Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of uniting the self-declared separatist republics in eastern Ukraine under the banner of Novorossiya, or New Russia, was put on hold indefinitely last week as Moscow moved to abide by the terms of February’s cease-fire deal.
Last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Russian state-owned newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta that “we say that we want [these republics] to become part of Ukraine.”
His comments echo those of Alexander Kofman, the defence minister of the separatist-run Donetsk People’s Republic, who told the Vechernyaya Makeevka newspaper: “The Novorossiya project is frozen until a new political elite emerges in all these regions that will be able to head the movement. We don’t have the right to impose our opinion on [the Ukrainian cities of] Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, and Odessa.”
The move is most likely aimed to ensure the Russian side lives up to the commitments made in the second Minsk cease-fire agreement signed with Germany and France earlier this year. The deal called for local elections to be held in each of the separatist-held regions of Lugansk and Donetsk under Ukrainian law to decide on “local self-government” — a condition that could have been put under threat by the Novorossiya project.
Since the onset of fighting in eastern Ukraine following the collapse of President Viktor Yanukovych’s government, suspicions of Russian involvement both militarily and politically have been repeatedly raised. NATO command has openly accused Moscow of sending troops and equipment (including tanks and heavy artillery) across the border to support the Russian-speaking rebels against the government in Kiev.
Yet the end goal for many in the Kremlin has always been grander: the reformation of a large part of the former Russian empire through the unification of Russian-speaking people across the region.