List of Tables ........................................................................................ 7
Acknowledgements ............................................................................. 9
Foreword by Alexander Etkind ....................................................... 11
Introduction ........................................................................................ 13
Complex Modernity and Eastern European Political Cultures .. 17
1.1. Eastern Europe Between Progress and
Demodernization ............................................................. 19
1.2. Systemic Corruption and the Eastern European
Social Contract ................................................................. 43
1.3. The Language of Dystopia ............................................. 57
1.4. War, Peace and Applied Enlightenment ...................... 73
1.5. Post-Soviet Parliamentarism .......................................... 95
Making sense of Ukrainian Revolutions .................................... 103
2.1. Revolutionary Cycles: Dialectics of Liberation and
Liberty in Ukraine ......................................................... 105
2.2. The Evolution of Ukrainian Oligarchy ....................... 122
2.3. The Color Revolutions in Post-Soviet Countries ....... 151
Euromaidan and After .................................................................... 173
3.1. Images of the West and Russia Among Supporters
and Opponents of the Euromaidan............................. 175
3.2. Ukraine’s Government, Civil Society and Oligarchs
after Euromaidan ........................................................... 193
3.3. Risks for Ukrainian Democracy After Euromaidan . 221
(Dys)Assembling Europe ............................................................... 241
4.1. The Impact of Russia’s Ukraine Policy on the
post-Soviet order ........................................................... 243
4.2. The Novorossiya Myth in Transnational Perspective 264
4.3. Dynamic Obstacles for Integration Between the
European Union and Eurasian Economic Union ...... 293
4.4. The Eastern European 20th Century: Lessons for
Our Political Creativity ................................................. 305
4.5. Overcoming European Extremes: In Place of
a Conclusion ................................................................... 313
Bibliography ..................................................................................... 329
List of Tables
Table 1. Rulers of Soviet Ukraine since 1957 .................................. 134
Table 2. Dnipropetrovs’k Regional Group ..................................... 142
Table 3. Donets’k Regional Group .................................................. 144
Table 4. Freedom According to World Rankings .......................... 165
Table 5. Freedom of the Press .......................................................... 166
Table 6. Corruption Perceptions Index ........................................... 167
Table 7. Fragile States Index ............................................................. 168
Table 8. General Data on People Interviewed During
the First Stage ..................................................................................... 181
Table 9. General Data on People Interviewed During the
Second Stage ....................................................................................... 182
Table 10. Ukrainian Volunteer Battalions in 2014–15 ................... 204
Table 11. VKontakte Sources ............................................................ 286
Table 12. Facebook Sources .............................................................. 287
Table 13. Sources from Internet Websites ...................................... 288
Table 14. Key Words and Their Use by Pro-Separatist
Populations ......................................................................................... 289
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to my colleagues—
George Grabowicz, Serhii Plokhii, Alexander Etkind, Dominique
Arel, Blair Rouble, Matt Rojansky, Peter McCormick, Ivan Krastev,
Yurii Senokosov, Vadim Menzhulin, Mykola Riabchuk, Timm
Beichelt and many others—for many discussions that have stimu-
lated my research and reflection.
Special thanks to my colleagues at the Philosophy and Reli-
gious Studies Department of the National University “Kyiv-Mo-
hyla Academy” and the International Institute for Ethics and Con-
temporary Issues at Ukrainian Catholic University. Our debates,
disagreements, and consensus have largely driven my thoughts
This book would not have been completed without Andreas
Umland, Jessica Zychowisz and Roksolana Mashkova. Their care
and advice were essential in the publication of this manuscript.
The research throughout this book was generously financed
by the Eugene and Daymel Shklar Fellowship, the Alfried Krupp
Fellowship, the Fulbright Scholar Program, and the German Aca-
demic Exchange Service (DAAD). The funding I received provided
me with opportunities to work with wonderful scholars at Krytyka
Institute, the Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University,
the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
for Scholars, the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald,
and the Institute for European Studies at Europe-University Vi-
I owe the most tremendous debt to Maria Grazia Bartolini, my
wife and best friend, for her constant support and inspiration.
Written from the dual perspective of a political philosopher and so-
cial analyst, this book is a rich—in many ways, indispensable—
source of conceptual information about Ukraine, Eastern Europe,
the European Union, and global modernity. Its primary subject is
the dirty, hybrid politics of Eastern Europe but even more so, its
human substance—those traumatized, depressed and awkward
but intrepid, entrepreneurial, and ultimately optimistic women and
men whom Mikhail Minakov aptly calls “Post-Soviet Homo Politi-
cus.” Relying on critical theory as summarized by Jurgen Haber-
mas, Minakov illuminates the situation of the “double coloniza-
tion,” in which the social System ceaselessly formalizes and there-
fore undermines the human Lifeworld, and the Lifeworld damages
the System’s order, creating a chaotic cultural world that resembles
“systemic corruption” to outsiders. With its knack for political tra-
ditionalism and archaic thinking, this changing world is a historical
laboratory for testing demodernization schemes, but also a launch-
ing pad for exit strategies that could, and eventually will, return the
situation to enlightened modernity.
In all these controversial tasks, historical memory merges with
political imagination, producing their own hybrids—rationally
Kantian, but also unreservedly Nietzschean—productive forces
that combine experience, reason, and rebellion, and aim at elucidat-
ing subjectivity and improving humanity. “What doesn’t kill us,
makes us stronger,” Minakov repeats with full awareness of the
tragic state of affairs in Ukraine, Europe, and the world. Revenge
and ressentiment are at the center stage of East European moder-
nity: there is no way to reconcile the Kantian tradition of “Applied
Enlightenment” with the corrupted reality on the ground; nothing
left but embrace it with a spirit of tragedy.
Tragically, Eastern Europe spreads between Koenigsberg and
Istanbul, the European Union and the Russian Federation. Always
eager to engage all these external forces, from the rigid Eurobureau-
crats to the hapless Russian opposition, Minakov also believes that
Ukraine possesses a unique and somewhat central mission in this
space. Rereading Kant after Minakov, one could formulate this mis-
sion as initiating a regional reconciliation—a perpetual peace in
Eastern Europe. This is a tall order, but articulating the aim is a nec-
essary stage toward its ultimate realization. In this book, we find an
ambitious thinker in Minakov’s stature—an accomplished philoso-
pher, but also a prophet—more than adequate to the task.
This book is dedicated to the study of post-Soviet humans and their
varied societies as they have developed on the ruins of the Soviet
The dissolution of the U.S.S.R. has provided new limitations
and opportunities for the people living between the Baltic Sea and
the Pacific Ocean. Some intellectuals and politicians greeted the
new era as a space of freedom and self-realization (see, e.g. Gaidar
2007; Riabchuk 2000). It was expected that new generations would
arise to inhabit new lands and discover unforeseen prospects. Oth-
ers, like Yurii Levada, observed the emergence of a new-new Hu-
man, emerging from the subconscious of the old-new Soviet Man.
