Should the East Ukrainian rebels be called separatists?

by Slava Tsukerman

The rebels supported President Vladimir Putin of Russia had created the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics in the southeast Ukraine. The world media usually calls them “separatists”.  But unknown to most, these people hate to be called by the name.  They keep repeating that they are not fighting for separation of the East Ukrainian territories but rather the change of government in Ukraine. Very often they openly call for Putin to send the Russian Army to Kiev to unite Ukraine.

Here is a quote from the “Manifest of Citizens’ Front for Liberation of Ukraine, Novorossia and Carpathian Russia”:

“Is our fight in the East–Ukraine (Novorossia) separatism? No. The territory of our fight is the entire territory of Ukraine… We are creating newly freed and socially responsible power over the entire territory of Ukraine and Novorossia.”

The best known key figures of the rebels’ activity are two Russian citizens, Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Igor Strelkov, the defense minister of the Republic, the commander of the Donbas People’s Militia paramilitary group. Both of them have been prominent activists of the Russian far-right imperialistic political movement for many years. Here is some information about them taken from Wikipedia and other sources.

In the 1990s Borodai edited a Russian ultra-nationalistic newspaper Zavtra (“Tomorrow”), run by writer and journalist Alexander Prokhanov, the best known advocate of the Russian imperialistic ideas. In 2011, Borodai and Prokhanov co-founded the “patriotic” Web TV channel Den-TV (“Day-TV”).  Igor Strelkov used to be an active writers for both “Zavtra” and “Den-TV”.

Until recently these people were considered to be in opposition to the government. Now Prokhanov works for the official state TV and Borodai and Strelkov are fighting in Ukraine. Since the annexation of Crimea, Russian Media presents them as heroes.

By his own admission Strelkov served in the Russian FSB State Security until March 2013 and, according to Ukrainian and EU authorities, he is a retired Russian military intelligence (GRU) colonel. Earlier he has fought on the federal side in Russian counter-separatist campaigns in Chechnya and on the pro-Moscow separatist side in the conflict in Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdniestria ( Also Strelkov took part in the Bosnian War as a volunteer on the Serbian side. In 1999, he published his memoirs of the fighting in Bosnia. He also participated in the 2014 Crimea events.

A poster with Igor Strelkov’s portrait.

The inscriptions on the poster:



As for Alexander Borodai, according to many publications in Russian media, he was appointed a deputy director of Russian FSB State Security in 2002, where he held the rank of major general.  Borodai dismissed this as a hoax. A week ago information about Borodai’s being FSB general disappeared from Russian language Wikipedia.

Borodai claims he worked as a “political strategist” during the annexation of Crimea by Russia.  He states that the political forces that facilitated the takeover are the same that facilitated the creation of the Donetsk Republic: “Naturally the people who set up these popular movements and were the initiators are the same people… So when I finished the work in Crimea I automatically… came here to work in southeast Ukraine.”

Alexander Borodai studies wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Lately Mr. Boroday was giving a lot of interviews. In one of his interviews, widely quoted in Russian Internet, Mr. Borodai said:

“Borders of the Russian World are much wider then borders of Russian Federation. I’m fulfilling historical mission in the name of Russian Nation, which is a super-ethnos, cemented by Orthodox Christianity.  I was fighting against Caucasian separatists, Chechens, now I’m fighting against Ukrainian separatists; there is Russia, great Russia, Russian Empire. Now, Ukrainian separatists, located in Kiev, are fighting against Russian Empire”.

This quote makes it clear why Mr. Borodai doesn’t like to be called “separatist”. From his point of view separatists are Ukrainians who want to separate Ukraine from greater Russia.

Putin supports not just a movement aimed to destroy the Ukrainian government; he supports the movement to recreate the powerful Russian Empire. That is why this support makes his popularity rating in Russia so high (over 80%).  And that is why it seems it is dangerous for him to betray the expectations of the majority of Russian population.

A demonstration in Donetsk.

The inscription on the poster:

“Igor Strelkov: Conscience and the pride of the Russian people.”

Updated: July 29, 2014 — 2:47 pm © 2016