Staunton, May 1 – Most Luhansk residents say they don’t want to unite with Donetsk because that would reduce their status possibly to the level of an oblast or even district within any larger Donbass entity and argue that the existence of two breakaway republics in that portion of Ukraine would best serve the interests of both and of Russia.
Most commentators in Moscow, Kyiv and the West treat the two as one, often hyphenating the DNR and the LNR and viewing the statements of the leaders of the Donetsk regime as the statements of both, but Russian Information Agency commentator Vladimir Kornilov says that is a mistake (ria.ru/analytics/20180501/1519716445.html).
The residents of the LNR are pleased that border formalities between them and the DNR have been eased almost to the point of disappearance, but a conference last week on “The Genesis of the Identity of the People of the Donbass” showed that they view themselves as distinct form the residents of the DNR and that most want to keep things that way.
Some officials, like Denis Miroshnichenko, the head of the Peoples Council, the LNR parliament, said that the issue of uniting the two entities should be decided by referendum but that at the present time, there is no good reason even to put that question to a vote given the conflict with Kyiv.
Rodion Miroshnik, who represents the LNR at the Minsk talks, is “a categorical opponent” of combing the two republics. Unification would in fact mean “the swallowing up of Luhansk by the Donetsk people.” It would also complicate talks about the future if there were only one republic rather than two.
Gleb Bobrov, head of the LNR Writers Union, acknowledges that the situation is complicated. “On the one hand, everyone understands perfectly well that the Donbass is one. [But] on the other hand, there are certain issues which must not be ignored [and] Luhansk recognizes that unification would give it more minuses than pluses.”
“For example,” he says, “we would lose republic status and would be given oblast or even district powers. Besides, there is a real fear: Donetsk is stronger and richer; there are two times as many people as in Luhansk.” And there are definite memories about the past. As a result, “we have a definite ‘younger brother’ complex.”
Others like the local ataman favors uniting the two. But according to the RIA journalist, the views of younger people in Luhansk are divided almost equally between supporters and opponents of unification with some saying that “competition between Luhansk and Donets could recall the cold war” and others that “if we unite, it will be easier to achieve our common goal.”
But even those who oppose unification say they would back it under two conditions: if the capital of the combined republics were put in Luhansk or if this was a precondition for the absorption of the republics into the Russian Federation in a Crimea scenario. But even they would like a confederation of the two better than full unification.