsk accords, signed in the fall of 2014, but until now, the leadership of the pseudo-republics has diligently avoided this issue in its speeches and pronouncements.

After the first ceasefire was signed in Minsk, the nominal leaders of LNR/DNR adopted a fairly schizophrenic position: they both promoted the Minsk process and its implementation – and kept saying “Donbas will never return to Ukraine” because they saw their future “only with Russia.”

“Our direction is decided – integration with the Russian Federation,” said LNR militant leader Leonid Pasichnyk. “Returning our republic to Russia as a full-fledged member of the family, that’s the only path I see for Donbas,” Denys Pushylin echoed. But now the leaders of the illegal military formations have begun to admit that “returning to our harbor” will have to wait for a while. First of all, they will have to return under the blue and yellow flag of much-hated Ukraine.

The new general party line began with a kind of flashmob, the kind of “happening” that only happens for money from upstairs in ORDiLO. As part of this campaign supposedly involving “ordinary residents” of the occupied territory, video appeals were made to the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, demanding that he accept Donbas’s “choice.” Among the more familiar demands – to stop shooting and pay out pensions, which are long in the tooth at this point – was the most important one, for which this flashmob was launched in the first place: give LNR and DNR autonomy as part of Ukraine.

RELATED ARTICLE: To help Russia keep the ORDiLO?

All the appeals were recorded like carbon copies. It’s also noticeable that people often read texts that were written for them by someone else or mouth memorized statements. Moreover, these kinds of clips started to be churned out at the speed of light. The appeals to Zelenskiy were all signed with the hashtag #ZelenskiyAdmitDonbassChoice.

As usual, in their efforts to diligently serve their handlers, the folks running this propaganda machine managed to look absurd. For instance, among the clips was one of a woman dressed as Peppa Pig asking Zelenskiy to return Donbas as part of Ukraine. The video went viral and hit all the social nets – and the harshest criticisms came first and foremost from people living in the occupied territories.

Those who are very familiar with the reality on the ground in the occupied territories immediately understood where this flashmob had come from. No one in today’s Luhansk and Donetsk would dare to put out something so subversive without a green light, possibly even pressure, from their bosses. And the local bosses could only have done so on the basis of clear instructions from their handlers in Moscow.

That this “flashmob” is supported in Russia was clear from reports on RF federal channels. The new initiative is being given as much publicity and exposure as possible, with news programs churning out “human interest” stories about the people who are appealing to the president of Ukraine “with tears in their eyes.”

Of course, the new flashmob roused a wave of indignation and annoyance among nationalists in Russia and supporters of LNR/DNR. Calling it a betrayal of the idea that has been fought over for five years and began to talk about the “inadmissibility” of merging the pseudo-republics with Ukraine. Still, pro-Russian radicals like Pavlo Gubarev, Andriy Purhin and Oleksandr Khodakovskiy were made marginal in ORDiLO long ago. Nor do any of them have any influence over the agenda. What’s more, these fans of Russia drove themselves into the trap without anyone’s help. 

In the “Russkiy mir” that they so eagerly helped establish, everyone knows that democracy is a dirty word, and nobody gives a damn about human rights. Those who fought against Ukraine, who justified their persecution of “wrongly oriented” residents of Donbas and turned the region into a concentration camp where any opposition was punished with basement tortures and killings, have now found themselves prisoners of the very “gulag” they helped build. Now no one asks them about anything, and so the only way to express their dissatisfaction is through social nets and Telegram channels.

The flashmob proved to be just a trial balloon. Obviously the militants were checking out the reaction of locals and left themselves an opening to withdraw in case there was a particularly strong negative reaction, saying that it was all a spontaneous initiative from below by individuals to whom the leaders of the “republics” had no connection. But after the flashmob “test” with appeals to Zelenskiy, the leadership of DNR came out in support of it.

For instance, the “mayor” of Horlivka, Ivan Prykhodko, supported the “pro-Ukrainian” initiative and told the Russkaya vesnasite in an interview that, prior to “returning to Russia,” the Donbas will have to agree to autonomy as part of Ukraine. One of Pushylin’s closest allies and chair of the Donetsk Republic Movement’s executive committee, Russian Alexei Muratov, even posted a link to the flashmob’s site on his official site in a social network.

This led to a new burst of criticisms and indignation. The most radical supporters of LNR and DNR griped that the war is effectively losing meaning, because the leadership of the “republics” is abandoning the slogans that the separatists marched under in 2014. But it seems that the opinions of radicals, who were very useful to Russia five years ago to undermine the situation, no longer interest anyone. Today, they find themselves in the same situation as pro-Ukrainian people who were silenced, mostly by force, in the spring of 2014.

“How can we fight against Ukraine while asking its president for an amnesty?” was the rhetorical question put by DNR political analyst Roman Manekin on his page. “Who’s going to fight?”

One-time DNR field commander Khodakovskiy posted the image of a guidebook on his page according to which Muratov’s Donetsk Republic movement operates today. It says, among others, that all the branches should, as soon as possible, unanimously announce their support for the flashmob appeal to Zelenskiy. Thus, it is quite obvious that there was no real flashmob of initiative “from below,” and all the appeals to Zelenskiy are just the latest publicity stunt by the Moscow-managed occupation administration of the Donbas. This spectacle has no connection to the real mood of the people who are living in ORDiLO. What is being presented as “the voice of the people of the Donbas” is no more than a poorly staged circus show.

This is the latest simplistic and typically clumsy attempt by the Russians to, yet again, try to “stuff” occupied Donbas back into Ukraine and legitimize the republics within the country’s legal framework. And so it’s very obvious that there’s little point to taking all the “appeals” at face value and responding to them. However, the demand that President Zelenskiy recognize the “choice” of Donbas is not coming from ordinary folks in the occupied territories, who have long ago lost the right to any kind of choice, but those who write their texts for them. Yet the residents of the region have never given these individuals the right to speak on their behalf.

RELATED ARTICLE: Rhetoric is changed in ORDiLO

Overall, this supposed flashmob shows the unabashed poverty and primitiveness of the methods being used by LNR/DNR’s Moscow handlers. The campaign itself came across as so histrionic and false that it’s unlikely there’s anyone believes in this new popular “breakthrough.” In the end, both sides of the frontline responded extremely negatively to it. And so, it’s not clear, ultimately, what its organizers were expecting and who their initiative was aimed at.

Demanding that the Ukrainian president accept ORDiLO back into Ukraine effectively nullifies the slogans and all the actions of the pro-Russian militants in the Donbas for the last five years with their 13,000 Ukrainian deaths. What’s equally typical is that, in order to invite themselves back into Ukraine, they didn’t even have to go through the motions of a phony referendum, as was done in 2014. Whereas, back then, Russia and its proxies tried to make it look like the conflict was the “will of the people,” they are no longer bothering with such subtleties.



Translated by Lidia Wolanskyj

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