He wrote that everything that had been repressed in the Soviet Man
was becoming essential to the post-Soviet human: violence, dis-
trust, readiness for aggression and fear (Levada et al. 1993: 24). Yet
today, as Vladimir Sorokin has brilliantly defined, the “post-Soviet
Human has disappointed much more than the Soviet Man” (So-
So, what were the reasons behind these early enchantments,
and more recent disappointments with the post-Soviet Human?
How did late Soviet society invent democracy, capitalism and na-
tional statehood? How did our societies come to value and practice
opportunities provided by new notions of freedom? Have our cul-
tures transformed the way we initially expected them to, in the
I have divided my answers to these questions into four parts.
The first part focuses on the political ontology of new Eastern Eu-
ropean cultures as a definitive environment for the post-Soviet hu-
man condition. Here, I aim to show how the speeding-up of society
by modernization led to yet another period of reverse development.
The resulting situation could be thought of as double colonization,
in which the System constantly undermines perspectives shaped by
the Lifeworld, and the Lifeworld persistently damages the System’s
14DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
order. This view provides an opportunity to understand the cul-
tural world that, from the outside, merely appears to be “systemic
corruption.” The long-duree cultural mechanisms enforce a state of
dystopia, in which neither external nor internal impulses lead to a
lasting change. This significantly limits the collective and individ-
ual political creativity of Ukrainians and their neighbors.
The deliberations in the second part of the book concentrate on
Ukraine’s revolutionary experience. In the early 1990s, post-Soviet
populations were practicing revolutions in the public and private
spheres concurrently. We were inventing democracy for ourselves,
as well as political and media pluralism, organized civil society, the
idea of a republic and citizenship; at the same time we were also
inventing values concerning money, entrepreneurship, new forms
of intimacy and sexuality, religious life and family. So, in a way,
these revolutions both competed with and reinforced one another.
In Ukraine, the bravest and the most creative individuals won out
over all others: oligarchs immediately privatized state assets and
public institutions, consolidating the resulting wealth into their
own hands. As a result, a specific polity was formed in which for-
mal and informal institutions are principally interlinked and evolve
in cycles from promises of liberty, to authoritarian tendencies, and
then back again.
The recent experience of Euromaidan and subsequent war in
Ukraine appears in the third part of the book. Painful and hopeful,
the events that took place during the protests, their utopian ideolo-
gies, and resulting political practices are each described here almost
as if through real-time reports. These details show how Ukrainians
have involved themselves into the new—much more bloody and
In the fourth and final part, I return to the regional perspective.
I show how processes in and among the post-Soviet polities have
come to define a moment in which they are destroying the possibil-
ity for peace and freedom not only in Eastern Europe, but through-
out the entire European space: a continent stretching from Dublin
to Vladivostok. An authoritarian belt has been constructed in the
East of Europe that transgresses prior post-Soviet and post-com-
munist limits. Conservatism, personalism, patronalism, ethnona-
tionalism and sovereignism have claimed Ankara, Budapest,
Minsk, Moscow and Warsaw. Sofia, Belgrade, and Kyiv are on the
verge of vetting these ideologies in the foundations of their new re-
gimes. Six post-Soviet de facto states are experimenting with even
more dangerous political ideas and models, and are ready to dis-
seminate them across the continent. I discuss these risks, as well as
opportunities for mitigating them, in this final part of the book.
I am aware of the fact that my answers are limited. Among the
key limitations that I am aware of are specific interdisciplinary ap-
proaches and my geopolitical bias. I have studied post-Soviet homo
politicus as both a philosopher and political analyst, and for this
reason, I can hardly claim to satisfy communities of political philos-
ophers and political scholars simultaneously. However, I have
done my best to apply philosophical reflection to the new experi-
ences of post-Soviet populations: their political, economic, and ad-
ministrative creativity. I did not see any other way than to combine
different disciplinary approaches in my attempt to catch the nov-
elty of these societies and supply them with a voice.
Secondly, I have mostly viewed post-Soviet societies and East-
ern Europe through the optics of a Kyivite. The post-Soviet era was
predominantly studied either through West-centered, or Moscow-
centric narratives. These narrative models had their own benefits,
however, I find it critically important to look at post-Soviet societies
and the idea of One Big Europe with a different perspective that
may provide new opportunities for understanding our territories
in the present paradigm. Kyiv itself is a city that offers a unique
vantage for viewing Eastern and Western European processes. A
loser in socio-economic development and a champion in political
revolutions, Kyiv permits a scholar to experiment with freedom,
subjection, anarchy, corruption and hope in polyglossia of East-
It took me nine years to finish this book due to the fact that I
wanted to test each of its chapters. I deliberately published them
individually, and listened attentively to the reactions of my readers.
16DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
As a result, the published texts have been updated in accordance
with those discussions, ongoing critiques, and collegial support,
and only then included in the book. I hope my text will provide
readers with frames to see differently and understand better the
people living in post-Soviet Ukraine and Eastern Europe.
and Eastern European Political Cultures
Making sense of Ukrainian Revolutions
Euromaidan and After
264DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
4.2. The Novorossiya Myth in Transnational
On 20 September 2015, a conference entitled “A Dialogue of Na-
tions: the Right to Self-Determination and the Construction of a
Multipolar World” was held in Moscow.55 The conference brought
together distinguished separatists from around the world. As re-
ports from the conference indicate, one of the key issues discussed
was “Novorossiya,” a term used to describe the hypothetical union
of oblasts in southeastern Ukraine and a region of Moldova that
would exist either as an independent state or as part of the Russian
Federation. The most important participants at the conference were
pro-separatist intellectuals from Russia, the “DNR” and the “LNR”
(Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic, two
separatist polities in the eastern part of the Donetsk Oblast), south-
eastern Ukraine, Transnistria, and Abkhazia. The discussions about
Novorossiya at the conference suggest that some now regard the
project to be as legitimate as the separatist movements in Puerto
Rico, Catalonia, the Basque Country, and elsewhere.
How did Novorossiya, a Russian imperial project dating back
to Catherine the Great, become so influential in contemporary
Ukraine, Russia, Moldova, and Georgia? What motivated Ukrain-
ian and non-Ukrainian citizens to support the “Novorossiya pro-
ject” beginning in 2014? Was it the brainwashing effects of propa-
ganda and financial incentives that brought droves of men and
women to polling stations in the Donbas oblasts to vote in referenda
on the creation of DNR/LNR? Why did the Russian imperial phe-
nomenon play such an important role in the symbolism of the anti-
54 This chapter was previously published as: Minakov, M. 2017. “Novorossiya and
Transnationalism of the Unrecognized Post-Soviet Nations,” in Beichelt, T.,
Worschech, S. (eds) Transnational Ukraine? Networks and Ties that Influence Con-
temporary Ukraine, Stutthart: ibidem-Verlag, 65–88.
