Moscow Seeks to Upgrade the Status of Donetsk-Luhansk in Negotiating Formats (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 11 Issue: 204

(Source: AFP)


Russian diplomacy has created its own terminology, complete with fine semantic nuances, to disguise the nature of Russia’s conflict undertaking in Ukraine and promote an incremental legitimization of Russia’s proxies there. Misleading terms such as “the Ukraine conflict,” “crisis in Ukraine” (exonerating Russia of its responsibility), or “Russian-speaking population in Ukraine” (implying a title to protection by Russia) have contaminated mass media and even inter-governmental discussions. Other terms and nuances in the same context are more subtle, however, and often barely perceptible to Russia’s interlocutors.

—Symmetrical Treatment of Central Government and Secessionist Authorities

On November 8 (during the Asia-Pacific summit in Beijing), and on November 12 by telephone, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov urged his counterpart from the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry, to persuade Kyiv to enter into a “direct and sustained dialogue” with Donetsk and Luhansk (Interfax, November 8, 10, 12). The demand for dialogue is not novel, but has become more insistent, and richer in nuances (“mutually respectful dialogue”), in the wake of the Donetsk-Luhansk secessionist “elections” (November 2).

When referencing the two “parties to the conflict” within the same sentence (e.g., in calling for dialogue, or ceasefire observance), Russian diplomacy avoids using the term “Ukrainian government.” Instead, in such contexts, Russian diplomatic statements use euphemisms and circumlocutions, e.g. “Ukrainian top authorities” (vlast, connoting power-holders de facto), “the central authorities,” or simply “Kyiv”. They reference Kyiv’s counterpart entity in those contexts as “Donetsk and Luhansk,” “DPR-LPR representatives” (now “elected representatives”), or “representatives of the South-East” (see below). The overall intent is to downgrade the Ukrainian government’s standing to some less than officially recognized level; while upgrading the “DPR-LPR” correspondingly to qualify for negotiations “on an equal basis” (na ravnopravie) about Ukraine’s future (Interfax, November 1–13).

—Attempting to Enlarge the Perceived Contested Area in Ukraine

The Kremlin misrepresents its state-on-state war against Ukraine as a conflict internal to Ukraine. This required Moscow from the outset to define the anti-Kyiv side somehow. Russian diplomacy came up with the term “supporters of federalization,” then “Ukraine’s south-east” or simply “the south-east.” This term came into Russia’s diplomatic usage during the negotiation of the Geneva agreement (see EDM, April 30, May 1), reflecting Moscow’s change of goals, from “federalizing” Ukraine to lopping off a part of it as “Novorossiya.”

Russian diplomacy continues using the term “Ukraine’s south-east” to the present day, attempting to counterpose that vast part of the country to the central government. At times, Russian diplomacy uses the terms “DPR-LPR” interchangeably with the much larger “south-east.” Alternately, Moscow calls on Kyiv to start negotiating with “the south-east” as such and its [unidentified] “representatives.” This terminology insinuates that the area of potential conflict “in Ukraine” is far larger than Donbas (region encompassing the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk) and that Russia is entitled to look out for the interests of the “south-east” writ large.

Following the “DPR-LPR elections,” Russia’s State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Grigory Karasin has urged Ukraine publicly several times to accept the elections “in the South-East,” “respect the expression of will of the population of the South-East,” “engage in dialogue with representatives of the south-east,” “build bridges between the Kyiv authorities and representatives of the south-east;” and negotiate a special status for the Russian language. The word Ukraine has become optional in these Russian diplomatic statements: “the south-east” without naming the country. Some recent statements have capitalized “the South-East,” as if it were an emerging entity (Interfax, November 2, 3, 6, 7).

—Quest for International Acceptance of Secessionist Authorities

In the United Nations Security Council’s November 11 debate, Russia rejected Ukraine’s proposal to reconvene the “Geneva format” (comprised of the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine, created in April 2014). Russia cited (inter alia) the lack of Donetsk-Luhansk representation in the Geneva format. Russia suggested that the recently “elected” authorities of the Donetsk and Luhansk “republics’” be invited to the UN Security Council in some informal capacity, for further discussion about the ongoing crisis (UNIAN, November 11).

Prior to this debate, Russia had asked the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to agree with the two “republics” about monitoring the implementation of the September 2014 armistice agreements. Even before the November 2 “elections” there, Moscow wanted the OSCE to coordinate with “DPR-LPR” the details of deploying OSCE monitors in the buffer zone and on the Ukraine-Russia border.

These tactics are reminiscent of Russia’s past attempts to invite representatives of Abkhazia to UN Security Council debates in some vaguely defined capacity, prior to Russia’s “recognition” of Abkhazia’s and South Ossetia’s “independence.” Following that “recognition” in 2008, Russia wanted the UN and OSCE to negotiate with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively, about the future of the UN and OSCE missions there. Such negotiations would have amounted to recognition of the secession process by these international organizations. The UN and OSCE initially attempted to finesse the issue, but were soon compelled to close down their missions there. The OSCE’s plight in Ukraine’s Donbas, as described by the organization’s Secretary-General Lamberto Zannier’s November 12 statement (UNIAN, November 12), underscores the continuity of Russia’s tactics in this regard.