Attempts by pro-Russia rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine to create a new state called Novorossia appear to have collapsed after rebel leaders “froze” the organisation tasked with creating the country.
Russian president Vladimir Putin had stirred Russian nationalism by speaking of Novorossia in an attempt, many suspect, to create a subservient buffer state between Russia and Ukraine.
Novorossia’s distinctive saltire flag of sky-blue cross on a red background has become a common sight in eastern Ukraine and a potent symbol of resurgent Russian nationalism.
Proponents of the new state even held a glitzy Eurovision-style song contest to come up with a national anthem, and, in act of defiance against Kiev, moved their clocks one hour ahead to put them in the same time zone as Moscow.
But now the project to build a new country by slicing off large chunks of Ukraine appears to have stalled. Russia media reported that Oleg Tsarev, chairman of the Novorossia organisation, describing the project as “frozen because it is incompatible with the ceasefire agreement” in eastern Ukraine.
The truce, signed in Minsk, Belarus, has brought a modicum of peace to the region although attempts to find a political solution to the crisis that has pitted Moscow-backed rebels against the Ukrainian army have made little progress.
It does, however, ensure Ukraine’s territorial integrity and makes no mention of the creation of new state.
Aleksander Kofman, the foreign affairs minister of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, which would have formed a chunk of Novorossia, also said the failure to influence or secure areas still under the control of the Ukrainian government had dealt a blow to the creation of the new state.
“We were not able to maintain our support in areas like Kharkov and Odessa,” he said. “As a result, more than 40 of our boys were killed [fighting] in Odessa, and many activists were arrested in Kharkov, which beheaded the Novorossia movement.
“Therefore the project will be closed for some time.
“If the citizens of Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk and Odessa think that the Donetsk People’s Republic should come and free them from the Ukrainian junta, while they do nothing – then that’s not fair,” he added.
Problems with the Novorossia project have failed to curb an increase in fighting in eastern Ukraine in recent days. Yesterday, the Ukrainian government reported that one serviceman had been killed and eight injured in fighting, and it accused rebels of using heavy weapons despite the truce banning them from the front line.
“Fighting has not died down along a broad stretch of the frontline from Krasnogorivka to Svitlodarsk,” Oleksander Motuzyanyk, a Ukrainian defence spokesman, said, referring to government-controlled villages to the west and north-east of rebel-held Donetsk city. “The enemy is actively using heavy weapons… The area of fighting is expanding,” he added.
In turn, rebel commanders yesterday accused Ukraine of wounding two of their soldiers and two civilians in attacks in the previous 24 hours.