55 Information on the conference can be found at [https://meduza.io/en/fea
ture/2015/09/16/a-congress-of-separatist-rascals] or [https://kauilapele.wo
Politicians, experts, and activists who share the Russian na-
tionalist perspective have offered two explanations. In contempo-
rary Russian propaganda and the political imaginations of certain
populations in the northern Black Sea lands (in which there are
strong elements of conservative, imperial, and colonial thinking),
the “Novorossiya project” is a legitimate answer to the unjust na-
tion-building processes taking place in Ukraine, Moldova, and
Georgia, which have deprived local populations of their cultural
and political rights.56 The state-building models in Ukraine, Mol-
dova, and Georgia are presented as having favored their “titular
nations” at the expense of ethnic minority groups.57 In the context
of these models, Novorossiyan separatism is seen as the result of
either Russian nationalist/imperialist propaganda (which has
made Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Georgian citizens question their
loyalty to their respective states), or as the resul t of separa tists being
paid by Russia to revolt against their existing governments.58
However, both explanations disregard the ideas and motiva-
tions of the local populations that supported or still support the sep-
aratist movements in the northern Black Sea lands. People in these
regions were not, by and large, active participants in separatist mil-
itary activities. Yet, they gave money and other resources to sepa-
ratist leaders and fighters. These populations participated in the
“referenda” on the creation of local peoples’ republics in several re-
gions of eastern Ukraine in 2014. They also attended mass gather-
ings in support of the so-called “peoples’ republics” (the DNR and
56 An articulate example of this type of thinking appeared in Zakhar Prilepin’s
blogs [http://novorossia.su/] in 2014–17.
57 Georgii Kasianov (2009: 11), for example, analyzes the Ukrainian national
model in the following terms: “Nationalized history began to fulfill important
instrumental functions: to legitimize the newly established state and its at-
tendant elite; to establish territorial and chronological conceptions of the
Ukrainian nation; and to confirm the appropriateness of that nation’s existence
as a legal successor in the consciousness of its citizens and neighbors alike.”
58 The official and patriotic Ukrainian press, for instance, calls the supporters of
separatist projects “mercenaries” and “brainwashed” people. See, for example,
publications in the most popular Ukrainian media outlets: Censor.net
[https://censor.net.ua/] and Ukrainska Pravda [http://pravda.com.ua].
266DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
the LNR) that were held in southeastern Ukrainian cities from
March to May 2014.
In this chapter, I analyze the peculiar transnationalism and po-
litical imagination that led to the formation of a utopian alternative
to the existing Eastern European order. I argue that the “Novorossi-
yan myth” is the separatists’ response to the needs and demands of
groups that feel excluded from post-Soviet nations, as well as a re-
sponse to the needs and demands of the populations of unrecog-
nized states—the “invisible nations” that are now seeking a new
A transnational perspective is necessary in order to understand the
interests, motivations, and practices of those involved in No-
vorossiyan separatism. I use the term “transnationalism” for activ-
ities and processes “that take place on a recurrent basis across na-
tional borders and that require a regular and significant commit-
ment of time by participants” (Portes 1999: 464). I follow the meth-
odology proposed by Timm Beichelt and Susann Worschech by
looking at transnationalist practices with a focus on the construc-
tion of symbols (Beichelt & Worschech 2017: 17). In this chapter, the
transnational community is defined as a group of people character-
ized by its participation in cross-border activities and/or networks
with common aims, practices, and symbols (Kastoryano 2000). The
above authors have described the transnational community as one
that shares a utopian—and hence symbolic—ideology shaped by
the Novorossyian myth.
Another important starting point for my study here is the dif-
ferentiation between political and ideological thinking that I have
discussed in previous chapters. Here I would just remind that po-
litical thinking aims at the implementation of a goal once power has
been assumed. Ideological thinking is thinking “about politics,” as
well as the “meaning of words” in which politics are problematized
(Freeden 2000: 1). The political leaders of separatist movements, as
well as their foreign allies and national rivals, do think and act po-
litically. In contrast, the supporters of these movements have cre-
ated an ideological substrate that helps to legitimize their leaders’
political actions; these supporters think ideologically, thereby ex-
cluding themselves from political actions.
The ideological thinking in question is of a utopian character.
Support for the Novorossiyan project does not require active par-
ticipation in the political construction of the DNR/LNR state, nor
does it require active service in separatist forces. The utopian qual-
ity is connected with a specific element of the Novorossiyan myth:
it demands political and social change here and now while simul-
taneously denying and/or ignoring the political realities in
Ukraine, Russia, the separatist republics, and the international legal
The utopian disregard for political reality is connected to the
phenomenon of political imagination. As Chiara Bottici (2014: 60)
notes, “imaginal politics” is a term that means collective irrational
thinking (a mixture of conscious and unconscious processes). This
style of imagination denies past experiences and is based on resent-
ment and the visualization of difficult ideological issues, thus
avoiding discursive thinking. Perhaps most importantly, it makes a
future collective project possible.
In 2014–16, Donbas was not only a war-torn region but also a
post-Soviet laboratory of political ideologies. One of the most visi-
ble products of the separatist political imagination was the No-
vorossiyan myth. Its utopian ideas created an environment that fa-
cilitated the political and military actions of the separatists. As will
be shown below, an analysis of the transnational aspects of this ide-
ological construction can shed light on some post-Soviet political
phenomena that might easily escape our attention if we stick to a
national approach. In particular, a transnational analysis can pro-
vide insight into the ideas, visions, and hopes shared among the
populations living in the separatist republics and the unrecognized
post-Soviet nations (Transnistria and Abkhazia).
To understand the functioning of the Novorossiyan myth dur-
ing the war in Donbas (April 2014 to the present), I have studied the
political and ideological statements made on social networks by
268DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
those who support the Novorossiya project (1) for non-economic
reasons (they are not mercenaries) and/or (2) for non-institutional
reasons (they are not officers in the Russian Army or representa-
tives of other foreign agencies). I have also studied web-based com-
munities whose members excluded people who openly declared
themselves to be mercenaries, as well as officers and soldiers in the
Russian Army or any official security agency. To find adequate
sources of data, I narrowed my focus to the motivations and beliefs
held by pro-Novorossiya populations. In particular, I focused on
the use of the history of Novorossiya for political and/or mobiliza-
tion purposes by pro-separatist activists living in Abkhazia, Trans-
nistria, Crimea, Donbas, and in other regions in southeastern
Because the war was ongoing and I had no direct access to this
target group, I further narrowed this group to include only those
who actively use social networks (namely, VKontakte and Face-
book), publish blogs, or comment on web-sites specifically dedi-
cated to the war in Donbas and/or the Novorossiya project. As a
result of this filtering, I identified a set of web resources and Inter-
net groups whose participants were eager to openly discuss their
beliefs, motivations, experiences, and fantasies about Novorossiya
as a political entity, Ukraine as a rival state, and Russia in a multi-
tude of roles (see details in Annex 1).
