Anatoly Bochinin

Elections for the leaders and deputies of the National Assemblies of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk took place last weekend. The election was the first on the territory of these two areas since the 11 May referenda. The results to date are clear – Alexander Zakharchenko, Premier of the Republic and his “Donetsk Republic” movement won the day. The winners in the Lugansk People’s Republic were incumbent leader Igor Plotnisky and the “Peace to Lugansk Region” movement. 

Attitudes to the very existence of the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic may differ. However, even the bitterest critics and Kiev supporters should recognize that both Republics and the recent elections are one of the most striking geopolitical phenomena in the post-Soviet space, at least for the last decade. This story even overshadows the question of Abkhazia and South Ossetia’s recognition. After all, since the collapse of the USSR, the situation in these regions was controversial, to put it mildly. As for Donetsk and Lugansk, a year ago no one could begin to imagine that 2014 would see a referendum on independence and elections.

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone harboured illusions about Western countries quickly recognition the election results. In Europe, where the revision of borders is perceived as something unheard of, the two people’s republics are now, first of all, a theatre of war. And the mentality of the average European simply cannot conceive of them as two new countries or a single confederation under the name of Novorossiya. And yet the examples of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Catalonia might cause some at least to ponder and try to understand what lies beneath the “Russian-backed separatist” cliché. 

With the United States everything is simple. The existence of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, like the joining of Crimea to Russia, directly contradicts Washington’s plans and settings. 

However, the elections have revealed an interesting detail. Negative assessments of the vote sounded not just immediately after the opening of polling stations, but several days beforehand. Last Friday, Bernadette Meehan, an official spokesperson for the National Security Council (NSC) issued a statement, stressing that the United States does not recognize that vote.  

Meehan’s text repeated several times, as if were a mantra, that “the United States does not recognize the so-called elections”. Later that night United States Secretary of State John Kerry repeated the same message on PBS.

Но ни в хотя бы одной газетной статье, ни в заявлениях официальных лиц не звучало главного – сомнения в том, что выборы пройдут.

As they say, “attack is the best form of defence”. However, in this case it seems that Washington prepared for the elections no less thoroughly than Donetsk and Lugansk. There was not a single newspaper article or official statement that doubted the main thing – that elections would be held. 

Of course, the subject did not avoid attention and press. The Chief of the Washington Post’s Moscow Bureau, Michael Birnbaum, wrote an article on 1 November about the upcoming vote. It contained nothing to suggest any alteration to his traditional position: he notes the “rebels” will hold their elections as soon as “the rest of Ukraine elected the most pro-European Parliament in its history”. “The election will have little practical effect on the affairs of the rebel-held territory and the winners – the current leaders – are preordained, since only unknowns are running against them”, he assured. Birnbaum also noted there is no central register or voters. At the same time, he said, Russia is applying the tactics of the “frozen conflict” in Moldova and Georgia, where “pro-Russian separatists have seized territory and entrenched for years”. Yes, a reference to South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria are intended. 

No one could stop the 2 November elections. Indeed, no one tried. And, in the end, the elections were held. And they passed quietly, in the presence of the press and international observers, with a high turnout. Yes, the outcome was clear. But the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics are not even a year old, so where are alternative political tendencies to come from? On the contrary, the beginning of the Republics’ political life was on 2 November, not the day of the referendum. 

The tone of Michael Birnbaum’s new article, which was published after the election, was very different from the previous one. First, it quoted Alexander Zakharchenko at length. Moreover, if in the first case, he was pictured in uniform, for this article the image chosen of the Donetsk People’s Republic leader showed him in a suit. The “Washington Post” noted the huge queues. Somewhere armed people were noted, however saw arm