The election of the leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, which are scheduled for 11 November, is approaching. And if in the LNR these elections do not cause any special passions, since the majority of voters are satisfied with the figure of the main contender for the post of head of the republic, Leonid Pasechnik, the situation in the DNR is alarming, if not dramatic.
(DNR is Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublicc — Donetsk People Republic. DNR and DPR are the same self-proclaimed country. LNR is Lugansk Republic, LNR and LPR are the same regions, in Russian or in English.)
The “free press” has already written that the main candidate for the post of the head of the DNR, Denis Pushilin, does not enjoy the support of the majority of residents of the republic. Moreover, during the election campaign, under various pretexts, the more popular Pushilin’s rivals, Pavel Gubarev and Alexander Khodakovsky, were eliminated from it. The remaining candidates, in fact, play the role of extras in the elections, since almost the entire election campaign machine works for Pushilin.
- Residents are unhappy that the elections, called democratic, in fact, are not elections at all, – says a resident of the city of Gorlovka (DNR), a writer Elena Lavrova.
– A waste of money and energy on PR Pushilin, who, contrary to our desires, will still be appointed head of the DNR. So it would have been appointed without an election, and the matter is over! Everywhere there are billboards with portraits of the “savior of the fatherland” looking into a bright future. A number of super-stupid texts written by PR experts, for example, “To peaceful citizens – a peaceful republic” or “To worthy citizens, a worthy retirement”. Sheer hypocrisy! At the same time, the shelling intensifies with each passing day, while wages and pensions are not even funny, but simply miserable. The people do not live, but survive, as they can.
“Of course, it is already clear that there is no full-fledged competition in the elections for the head of the DNR, and there will not be,” says Mikhail Remizov, president of the National Strategy Institute. “And this reduces not only the internal legitimacy of these elections for the residents of the republic, but also their foreign policy legitimacy.”
Now, if Moscow says that the population of the republics supports the course of independence or joining Russia, opponents can always refer to these virtually non-alternative elections, as an example of disregard for popular opinion.
– Why was it to deprive the elections of no alternative in conditions when any of the candidates for the post of the head of the DNR would still be guided by Moscow?
- As we can see, the guaranteed controllability of the candidate, his unconditional readiness to go for a foreign policy compromise with Kiev, as well as certain administrative and economic considerations turned out to be more important for the Donbass curators in the Kremlin than Russia’s strategic interests in this region.
– What could be the consequences of such short-sightedness? You and I have often said that the residents of Donbass are growing frustrated by the inconsistent position of Russia, and there is more irritation due to the lack of alternative elections.
- I do not think that such elections somehow fundamentally affect the situation in the DNR. Yes, it will be another reason for discontent. But there is nothing left for the republic and its inhabitants, how to accept it – they are in a stalemate. In this case, the form of Russian rebellion is “foot rebellion.” Who can, he leaves the DNR and the LNR, many with the intention of no longer returning to a permanent place of residence here.
– However, judging by the moods of local residents, especially those who left the republic in 2014–2015 for the period of the fiercest shelling, returning to Ukraine no longer seems an unacceptable option. Is there no danger that in the DNR the majority of the population will change their orientation to the Ukrainian?
- It depends on the policy of Kiev. If the regime of Poroshenko or the president that comes after him starts some kind of flexible policy towards the residents of Donbass, then the mood of the residents of the DNR and the LNR may change in the context of explainable disappointment with the actions of Moscow. But so far we do not see that the Kiev regime tried to conduct a more balanced policy towards the residents of Donbass. Since the power in Kiev is forced to largely focus on the mood of Ukrainian nationalists. The main reason why the majority of the population of the DNR and LNR is still very negatively disposed towards the Ukrainian state is the continuation of the military operation in the Donbas, as well as Russophobic rhetoric regularly heard from Kiev. Disappointment in Moscow is balanced by rejection or not even
with a whistle in relation to Kiev.
- Recently, there have been frequent calls for the unification of the DNR and the LNR. As far as it is possible now?
– In my opinion, this would be the right and necessary decision. The unification of the two unrecognized republics could reverse the psychology of temporary workers, which is imposed in the leadership of the republics. This would be a signal that in the difficult situation in which the republics of Donbass found themselves together with Russia, we must, so to say, settle down in a new reality. To prepare seriously and for a long time, that it is necessary to exist in the conditions of a siege, but at the same time to develop, as far as circumstances allow. I believe that the united Donbass republic will be more viable than it is now DNR and LNR separately. But I am not sure that Moscow will have enough determination to authorize such an association. For the time being, the curators in the Kremlin proceed from the position – to stand for a day, but to hold out for the night, and then we’ll see. And it catalyzes the mood of the temporary workers, including among the elites of the unrecognized republics.
– Still, it is not clear why in such a situation there are elections that violate the Minsk agreements, but at the same time add nothing to the legitimacy of the republics? Both Denis Pushilin and Leonid Pasechnik could have remained quite chapters with the prefix “acting” for years.
– I think that even in the framework of preserving the “Norman format” and continuing attempts to reach an agreement with Kiev, it would be better if the negotiations were not presented and about heads of republics, and leaders approved by the elections. With all that, elections could be a step towards further consistent state organization of the republics. But such a move, they probably will not. They are just another milestone in the timelessness in which the Donbass falls.
- The situation is contradictory, said Alexander Shatilov, dean of the sociology and political science department of the Financial University under the Russian government.
– On the one hand, elections, whatever they may be, reinforce the legitimacy of the authorities of the DNR and the LNR. Still, by the time of the referendum on May 11 in the Donbass republics, Russia was not a guarantor of their security in terms of the implementation of the Minsk agreements. Therefore, elections are just a legal formality that can contribute to strengthening the status of republics. And it is precisely the elected leadership of the DNR and the LNR under certain conditions (for example, the aggression of the Ukrainian army) that can initiate the entry of republics into the Russian Federation.
On the other hand, the elections precisely in the DNR, where Denis Pushilin is frankly dragged in, cause a serious damage to the image of Russia.
– Why, then, the bet is made on this candidate?
– In the Kremlin, apparently, they consider that he will be an absolutely controlled manager. With the previous leader of the republic, Alexander Zakharchenko, despite his loyalty to the Kremlin, “roughness” periodically appeared. From Pushilin this is not expected in Moscow. Including because he has neither charisma, nor popular love, nor support from the security forces in the DNR. It is like clay from which you can sculpt anything. If necessary, he can hold the line on rapprochement with Russia or on rapprochement with Ukraine. For all that, the election organizers understand that now there is no place for the residents of the DNR to go. They have to choose between their unrecognized republic and their return to Ukraine, as a result of which a huge number of activists of the Russian spring, and even the most ordinary citizens, will be subjected to repression.