A Brief History of Novorossiya
To better understand the speech acts that I analyze below, a short
discussion of the history of the idea and concept of Novorossiya
seems appropriate. Novorossiya was one of many names for the
lands between the Danube and the Don from the late 18th to the
early 20th centuries. The history of the region known as No-
vorossiya was well documented in imperial times: Apollon
Skalkovskii, Petr Shibalskyi, Gavriil Rozanov, Dmitrii Bagalei, and
Dmitrii Miller each wrote a number of historical works dedicated
to the study of the colonization of Novorossiya.59 Meanwhile, the
same lands have also been studied by Dmytro Iavornytskyi, Yakov
Novytskyi, and other historians of Ukraine (see: Evornytskyi 1897;
Novytskyi 1905). In a way, imperial historiographies were quite
flexible in their understandings of these territories and their cul-
Soviet historiography, in contrast, was rather limited in its use
of the word “Novorossiya.” In these works the region was predom-
inantly known as “southern Ukraine.” However, one important
study did use Novorossiya in its title: Settling into Novorossiya by
Vladimir Kabuzan (Kabuzan 1976). Yet, this text required a sub-
heading in order to explain what, exactly, the author meant by No-
vorossiya: the Iekaterinoslavskaia and Khersonskaia regions.
In contemporary post-Soviet and Western studies of imperial
Russia and Ukraine, Novorossiya is used alongside a large number
of other terms, including southern Russia, southern Ukraine, the
northern Black Sea lands, Iekaterinoslavskaia guberniia, Kherson-
skaia guberniia, Novorossiiskaia guberniia, and southern Bessara-
bia, all of which are used to describe the region to the north of the
Black Sea from the late 18th to the early 20th century.
As a result of centuries-long cycles of conflict and armistice be-
tween the Ottoman and Russian Empires, the people living be-
tween the fortress of Chyhyryn and the slave market of Kaffa, be-
tween the pastures of Budzhak and the Azov steppes, all lived in a
unique environment. Many ethnic and religious groups, including
the hordes of Budzhak, Ochakov, and Nogai, had to flee to the ter-
ritories of the shrinking Ottoman Empire just to survive. Turkish
and Crimean Tatar towns and fortresses were either deserted or
transformed into Europeanized cities occupied by different peo-
ples. Bulgarians, Greeks, Serbs and other Christian groups in the
Ottoman Empire moved northwards to the emerging cities of No-
vorossiya. Russians, Ukrainians, Jews, Germans, and other Chris-
tian groups came from the north and the west.
59 The most cited of their books include: Skalkovskii (1836), Gavriil (1853, 1857),
Shebalskii (1869), Bagalei (1889), Miller (1901).
270DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Between the 1750s and 1850s, life in the northern Black Sea
lands underwent tremendous cultural changes. Many political or-
ganizations that had existed between the 15th and early 18th centu-
ries were destroyed, including the Niz (or Viisko Zaporizke, lands
controlled by the organization of Zaporozhian Cossacks), the poli-
ties of the Black Sea nomads, the Crimean Tatar Khanate, and the
Ottoman imperial trade and security structures. New Russian Im-
perial sites emerged instead. By the middle of the 19th century, peo-
ple had begun moving to new cities and towns where economic and
cultural life was booming. These towns were located in the follow-
Novaya Serbiia and Slavyanoserbiia (1750–1760);
Novorossiya (stretching from the city of Taganrog to
the Odessa region and the town of Ismail);60
Novorossiiskaya guberniia (1764–1775, 1796–1803);
The city of Novorossiisk in the eastern Black Sea re-
Tavria/Tavrida (whose geography changed consider-
ably between 1730 and 1920);
The steppes of Kherson (Khersonskiie stepi, 1770–pre-
The South (Yug) and/or South-West (Yugo-Zapad), a
term from the vocabulary of the Empire’s administra-
tion and the White Movement (1830–1921).
The local population began to develop modern culture in the
19th century. The cities of Odessa, Nikolayev (later Mykolayiv, in
Ukrainian spelling), Kherson, Yekaterinoslav (later Dniprope-
trovs’k), Aleksandrovsk (later Zaporizhzhia), and other cities had
populations ranging from 75,000 to 300,000 inhabitants by the end
of the 19th century.
60 In 1910, the most expansive description of Novorossiya included the govern-
ances of Bessarabia, Kherson, Tavria, Yekaterinoslav, Stavropol and the lands
of the Don Cossacks Regiment (Semenov 1910).
The desire to live in and dominate the northern Black Sea and
Azov lands was based in Christian, Greek, and imperial political
and historical myths. According to the Christian myth, No-
vorossiya was connected to the “source” of Russian Christendom
because Vladimir the Great was baptized in Chersonese. This myth
also legitimized the “reconquista” of these lands from the Moslems.
According to the Greek myth, because the Novorossiyan lands once
belonged to Ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire, it was only
“natural” that the Russian Empire, which saw itself as the heir to
Byzantium, returned to rule them. Finally, the imperial myth was
based on the idea that the construction of Novorossiya was neces-
sary for civilization to triumph over barbarism.
Russian literature in the 19th and early 20th centuries incorpo-
rated these lands into Russian cultural geography. Pushkin, Gogol,
Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, and Gorky each wrote stories that
take place in Novorossiya or mention it by name. Odessa became
one of the major centers of Russian cultural production. Here, colo-
nial normalization took place alongside the glorification of local he-
roes, including Field-Marshal Alexander Suvorov, the heroes of the
defense of Sevastopol during the Crimean War, Admiral Pavel Na-
khimov, sailors in the Russian Black Sea Fleet, and others.
In addition to Russian Imperial literature, there was also a lo-
cal literary focus on Novorossiya. There is some little-known liter-
ature that specifically describes these lands. For example, the Rus-
sian writer Grigorii Danilevskii’s Beglyie v Novorossii (1862), Beglyiie
vorotilis (1863), and Novyiie mesta (1867) describe everyday life in
Novorossiya and the specific roles that the people in the region
played vis-à-vis the imperial center. Ivan Nechui-Levytskyi’s novel
Mykola Dzheria (1878) included Novorossiya in the context of
Ukrainian culture and described the transformation of the Niz in
Ukrainian symbolic geography.
