This is a republication of a post authored by Andrew Korybko, which was first published in OneWorld. It has been adapted with full permissions obtained from the author.
On Tuesday 15, 2022, the Russian Duma officially requested that President Putin recognize the self-proclaimed Donbass Republics of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR according to its Russian abbreviation) and Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR, ditto). Around the same time, President Putin declared that Kiev’s/Kyiv’s actions in those disputed territories constitute “genocide” though he also reaffirmed that he’s committed for the time being to having that neighboring country hopefully implement the UNSC-backed Minsk Accords. Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said on two recent occasions that recognizing the DNR and LNR would violate the Minsk Accords that Moscow still supports. Nevertheless, the Duma’s request prompted plenty of speculation about what Russia might do next and why.
Quite curiously, both the Mainstream Media (MSM) and the Alt-Media Community (AMC) – the latter of which is largely regarded as Russian-friendly – seem to tacitly agree that President Putin will either ultimately recognize those republics despite regarding that as a detrimental decision or will hopefully do so for reasons that they agree with, respectively. The first-mentioned believe that this would be an intentional escalation of the undeclared US–provoked missile crisis in Europe that they’ve hitherto misportrayed as solely a territorial one between Russia and Ukraine while the second think that it would resolve that warped interpretation of the crisis and potentially set the stage for possibly incorporating more Ukrainian territory into the Russian Federation (which some of them eagerly want to happen).
The author of the present piece has an altogether different view on this issue. He’s of the belief that the Duma’s official request wasn’t necessarily coordinated with the Kremlin per se but could nevertheless be used as negotiating leverage for compelling Kiev to finally implement the Minsk Accords. To explain, the Damocles’ sword of Russian recognition hangs heavy over Ukraine, and conforms to it (Ukraine) and its US-led Western patron’s perceptions of a so-called “expansionist Putin” who’s supposedly hellbent on reuniting all ethnic Russians left outside the Soviet Union under the same government. The reality, however, is that the Russian leader isn’t the ethno-nationalist radical that his supporters in the AMC and detractors in the MSM think that he is.
Rather, by the Duma playing to Ukraine and the US-led West’s perceptions – which, to be clear, was a genuinely grassroots initiative that’s sincerely popular among the Russian people due to the sympathy that they have for their persecuted co-ethnics in Eastern Ukraine – President Putin now has a card that he could potentially play in the worst-case scenario of justifying a more muscular military response to any provocations in Donbass that might risk crossing his country’s national security red lines. His declaration of a genocide there and reports about the discovery of mass graves align with this scenario, but the very fact that he hasn’t yet initiated what the Kremlin would describe as a “humanitarian intervention” under the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) pretext shows that he’s still deliberating. This deliberation eventually led to the Government of Russia explicitly recognizing DNR and LNR as independent states on February 21, 2022 – an act that was vocally opposed by the Permanent Mission of Kenya to the UN. The mission excoriated the international community for allowing multilateralism to be undermined by resurgent ethnonationalism that drives irredentism, which ultimately threatens regional and global peace.
Without casting doubt on the Russian leader’s claims, there is need to point out that the present phase of the long-running (key qualifier) genocide of the Donbass people isn’t as active as other genocides have been, nor as destructive and out-of-control, otherwise he’d likely have already intervened under that pretext. The possibility of Russian recognition of the DNR and LNR could happen in the event that Kiev or US-backed mercenaries initiate a third round of civil war hostilities in Donbass that immediately make the slow-motion genocide of the locals there an urgent issue which might then necessitate a swift Russian intervention to stop lest countless more people are killed in an extremely short time like what happens during most genocides that the public has become aware of over the decades.
The reason for this scenario forecast is because recognizing the Donbass Republics outside the context of a third round of civil war in Ukraine would kill the Minsk Accords that Moscow wants Kiev to implement. It would also almost assuredly trigger the so-called “unprecedented sanctions” that the US-led West has been threatening, which would still likely be severe even if not all EU members support or implement them. Furthermore, the natural question arises of what borders Russia would recognize as the DNR’s and LNR’s. Those self-proclaimed republics claim the entirety of their eponymous oblasts but only control part of their territory. If Russia recognizes their maximum claims, then it follows that it might be compelled to militarily support them, especially if they integrate into the Russian Federation.
Moscow, however, doesn’t seem interested in doing that since there’s no strategic reason to do so like there was to reunify with Crimea following the democratic referendum there shortly after the US-led West carried out a coup in Kiev via their ethno-fascist proxies. Frankly speaking, Donbass would be a financial burden on the Kremlin’s coffers and even a security liability, especially in the event that its representatives demand that Moscow help them gain control of the entirety of their namesake oblasts in a new conflict that could easily escalate beyond all control. These observations might make one wonder why Russia enabled the Donbass residents to receive Russian citizenship, over 700,000 of whom have already done so, but the author already addressed that in a four-part article series:
* 28 April 2019: “Despite the Citizenship Stunt, Donbass Won’t Unite with Russia”
* 14 February 2022: “Poland’s Planned Absorption Of Millions Of Ukrainian Refugees Has Ulterior Motives”
To summarize, this policy wasn’t necessarily meant to serve as a tripwire for triggering a Russian “humanitarian intervention”, though it might now potentially serve such a purpose as was explained above, but was mostly intended to be an “anti-fascist exit strategy” for concerned locals who might want to flee to Russia upon Kiev’s peaceful reincorporation of Donbass following its full implementation of the Minsk Accords. The supplementary benefit of this strategy is that Russia would receive so-called “replacement migration” to gently counteract massive Muslim growth rates at home and thus help retain the existing ethnic balance between its diverse people. Poland is also seeking to encourage “replacement migration” from Ukraine, which is why it’s eager to absorb millions of its refugees.
For these sensitive demographic reasons as well as the strategic ones connected to the ongoing crisis, it’s extremely unlikely that President Putin will recognize the Donbass Republics without Kiev initiating a third round of civil war hostilities in Eastern Ukraine. That’s because the over 700,000 residents of that region with Russian citizenship can already move to Russia any time they want as “replacement migrants” and Moscow would lose its deterrence leverage over Kiev if it recognizes the self-proclaimed republics without Ukraine first initiating a provocation. It also goes without saying that the Minsk Accords that President Putin remains sincerely committed to would also be rubbished in that scenario. No matter how much the MSM and AMC might want it, Russia’s thus unlikely to do what they expect.