The people of Donbas: the apolitical and anti-Kyiv ones, the ones that dreamed to follow in Crimea’s steps or just, as per local oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, “for the voice of Donbas to be heard,” the ones who voted on the May referendum to secede from Kyiv and the ones loyal to the central government, the participants of the national-clothed “vyshyvanka parades” and patriots of the Ukrainian flag, and the common people whose favors changed with each new turn of events. The Ukrainian servicemen, both soldiers and officers, who served in a decrepit post-Soviet army and never expected to die in a Ukrainian Chechnya. The fighters of Ukrainian volunteer battalions, for whom Donbas was a continuation of the Maidan revolution. Mercenaries and adventurers from different countries who chose a side to their taste that would allow them to fight. Local rebels and Russian volunteers who were fooled by the Kremlin’s propaganda rhetorics into believing in “the Junta, banderites and the Russian World.” The Russian soldiers, among whom, as far as we know, not one voiced outrage against the military being used this way, as if it wasn’t an army but a mercenary company that goes without insignia or glory, with nameless graves and lies on Russian news. The ones killed in the Odesa fire. The MH17 passengers. Several journalists, Russian and foreign ones (the first to die was an Italian). The prisoners and hostages. The accidental and intentional victims. They were killed from fighting and by shellings, with a mortar round or a stray bullet, beaten and tortured to death, having died from wounds.
The life of each of those people when the war in Donbas ends will just be a statistical figure, shamelessly used for years to come by those who don’t care about these lives and deaths. What did they die for? For nothing, they just died. Whose fault is this? No ones.
In Ukraine it has been a sign of good taste to have a rather smug and condescending view of its Easterners. Let’s suppose they really deserved it. There is nothing incredible in unequal human development in different regions of a country; many countries work just like that. Let’s suppose that there are really too few people in Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts that your average intellectual from Kyiv or Moscow would invite to a birthday party. But it’s hard to argue that even such people have the right to a dream, and obviously the dream of the people of Donbas half a year ago had nothing to do with all this: an unrecognized state, a buffer zone, total disintegration of all institutions, destroyed infrastructure, and mass graves all around. However, this is the result of the last few months in Donbas. Who wanted this? Nobody did.
Among Vladimir Putin’s critics there always have been those who disliked Putin, but not for his repressive and anti-democratic policies. Rather, they disliked him for not being imperialist enough, or even being, in Putin’s own terms, a latent traitor to the nation. The events in Ukraine reconciled many of those people with Putin: really, isn’t it the Russia that the nationalists like Limonov, Prokhanov, and Dugin wrote and dreamed about? “Our people will infiltrate their territories, get their people to know our way of life and ideas, and the healthiest and strongest of them will become us, our nation. And then our forces will move in and finish off the dissenters,” – here’s the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” program in brief, as presented by writer Eduard Limonov back in 2003.
Oleg Mironov, a member of Limonov’s party, who has been placed under arrest for disrupting the oppositional and Ukraine-supporting Russian musician Andrey Makarevich’s concert, is probably not the last to find out the hard way that “Russian Spring” didn’t change anything in their fate, and that even those demonstrations that mirror PutinJugend’s tactics in their harrassment of opposition figures will not help Limonov’s party make peace with their long-time enemies: riot police and Federal Security Service.
For Prokhanov it’s easier – one day he simply won’t be invited to talk shows on national TV anymore, but the prospects of Novorossiya defenders of Strelkov’s caliber and lower are troubling. Even now, rumors come from Donbas about the persecution of Strelkov’s men remaining in the region by the new authorities of the unrecognized republic.
Strelkov, the Che Guevara of Donbas, is under fire by pro-Kremlin bloggers, and logically the next episode would be a TV “investigative documentary” that will tell us Strelkov is the real junta.
For several months in a row, Russians had been fed with cultivated experiences of a feeling of fortress under siege, a feeling of unity before a foreign enemy. This enemy wasn’t just Ukraine but the whole world at large.
The decisions on Ukraine were taken by some inner circle of ten or twenty men. Yet as a result the responsibility for the decisions of that circle are to be divided equally among all citizens; this philosophy is manifested in “Rotenberg’s law” to compensate property lost due to target sanctions from the federal budget.
The Russian oligarchs who have faced or will face problems in the West won’t lose anything, because they will be compensated by the state. During the last half-year it became even clearer that Putin equals Russia. Putin’s friends are Russia’s friends, Putin’s enemies are Russia’s enemies. That nobody actually asks for Russia’s opinion on that may indicate that there simply isn’t anyone to ask.
Putin’s defeat is a direct consequence of Russia’s defeat, since Putin was too eager to reach the point where everything in Russia ended up to be about him, and it is during these months that he achieved that; now Russia is nothing Putin.
There are lots of legends of how thoroughly Putin works on his health, and even if half of these stories are fictional, it is probable that the Russian President will live for decades to come while remaining president. This really could last for countless years, a very long movie about a non-aging Putin. When everything in a country depends on one person, the history of the country inevitably ends right when that person dies, and even if Putin does not realize that, his lot isn’t enviable. But most likely he does realize everything.
A sign of this is a hysterical celebration of Putin’s 62nd birthday with thousands marching in Grozny, Putin-imprinted sweatshirts in the GUM department store in Red Square, a cardboard monument in Geneva, birthday graffiti in Russian cities and a Putin T-shirt store in New York.
Putin seems to be trying to convince himself he’s already entered history as a positive character, but it was this half-year that ended it: nothing worked, no history, no ambitions, he just has to spend the rest of his term skulking in his Novo-Ogarevo mansion, and then come what may.