For the purposes of this study I will briefly outline the major
themes with which Novorossiya was associated in the Russian cul-
tural context of the 19th century. First, Novorossiya was viewed as
a place of new beginnings. It was in Novorossiya that Russian cap-
italism was concentrated and where entrepreneurship flourished in
272DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
the 19th century. Second, Novorossiya was regarded as a place that
lacked order but promised opportunities for daring people. Suvo-
rov, for example, is seen as something of a military entrepreneur,
the Duke de Richelieu (governor of Novorossiya and Bessarabia in
1804-15) as an administrative entrepreneur, the Rallie family as eco-
nomic entrepreneurs, and Gogolian Chichikov as a criminal entre-
preneur. Finally, Novorossiya was appreciated as a hideaway for
migrants, a relatively free land compared to the northern regions.
Thousands of urban losers, sectarians, adventurers, and revolting
serfs fled there to start a new life.
Among the cities of the northern Black Sea and the Azov lands,
there existed a very real competition for administrative, economic,
and symbolic superiority. Kherson and Mykolayev, Odessa and Ye-
katerinoslav, Taganrog and Mariupol competed for administrative
and economic supremacy. By the beginning of the 20th century,
Odessa had emerged as a leader on most of these fronts. Odessa
was home to Novorossiyan university (established in 1863) and the
region’s most important port; it had also become a center for science
and the arts. Odessa was the “jewel” of the Novorossiyan krai.
In the Soviet period, the term Novorossiya disappeared from
public discourse. Between 1917 and 1924, the northern Black Sea
and Azov lands survived many political projects, including “The
South,” which was a White Army stronghold, and the anarchic re-
public of Nestor Makhno. By the end of 1918, the Ukrainian Peo-
ple’s Republic (UNR) included the region in its maps; UNR forces
controlled many cities in the region between 1918 and 1921. The
Bolsheviks’ projects in the region then ultimately led to the creation
of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), which included
contemporary Transnistria and parts of Moldova.
With the Bolshevik victory and the creation of the USSR in
1922, the northern Black Sea territories were divided among the
Russian Socialist Federation, the Ukrainian Socialist Republic and,
later, the Moldovan Socialist Republic. The Soviet nationalization
project in Ukraine (korenizatsia, 1923–33), in combination with the
promotion of Soviet Marxist ideology, turned the northern Black
Sea lands into integral parts of proletarian Russia and Ukraine.
During those times, the term Novorossiya was mainly to be found
in Lenin’s The Development of Capitalism in Russia (1899). At that
point, the Black Sea territories were no longer viewed as one land
with a common name.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Donets’k, Zaporizhzhya, and Odessa
took on symbolic significance in Soviet culture. The industrial uto-
pias of Donbas and DniproGES (a popular name of a major hydro-
electric station on the Dnieper River in Zaporizhzhya) were disso-
ciated from their imperial past. Odessa’s literature, cinema, and vis-
ual arts groups promoted the Soviet avant-garde (partially associ-
ated with Russian culture and partially with Ukrainian culture)
with no reference to the colonization of the region. From the 1930s
to the 1960s, the northern Black Sea and Azov lands had no single
name. Still, many images and stories that were important for Soviet
ideology focused on the urban and industrial centers in the region.
These were images of the Soviet political and cultural community,
and did not reflect any regional identity.
Only during perestroika did some memories of Novorossiya re-
turn, mainly among those interested in Russian Imperial history.
Several books dedicated to Novorossiya or to the colonial wars in
those lands were re-printed.61 At the same time, however, the re-
naming of these lands in the late Soviet period was closely tied to
the Ukrainian Soviet tradition of oblast names: Odessa oblast as
Odeshchyna, Kherson oblast as Khersonshchyna, etc. In local historical
literature printed between 1979 and 1989, the northern Black Sea
and Azov lands were called either “Southern Ukraine” or “South-
Crimea’s experience during this period was unique. At the end
of the 1980s, some members of the local “Slav” population con-
tested the Crimean Tatars’ repatriation from their Stalinist exile.
The Novorossiyan myth was revitalized in 1989–91, when Crimean
Slavs and Tatars tried to portray themselves as locals, in the mean-
time shunning the so-called “newcomers.” Conservative leaders of
61 Namely 19th century historical books by Brikner, Soloviov, Bagalei, Iavornyt-
skyi and many others.
274DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
the Slavic Crimean population invoked the legacy of No-
vorossiya—despite the fact that Crimea had never been part of any
administrative division related to Novorossiya. This historical ar-
gument was one of the ideological reasons that people supported
the referendum on Crimean autonomy held on January 20, 1991. In
the 1990s, the Novorossiyan myth had played just such an active
role in Crimean secessionist ideology.
Independent Ukraine’s nation-building efforts have also re-
vised collective memories in order to recreate and redistribute iden-
tities.62 Local histories became invisible as narratives about a na-
tional Ukrainian identity began to take hold. However, during the
1990s, regional identities became an important factor in the devel-
opment of local and national politics. During this time, voting pat-
terns changed: whereas there had once been a cleavage between re-
gions that voted predominantly for communists versus those that
supported nationalists, a new cleavage developed between the
Ukrainian-speaking northwest and the Russian-speaking south-
The Ukrainian east-west cleavage was not limited to voting
patterns. Regional elites were united by the Party of Regions into a
single network; different local political organizations joined to-
gether, creating a strong network of local elites, mainly in the south-
eastern oblasts. During the first separatist outbreak in southeastern
Ukraine—the Siveronets’k Congress in November 2004—No-
vorossiyan symbols were on display, as were other ideologically-
charged separatist expressions (e.g., the slogan “solidarity with the
fathers who brought civilization here under Catherine the Great”
or St. Andrew’s Black Sea flag, etc.). However, the government
quashed this movement after the Orange Revolution.
The slogans of the Siverodonets’k Congress were given a sec-
ond life in the anti-Maidan movements in southeastern Ukraine
during the Euromaidan Revolution. Yet with one key difference:
the new slogans were less connected with local elites and were in-
62 An analysis of these processes can be found in Kasianov & Ther (2009).
stead shared by anti-Maidan activists. When the Euromaidan pro-
tests turned violent in January 2014, the social networks of anti-
Maidan groups teemed with allegations of “American involve-
ment.” As one activist wrote in the “Novorossiya” Facebook group
in February 2014, it was time “to ask for Russia’s defense.”
Between the end of February and April 2014, the Novorossiya
myth was accepted as one of several guiding ideas behind the sep-
aratist movement in southeastern Ukraine. Other ideas included
the “Russian Spring” myth and local “people’s republics” projects
(in Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzya, Dnipropetrovsk,
Kherson, Mykolaiiv, and Odessa). Unlike the “Russian Spring,”
which took an ethnic-based approach to nationhood, the No-
vorossiya myth was supported by a variety of different peoples and
ethnic groups, namely the pro-separatist inhabitants of southeast-
ern Ukraine, Transnistria, and Abkhazia (see below).63
Data Analysis and Interpretation of the Novorossiyan Myth:
Between Social Reality and Historical Justice
The following section presents the results of my empirical study.
