On May 23, 2015, Aleksey Mozgovoy, the most popular, authoritative and independent of the Novorossiya militia commanders, was assassinated. Together with the “Spectre” Brigade which he led, Mozgovoy a few days earlier had taken part in an Antifascist Forum with left organisations from a number of European countries.
Mozgovoy was killed by an unknown group of assassins, but it is obvious that his removal from the scene differs little from the revenge meted out recently to another Novorossiya field commander, who went under the nom-de-guerre of Batman. In this earlier case, responsibility for the killing was openly assumed by the official Lugansk authorities.
The killing of Mozgovoy was of course blamed on a Ukrainian hit squad – a perfect excuse for the leaders in Moscow and Lugansk to avoid taking responsibility.
The trouble is that if the attack was indeed carried out by Ukrainians acting on behalf of Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, it was an open act of war that made a mockery not only of the current negotiations, but also of the Minsk accords themselves. The talks will nevertheless continue, and Moscow, which is obediently putting up with the blockade now being placed on the Transnistria enclave, will not lift a finger in response to a single murder carried out in the Lugansk republic. But in general, these arguments and rebukes only make any sense if we take the “Ukrainian” version seriously.
While Mozgovoy was gathering radical leftists and anti-fascists in his city of Alchevsk, other people in other places were deciding the fate of Novorossiya and of Mozgovoy himself. Hence, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel not only flew to Moscow the day after the triumphant parade on Red Square, but John Kerry in a far from coincidental development turned up in Sochi. There in Russia they found an attentive and understanding audience, and soon reached agreement with the Kremlin.
The reasons behind this readiness for agreement were revealed a few days later by the former Ukrainian deputy Oleg Tsarev, who throughout this period had acted as a conduit for the line taken by the Kremlin administration on south-eastern Ukraine. Tsarev had always been faultless in “adjusting his position to that of the party”. He first declared himself and his friends to be the parliament of Novorossiya, a state that did not yet exist, and then, after the separation of Donetsk and Lugansk from Kiev had become a reality, established through victories on the battlefield, he declared the “Novorossiya” project terminated …
But it is one thing to call a halt to a project, and something quite different to put a stop to changes into which hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people have already been drawn.
It seems that the public relations specialists who call the shots in Russia’s centres of power fail to understand this, despite sensing that something is amiss. To the people who voted in a referendum and went into battle trying to build a new state, as well as to the millions of people in Russia who supported their struggle, Novorossiya is not a project but a movement, a dream and a social goal. Certainly, a movement can be crushed, a dream can be dispelled and a goal may prove unattainable. But none of this can be achieved with a simple declaration that a project has been wound up. The task remains of smashing and suppressing people’s resistance, of demoralising them and breaking up their organisation. This is not so straightforward.
The handing over of Novorossiya is becoming a reality. Ukrainian customs officials now control the territory’s border with Russia. Still remaining are the tasks of recalling the Russian soldiers fighting as volunteers or contractors, of closing the border and of instructing the authorities of Lugansk and Donetsk to accept any conditions drawn up by Kiev and countersigned by Moscow. The deal has been concluded.
In these circumstances, the fate of the people’s republics of Novorossiya will be the same as that of the Spanish republic in 1939. In Lugansk and Donetsk, a purge is now being conducted of those who have failed to understand that the Novorossiya project has been brought to a close. We warned that this would begin immediately after the sumptuous Victory Day celebrations in Moscow. Unfortunately, it seems we have again been proven correct. But even after the fall of the people’s republics the struggle will continue, and for the next wave of the movement, Mozgovoy will take on the same legendary aura as Sandino and Che Guevara have taken on in Latin America.
The official propaganda presents the Sochi deal between the US and Russian elites as a victory for Russian diplomacy, as a means of avoiding war or resolving conflict. However, there is a more-than-obvious analogy with the Munich pact. The only difference is that Neville Chamberlain at least received a sheet of paper he could wave before journalists. The deal in Sochi was informal, and no agreement was presented to the public. The hired journalists were given the opportunity to present the latest concession as another victory, not so much interpreting the results of the talks as concealing them. But with each day that passes the real content of the deal becomes more obvious.
Almost from the beginning of the conflict, the Russian authorities limited themselves to fighting for honourable conditions of surrender, which the West refused to grant. This time, the Russian side obviously got what it asked for. Inevitably, though, the outcome will be shameful, not least because the Russian negotiators, fearful of openly acknowledging to the country’s public the real situation that had arisen, took the road of informal agreement. The resulting accords will inevitably be broken by the real victors, especially since in formal terms these accords do not exist.
To judge from everything, the people organising the process lack confidence and are inordinately hasty. Contrary to the usual view, political figures are not as a rule murdered because people are afraid of them, but for lack of the time and opportunity to resolve a problem in some other, less vulgar fashion. Now, events will develop at an increasing pace.
While Mozgovoy was being killed in the Lugansk People’s Republic, the Supreme Rada in Kiev was preparing an openly meaningless law providing special status for various unspecified regions of Ukraine. The sole purpose of this law was to create an alibi for the Russian leadership as it acted as an accomplice in the killing of Novorossiya.
The Kremlin officials have long rued the day when they took the decision to support the Crimean Spring, after which it became impossible for them to refrain from supporting the uprising in Donetsk and Lugansk. They were drawn into the conflict through a lack of caution, after overestimating their strength and failing to grasp the real odds they faced.
In Moscow in the winter of 2014, against a background of high oil prices and of a relatively stable Russian economy that was suffering less than many others from the global crisis, it was clearly hoped that the West would show respect and understanding.
Hopes were also placed in the growing weight of the BRICS countries, which together were thought capable of reaching agreement with Western countries on more equal terms. But as always happens in such cases, a conflict between the capitalist centre and the periphery was resolved in favour of the centre. This was not because Russia or the BRICS countries in their totality were especially weak. There is nothing weak about these countries as such, but their elites are tied by a multitude of threads to their partners/rivals in the West. These elites are incapable of mounting a serious struggle against the leaders of the neoliberal world order without dealing serious blows to themselves and to their own interests.
There is no point in declaiming about the ability of Russia’s “spiritual strength” to resist the decaying West at a time when Russia’s own ruling class and political elites are themselves rotten through and through. Just as senseless is the hope that Russia will be able to offer the world something new if our country does not itself undergo radical changes. Meanwhile, our ruling circles fear these changes a thousand times more than any threats coming from the direction of the United States or the European Union.
Needless to say, faith in “Putin’s cunning plan”, like any religious faith, will withstand all the tests of reality and will remain unshaken even if our leadership hands over the keys of the Kremlin to the Americans. The problem, however, is that a series of concessions, capitulations and betrayals will destroy the state far more rapidly and inevitably than any set of enemies is capable of doing.
If this is how events unfold, the people who are intent on believing will not undergo a conversion. They will simply finish up believing in nothing and no one.
Boris Kagarlitsky is a Russian historian and sociologist. He is the chief editor of the internet journal rabkor.ru and director of the Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (IGSO).
Translated by Renfrey Clarke