Russian Foreign Ministry Signals Change in Donbass Policy

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December 27, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold – 

Grigory Karasin

On December 26th, Russia’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Grigory Karasin, gave an extensive interview to the top Russian news source RIA Novosti. The main topic of the interview was the situation in Donbass and the prospects of its trajectory. Karasin’s stance was faithful to the Russian diplomatic tradition and spirit of commitment to the Minsk Agreements. Nevertheless, some important nuances and undertones allow us to detect some possible changes in Moscow’s position. 

The possibility of Russia recognizing the DPR and LPR and and the consequences of the US and Canada’s “defensive weapons” supplies to the Ukrainian regime are the main issues at stake here. Allow us to quote Karasin’s comments on both subjects and provide our own commentary. 

With regards to recognizing the DPR and LPR, Karasin said: “According to the Minsk Agreements, Donbass should be granted a special status within Ukraine. In reality, we are seeing the opposite process. Instead of reintegrating the region into a common political and economic space, the Ukrainian leadership itself is actually pushing the South-East out of the country.” Karasin here mentions not only military operations, but also socio-economic measures.  

But how can Russia react to the absence of any kind of progress in implementing Minsk? Here lies the most interesting statement of Deputy Foreign Minister Karasin: “As for the future fate of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, it should be first and foremost the choice of the people living there). It is these people who should decide on forms of state, political, economic, and social coexistence with their neighbors that are acceptable and comfortable for them.”

Noteworthy here is Karasin’s reference to the regions of Donbass in terms used in the republics themselves, as opposed to “particular districts of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions” which is customary in official Ukrainian documents. But this point is insignificant compared to the phrase about the “choice” of the people inhabiting the “Donetsk and Lugansk republics.” This choice can be seen as confirmed either by the results of the referendum held on May 11th, 2014, or could be demonstrated by a special, new referendum to be organized on the territories of the DPR and LPR with the participation of international observers. Insofar as Russia categorically rejects the holding of a second referendum in Crimea and Sevastopol, we can assume that a hypothetical, new referendum in Donbass would not be an automatic repetition of the first one, and it would address issues of the coexistence of the DPR and LPR with currently neighboring Ukrainian regions, but outside the framework of current Ukrainian statehood. This concerns the idea of Novorossiya, a Ukraine 2.0 or “Malorossiya.” The other option would be a vote for the republics of Donbass to join Russia, thus repeating the Crimean referendum. 

All of this is, again, just my own reasoning and considerations based on the rather lapidary information available in the cited document. Nevertheless, I believe that the important points voiced by Karasin on a possible change in Russia’s stance in regards to the legal status of the DPR and LPR were no accidents or coincidences. 

It is clear from Karasin’s words that Russia is losing its “strategic patience” with regards to the fate of the Minsk Agreements. The hint towards a possible change in Moscow’s position on the question of recognizing the DPR and LPR is an open invitation to Kiev and its Western patrons to finally embark on implementing the Minsk Agreements, or else…

Karasin was also asked what possible steps Russia could take in response to Canada and the US arming Kiev and if Moscow’s “routine expressions of concern” are too restricting. Karasin, I believe, did not entirely disappoint the interviewer and some of his responses were quite frank and loud for a diplomat – although they focused on the motives driving the American side and not Russia’s potential reaction. By opting to arm Kiev, in Karasin’s words, “the Washington hawks are trying to…raise the price of conflict in Donbass for Russia.” He continued: “In deciding to send Kiev such weapons, the US and Canada are opening a Pandora’s box and essentially involving themselves in the internal Ukrainian conflict, once again igniting and internationalizing it. Few people think about the consequences of such a step.” 

How should these words of Karasin be understood? A huge fire is being kindled on Russia’s borders, and the Russians of Donbass are fuel for the fire. Can Russia calmly look on at Ukrainian pyromania and abandon Donbass? The answer is obvious and was heard back in October from President Vladimir Putin’s own lips: Russia will not allow a massacre in Donbass. 

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As for the “consequences of such a step,” here Karasin made a meaningful semantic pause which Kiev and Washington would do well to ponder. Moreover, there are no grounds to say that Russia’s response will be limited to military in nature. Indeed, in this light become clearer the contours of Karasin’s vague statement on the priority of the people of Donbass making their choice – or, who knows, not only the people of Donbass. 



Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public Initiatives. 





Jafe Arnold is Special Editor of Fort Russ, Special Projects Director of the Center for Syncretic Studies, and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Eurasianist Internet Archive. Holding a Bachelors in European Cultures from the University of Wroclaw (Poland), Arnold is currently undertaking his Masters in Western Esotericism at the University of Amsterdam. 


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