To enquire into the functioning of the Novorossiyan myth during
the Donbas War (beginning in April 2014), I focused on the use of a
complex of beliefs connected to the Novorossiyan myth as outlined
above. It has become obvious that the myth rests on both geo-
graphic and historic symbols that are open to a wide variety of in-
terpretations. I identified uses of the myth for mobilization pur-
poses by pro-separatist activists living in Crimea, Donbas, and
other regions in southeastern Ukraine, as well as in Abkhazia and
Transnistria. To understand the ideological motivations of the peo-
ple supporting the revolt and the war against Ukraine, I looked for
sources in web-based pro-separatist communities. I identified a set
63 The case of Abkhazia is especially interesting, as Abkhazia is neither “Slavic”
nor a historically Novorossiyan land. Yet the involvement of Abkhaz mercenar-
ies in the Donbas War was supported by parts of the local population that saw
the Novorossiya project as one that might change their own situation for the
276DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
of web resources and groups on social networks, which are dis-
played in tables 11–13. The material I used is open-source. I gath-
ered over 1,500 texts and discussions about issues related to the No-
vorossiya myth co-written by approximately 25,000 people.64
By using content analysis and intention analysis, I was able to
identify major ideas as well as specific terms, metaphors, and value-
expressions used by pro-separatist activists that support the basic
ideas of the Novorossiyan myth. Through the analysis of a large
number of texts (words, sentences and other verbal expressions
constituting discussions among these groups on social networks), I
was able to identify the following:
The basic keywords in these discussions;
The meaning of prominently used terms, their alleged
intentions, and the values associated with them;
The major trends in the usage of key terms that led to the
redefinition of meanings and values; and
The major issues and audiences associated with the
The keywords used by participants to provoke and sustain
lengthy and popular discussions included “Novorossiya/No-
vorossiyan”, “Ukraine/Ukrainian”, “Russia/Russian”, “war”,
“justice”, “enemy”, “Slavs/Slavic”, and “West/Europe/US” (see
table 14). In this table, I have provided a description of the most
commonly used words and their meanings. For example, the term
“Novorossiya/Novorossiyan” was used at least 1120 times per
month in the selected groups. There were at least three meanings
ascribed to the word. Above all, it was a name used for the Kharkiv,
Luhansk, Donets’k, Zaporizhzhya, Dnipropetrovs’k, Kherson, My-
kolayiv and Odessa oblasts of Ukraine. In fewer cases, it was the
name given to the aforementioned territories plus Crimea and
Transnistria. Finally, in several cases this name was used to refer to
an even larger region that included Abkhazia and parts of southern
Russia. In this table, I also outline some other characteristics of the
64 This number excludes the outright “web discussion bots,” participants paid to
disseminate special ideas or attitudes in web-based discussions. To identify
bots, I employed the criteria outlined at [http://ain.ua/2014/01/23/509984].
way the term is used. For example, “Novorossiya” was applied
more to territories than to peoples, and the term had an outright
positive meaning in the first half of 2014, whereas it changed to a
predominantly neutral connotation after September 2014. In this
way, the table describes the content and intent of the use of key
terms by those who adhered to the Novorossiyan myth.
Analyses of these data have made it possible to identify the
specific groups involved in these discussions. Although popula-
tions with pro-separatist attitudes seem to be homogenous at first
sight, online discussions about key topics reveal variations in how
different groups imagine Novorossiya’s future status and its rela-
tionship with Russia. Two distinct groups can be identified: (1) a
group with “imperialist” views (approximately 60% of partici-
pants) and (2) groups that have “transnationalist” agendas (approx-
imately 40% of participants).
Among the imperialist group, the most influential collective
voice was the one that supported the unification of Russia and No-
vorossiya. The reason given for this unification was usually the
common imperial past of the populations in Russia and the south-
ern oblasts of Ukraine. This agenda was actively promoted by a
core group of activists and intellectuals connected with Konstantin
Malofeev, a Russian oligarch and one of Putin’s champions of im-
perialism. The two major figures in this group are Igor Strelkov and
Aleksander Borodai. Their Novorossiya is based on images of the
past—mainly Soviet and imperial. For them, the dominant context
for Novorossiya is the “Russian Spring.” The symbolic geography
of this group puts Russia and Moscow at the center of the project,
with Ukraine’s southern oblasts viewed as part of the Russian Fed-
While this group has received the most media attention, they
face opposition in the communities that they lay claim to. In some
situations, people in the separatist republics, as well as in other ob-
lasts in southeastern Ukraine and Transnistria and Abkhazia, ex-
press opinions that differ from those promoted by the imperialists.
A sizeable number of people discuss the Novorossiya project as the
“people’s own” rights to local business, and the spatial dimensions
278DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
of the locality that they refer to does not respect existing national
borders; instead they refer to an idea of solidarity that can be de-
scribed as neither imperial/colonial nor ethnic.
This transnationalist group has certain characteristics. First of
all, it views Novorossiya as a separate country with very vaguely
defined borders. In most discussions, this imagined country in-
cludes the southern Ukrainian oblasts, Crimea, and Transnistria.
However, as I noted in table 14, there were several discussions con-
cluding that oblasts in southern Russia, Abkhazia, and even South-
ern Ossetia should be included in Novorossiya. Group participants
pointed more to a common Soviet legacy (twenty-three separate
discussions), and less so to an imperial past (eleven discussions) in
their arguments for the legitimacy of this constellation of lands. It
is important to note here that their Soviet arguments were less “his-
torical” or “temporal” (related to the past). Instead, members of this
online separatist community refer to the Soviet social safety net, to
a higher quality of life, and to the feeling of belonging to a non- or
supra-ethnic and more just society.
The power structure of the transnationalist group is much
more horizontal and decentralized than its imperialist counterpart.
It does not have a core group of leading personalities. Instead, par-
ticipants share traditionalist views of Novorossiya, referring to
themselves as “simple people,” “grassroots activists,” and “sup-
porters,” rather than leaders or intellectuals. They identify them-
selves as “those living” (zhyvushchiie, naseleniie) in southern
Ukraine, Transnistria, and Abkhazia.
This transnationalist group has become more visible with the
decrease in the intensity of the war and war-driven mobilization.
As a result, the “imperialist” group declared: “Moscow betrayed
Novorossiya,” lamenting “the closure of the project.” However, the
transnationalist group saw Novorossiya as their “own project”
whose future did not depend on Moscow. I counted at least nine
significant discussions that led to consensus that the Transnistrian
and Abkhazian experiences, as unrecognized states, were models
for the separatist republics and/or for a future Novorossiya.
