During his televised annual Q&A on 17 April 2014, Mr. Putin spoke about the transition of Crimea to Russia and appraised the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation for their role in securing the referendum on the Autonomous Republic. By this statement, Mr. Putin openly admi antted what everybody already knew, the “little green men”, by the Russian majority of Crimea affectionately called Polite People”, were Armed Forces of the Russian Federation and Mr. Putin was very proud of them, grateful for their contributions to bringing Crimea back home. Back from Stepmother Ukraine to the loving arms of Mother Russia.
In that same televised session, which had a record length of almost 4 hours, Mr. Putin also addressed Novorossiya. The south-eastern area of Ukraine with their historical and cultural ties to Russia. The population of Novorossiya feeling, breathing, thinking, speaking and even dreaming Russian. The Russians in Ukraine, Donbass and beyond. Mr. Putin spoke about them, spoke to them, spoke with them. During days filled with fear for what would come from the nationalist who seized power in Kiev, Mr. Putin spoke to them. Mr. Putin, the President of Russia, much more their President than anyone in Kiev can and will ever be.
Mr. Putin also addressed Russian’s right and obligation to protect those who feel Russian, no matter if they are living within the borders of the Russian Federation or not. All this, in one moving televised interview, changed fear of what would come from Kiev in to hope of what would come from Moscow. The message that the population of Novorossiya understood was crystal clear: “Say the word, express your wish and we will protect you. Just like we did in Crimea.”
Some could argue that Mr. Putin only aired his personal opinion without any obligation or political agenda but Mr. Putin is too smart to make such statements and address the Russian roots of Novorossiya and its majority population, Russia’s intention and obligation to protect Russians around the globe, the transition of Crimea, the role of the Russian Armed Forces, without understanding the implications of what he was saying. Mr. Putin should have known what the impact of his words would be, and I am convinced that he did knew what the impact was. Those loyal to Russia believed his words, his promise. The man they admire more than anything and anyone gave his word, he made the promise. They honestly believed they could break away from the Ukraine they never wanted to be a part of, under the protection of Russia. Why not, Crimea did and Mr. Putin appraised the Armed Forces which were deployed under his orders.
Buildings were seized, referendums were organized. It would all happen soon, Mr. Putin said so himself. Hundreds of Ukrainian service men joined the rebellion. The Polite People would come, all would be over soon.
What was overseen by those honestly believing in Novorossiya or Donbass under protection of Mother Russia, are some very sobering facts. There are no strategic naval bases and air bases in Donbass. Nobody has ever called Donbass “the unsinkable carrier” like Crimea was called by NATO. There are no nearby natural gas fields in very mild climate conditions. Donbass is not the diamond in the crown. Novorossiya Donbass is an area of hardworking loyal Russians with a Ukrainian passport. Miners, farmers, steelworkers. There isn’t a Russian base or military complex in Donbass that would be lost if Ukraine joins NATO or EU. Donbass is not Crimea. But still, Mr. Putin made the promise, or at least that is what many in Donbass believed.
The Polite People didn’t come and if there is any Russian involvement in East Ukraine, it is only a fragment of the deployment of Armed Forces on Crimea. What did come was a violent response from Kiev. Civilians shelled and bombed, infrastructure destroyed, children forced to hide fully traumatized in the basements of what is left of their houses. Kiev added “internal sanctions” by cutting pensioners pays, banking facilities, etc. And the violence against the population of Donbass and Novorossiya continued.
Places like Gorlovka have been under almost daily shelling by Ukrainian Armed Forces or their uncontrolled volunteer battalions. On a very sad day, Kristina was killed by such a shelling together with her little baby while she was walking in the park. A walk in the park like any parent would do on a sunny day. What is normal for most of us, was lethal for Kristina and her baby. Kristina and her baby are just a very sad example of the thousands who have died in this conflict. Many more have fled the area and left everything behind. Estimates of Ukrainian refugees who fled to Russia are all well above 1.000.000! In the middle of this all, Flight MH17 was shot down, adding 298 more innocent victims to a conflict which is filled with trauma and tragedy.
There is the Minks II Protocol which makes clear that Novorossiya will never be, that Donbass is Ukraine and will remain Ukraine. Negotiated by Mr. Putin in person, advocated by his officials. Thousands of deaths after the televised address of Novorossiya and the right and obligation to protect Russians, those Russians in Novorossiya who believed the promise and risked all they have, including their lives, are told to be Ukrainian again. Abandoned by the man they believed in and maybe still do. Forced to go an impossible path back to where they came from and paid such a high price for to even go on this journey.
A former exchange student, once an ambitious lawyer with the dream to some day teach in Moscow and now a battle experienced company commander fighting to defend his home town, expressed it as follows:
I was an Ukrainian pacifist until Ukraine bombed our house and killed my mother. Now I fight to defend what is left of us until I die or we succeed. I can’t give up, not after everything that was done. Not after they killed my mother. When Mr. Putin has decided to abandon us and forget his own words, it will take longer but we will win. Because we will never surrender to those who have killed our mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers. We will rather die with them!