‘New Ukraine’ bid bemuses Moscow
Pro-Russian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko claimed his “state” in Donetsk would replace Ukraine. Kiev lost control of the region in 2014.
Zakharchenko said a constitution was being written that would be endorsed by a popular vote.
“We believe that the Ukrainian state as it was cannot be restored,” Zakharchenko said, according to Tass. “We, representatives of the regions of the former Ukraine, excluding Crimea, proclaim the creation of a new state which is a successor to Ukraine.”
Russian government spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We remain committed to the Minsk accords”. The 2015 Minsk agreement is shaky as shelling and gun battles persist.
France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia worked out the deal which laid out a roadmap for ending the conflict between Kiev and separatists. Under the deal, the rebels would return control of the territories they had captured to Ukrainian government, while Kiev would allow a regional election in the east and largely grant autonomy to the region.
While the deal helped to reduce the intensity of fighting, none of the political ambitions have been implemented.
Nearly 10,000 people have died since the eastern Ukraine broke out in April 2014, after Russia invaded Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula. The rebels originally sought to join Russia but Moscow stopped short of annexing the area or publicising its military support for the insurgents.
Zakharchenko told Russian television that rebels in Donetsk and Luhansk as well as representatives of other Ukrainian regions would form a state called Malorossiya to replace Ukraine.
Most of the areas which are currently part of Ukraine were informally called Malorossiya, or Little Russia, when they were in the Russian Empire.
Politicians outside Donetsk have distanced themselves from Zakharchenko’s “Malorossiya”.
Peskov said it was the rebel commander’s “personal initiative” and Moscow had not been informed.
Pro-Russian rebels in the neighbouring breakaway enclave of Luhansk also dismissed the “Malorossiya” declaration, despite being allied to the DNR.
Luhansk rebel leaders denied that they were part of the deal. Representative Vladimir Degtyarenko told the media they had not been informed of the move and had “great doubts about the expediency of such a step”.
“Malorossiya” before the Soviet takeover referred to Russian imperial territories that later became part of Ukraine. Many Ukrainians say the name is offensive and synonymous with Russian expansionism.
Yevgen Marchuk, Ukraine’s envoy at the Minsk talks, told 112 television that the declaration, made the day before the next round of negotiations in Belarus’s capital, “could block the negotiations entirely”.