Furthermore, the transnationalist group is less inclined to use
militarist symbols. Rather, theirs is a moderate aesthetic: for them,
St. Andrew’s flag and St. George’s ribbon are the major symbols of
Novorossiya. The “imperialist” groups, by contrast, have a much
richer variety of symbols that often include a mixture of current
Russian official and military symbols, Russian Imperial symbols,
symbols of the DNR and LNR, and stylized weaponry.
This review of debates among supporters of the “Novorossi-
yan project” has shown that the “Novorossiyan identity” has been
used not only in opposition to the Ukrainian, Moldovan, and Geor-
gian national perspectives but also, to a lesser extent, by moderates
opposing the “imperialist” group. The identity in question has a
clear transnational character. First of all, it links marginalized
and/or isolated groups in Georgia, Moldova, and southeastern
Ukraine to a cross-border network of people who share certain at-
titudes towards their national majorities, national governments,
and the global order. Second, it provides these activists with an ide-
ological justification for their separatist projects and creates a kind
of historical, regional, and ideological solidarity. It also establishes
common ground for solidarity across borders in Eastern Europe.
Finally, this identity is connected to—but also opposed to—neo-im-
perialist and ethno-nationalist perspectives in the region.
In studying the aforementioned texts, I found that the word
“Novorossiya” is associated with ideological meanings that have
legitimized political separatism in the region, as well as with mili-
tary mobilization and solidarity among populations in the unrec-
ognized polities. When mentioning “Novorossiya,” supporters of
separatist ideas have tended to espouse nativist, anti-Western, and
anti-globalist attitudes, as well as to describe the need to “restore
Whenever nativism came up, Internet users stressed that they
have their own “native” and “common” history that is distinct from
the nationalized histories of Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. Na-
tivist metaphors have often contained “blood and soil” arguments,
in contrast to the “foreign” or “alien” histories of the nations of
280DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. While for separatists from Trans-
nistria and the southern Ukrainian oblasts, nativism was based on
their Slavic origins, speakers from Abkhazia or South Ossetia re-
ferred to “Soviet-era internationalism,” which motivated them to
oppose Georgia. According to some forum users, Abkhazia’s No-
vorossiyan identity stems from the threat that the Abkhaz popula-
tion, which “flourished in Soviet times,” faces from pro-Western
Anti-Western motives are strong and stable among both the im-
perialist and transnationalist groups. The West, Europe, and the
U.S. are seen as presenting an existential threat to the collective
identities, values and memories of the Novorossiyan populations.
Sometimes, however, “Europe” is used positively, especially when
referring to “EU welfare” or to “European allies” in far-right groups
and political parties in France, Italy, Austria, and Hungary.
The issue of “historical justice” for all unrecognized nations and
large groups of minorities—particularly for Russophones in
Ukraine—is among the most popular topics. The populations of
Donbas, Transnistria, and Crimea are seen as groups whose state-
hood is historically justified: “we have our own political culture”
based on a “non-ethnic statehood” uniting “representatives of all
ethnic groups,” they say. Russian-speakers are said to be “excluded
from state-building” processes and treated as “second-class citi-
zens” in Ukraine and Moldova. This argument is mostly used in
debates focusing on the Ukrainian, Georgian, and Moldovan right
to statehood. Russian Imperial and Soviet history provide unrecog-
nized nations and pro-separatist activists with the “historical foun-
dation” for new polities across the region. This historical argument
is employed to oppose belonging to Ukraine, Georgia, and Mol-
The Novorossiyan myth refers to the past as a series of events
that provides both imperialists and transnationalists with justifica-
tions for their respective visions. Unsurprisingly, the “Golden Age”
of Imperial Russia is equally important for both groups. Yet there
are differences between these visions. The imperialists tend to f ocus
on military history, while the transnationalists are more attentive to
the economic and cultural boom of the 19th century as well as to the
peaceful co-existence of different ethnic and religious groups to-
gether with the Russian Orthodox Church. The socialist experience
in the construction of the Donbas-Krivorizhzhya Republic stresses
that social fairness was important for the transnationalists, too. By
contrast imperialist groups focus more on the Civil War of 1917–
The lost paradise of the Soviet Union is equally relevant for
debates in both groups. However, transnationalist discussants fo-
cus more on social security and the cultural rights of Russian speak-
ers during the Soviet period. The glory of “the Victory of the Great
Patriotic War (Second World War)” is also equally important for
both groups. However, the imperialists use this issue in reference
to military confrontation with the West, whereas the transnational-
ists focus more on the experience of “Heroic Cities,” such as
Odessa, Sevastopol, and Kerch. Transnationalists are also more in-
clined to distance themselves from the supposed glorification of
Nazis in mainland Ukraine and “Romania Mare” (Great Romania)
in Moldova. Following the passage of Ukraine’s “de-communiza-
tion” laws in April 2015, the number of anti-Kyiv comments dou-
bled among residents of Odessa, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Za-
porizhzhya, and Dnipropetrovsk. Thus, even though historical ar-
guments are important for all supporters of Novorossiya, they de-
ploy transnationalist and imperialist elements differently. While
imperialists tend to focus on unity with Russia, transnationalists fo-
cus on local populations’ right to self-determination. Furthermore,
they emphasize the extent to which their separatist “nations” differ
from Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine.
Finally, some general comments on the attitudes of members
of the transnationalist group are in order. Unlike the imperialists,
many transnationalists have experienced life in unrecognized states
and are often critical of them. This means that they have different
historical reference points when they write about Novorossiya.
Transnistrians and Abkhazians often complain about living in un-
recognized states. Their anti-Western sentiment is less utopian and
more focused on the limitations placed on them by nation-states
282DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
and international organizations. Often, they criticize their own
leaders and political regimes as unjust and corrupt. Those living in
the DNR and LNR also increasingly criticize their leadership for ig-
noring the interests and rights of their citizens. Still, they criticize
their own states differently than they do the political orders in
Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine. Here, local “bad regimes” are seen
as home-grown; discussants often joke that “these are bandits, but
they’re our bandits.” In Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, however,
corrupt elites are denounced as “foreign exploiters.” While the cur-
rent situation is predominantly described in negative terms, the
emergence of positive reference points is plausible. Particularly
among transnationalists, the Soviet past is seen as the only just way
of life that these populations have ev er experienced. Their hope s for
improvement are connected with an imagined Novorossiyan polity
that strongly resembles an idealized Soviet past.
For Ukrainian supporters of the Novorossiyan project, com-
parisons to Halychyna are quite common; it was mentioned in at
least fifteen discussions. Halychyna is a western Ukrainian region
that has its own history of national movements in the Polish repub-
lic and Habsburg Empire. Interestingly, by the end of 2014 and
throughout 2015, there were many cases in which discussants com-
pared Novorossiya with Halychyna and today’s separatist fighters
with Ukrainian Insurgent Army fighters (povstantsi UPA). The com-
parison with Halychyna is based on: (1) a focus on linguistic, cul-
tural, and historical differences with the rest of the country; (2) the
ability to “bring civilization” to the rest of the country (federalism
is seen as a sign of a “higher political urban culture” than the
“Ukrainian agricultural oligarchy”); and (3) a specific regional
identity based on a colonial and imperial past.
For supporters of Novorossiya living in South Ossetia and Ab-
khazia, appeals to history are also unique and local. They com-
monly compare the Novorossiyan project with the idea of the “Cau-
casian Confederation” project, which, during the Chechen Wars of
the 1990s, was seen as a possible route for organizing the popula-
tions of Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Abkhazia, Cherkessia,
and other lands in the North Caucasus. The Caucasian Confedera-
tion was imagined as a transnational polity of nationalities living in
the Caucasian regions of Russia, Georgia, and even Azerbaijan.
In all cases, the transnationalist group compares their past and
present experiences to an imagined Novorossiyan future. Through
these comparisons, which their imperialist peers rarely understand,
the political imagination and vision of the transnationalist group
are largely based upon a politically and socially just order.
The contemporary Novorossiyan myth is a complex ideological
construction shared by two groups that can be identified vis-à-vis
their attitudes toward the West, in addition to Russia’s imperial and
Soviet pasts. One of the groups can be termed “imperialist” and the
other “transnationalist.” My analysis suggests that the Novorossi-
yan myth refers to—and is endorsed by—some communities living
in territories that are today ruled by Ukraine, Moldova and Geor-
gia. Supporters of the Novorossiyan myth usually feel excluded
from the political, social, and cultural life of their respective coun-
In both groups, the Novorossiyan myth is constructed from el-
ements of conservatism, imperialism, and revanchist neo-Soviet-
ism. Novorossiyan conservatism refers to historical justice and a
seemingly glorious past as sources of legitimacy for a separate po-
litical entity in the northern Black Sea lands. In many ways, this
conservatism coincides with the ideology of Vladimir Putin, who
seeks to provide a “traditionalist alternative” to ideas and policies
based on human rights, the rule of law, and the international legal
order. Supporters of the Novorossiyan project reject the inclusion
of lands between Izmail and Lugansk in Ukraine; of Transnistria in
Moldova; and of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. In their
opinion, historical justice can only be achieved by letting the local
populations in these regions create their own legitimate state (or
284DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Non-ethnic Russian Imperial and supra-ethnic Soviet identities cre-
ate frameworks of collective solidarity supported by adherents to
the Novorossiya idea. This identity, which is usually not ethnically
coded, refers to the experience and memory of these populations
under the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. While there are
clear social similarities between those who call for Novorossiyan
solidarity, they rarely describe any one social class or social justice
issue, rather, such calls for solidarity are grounded in historical, col-
lectivist, and conservative terms. Oftentimes the Soviet social and
political experience is portrayed as the ideal order for the future.
The current period of Georgian, Moldovan, and Ukrainian inde-
pendence, in contrast, is seen as highly unjust. Revanchist neo-sovi-
etism is thus an important part of the Novorossiyan myth.
Another common feature of the Novorossiyan myth is that all
of its supporters share anti-Western and pro-Russian attitudes as
well as a negative assessment of Ukrainian and Moldovan rule over
Russophone populations. Those supporting strict pro-Russian atti-
tudes make up the group of “imperialists,” who claim that No-
vorossiya can exist only as a part of the Russian Federation. They
focus on Soviet and Imperial military glory, and they see the future
of Novorossiya as connected to the Russian government’s foreign
and defense policies. The “transnational” group, by contrast, is
more focused on social and economic issues of the past. Its mem-
bers have a negative attitude towards the national majorities of
their states; they see Novorossiya’s future as either an independent
state or as an autonomous region within Russia. This group is more
inclusive in terms of who can be regarded as “Novorossiyan”: Rus-
sians and Ukrainians in southern Ukraine and Transnistria, as well
as Abkhazians and South Ossetians, are seen as legitimate members
of a future Novorossiyan polity.
The members of the transnationalist group constitute a trans-
national community that shares utopian, non-military ideas. They
picture themselves as survivors living under the rule of illegitimate
national and separatist governments. The political and social
change they want is distant and utopian. However, the tensions be-
tween their utopian aims and the realities on the ground are not
strong enough to propel this group to attempt any escape from self-
isolation. Their survival is predicated on the increased relevance of
conservative values. These values are shared by most members of
the group, which in turn increases their ability to associate with
other marginalized social groups within Ukraine, Georgia, and
Moldova. Furthermore, the orientation towards conservatism and
self-isolation diminishes support for left-wing parties that might
otherwise respond to some of the preferences of this group.
The transnationalist group may ultimately have an impact on
medium-term political outcomes in Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and
Ukraine. If these states implement inclusive cultural and socio-eco-
nomic policies, Novorossiyans could one day be incorporated into
national politics. It is important to remember that this group is not
eager to take military action, which provides national governments
with limited opportunities for finding a common understanding
among its members. At the same time, the transnationalist group
may also become a source of renewed separatist mobilization;
transnationalist Novorossiyans may be viewed as subjects in a con-
test, with Chisinau, Kyiv, and Tbilisi on one side—and Moscow on
286DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Table 11. VKontakte Sources
Name and hyperlink Type
VK mirror of
Сводки ДНР ЛНР Новороссия
НОВОРОССИЯ | SaveDonbassPeople |
ДОБРОВОЛЕЦ.ОРГ | ОБОРОНА НОВО-
Антимайдан Одесса Новороссия
The following criteria were used in the selection of the VKontakte
groups: (1) had over 20,000 participants,65 (2) was active for more
than six months during the Donbas War; and (3) covered No-
vorossiyan issues frequently.
Table 12. Facebook Sources
Name and hyperlink
(in original language) Type
ef=br_rs] Media and news 9,396
Новороссия - актуальное
ossia.actual/?ref=br_rs] Discussion group 5,991
estrovie/?ref=br_rs] Miscellaneous 5,002
day-1452392635033241/?ref=br_rs] Media and news 4,951
Новороссия = ДНР + ЛНР
vorossiya/?ref=br_rs] Discussion group 4,009
9383483318/?ref=br_rs] Discussion group 2,264
News and discus-
65 This quantitative threshold provided me with the ability to analyze discussions
in longer lasting groups (at least six months); the fewer participants the group
had, the shorter the debates tended to last. The groups that existed for a longer
period of time also provided interesting data that reveals how attitudes among
pro-Novorossiya activists and their opponents changed over time.
288DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
The following criteria were used in the selection of the Facebook
groups: (1) had over 1,000 participants66; (2) was active for more
than six months during the Donbas War; and (3) covered No-
vorossiyan issues frequently.
Table 13. Sources from Internet Websites67
Name and hyperlink
(in original language) Type
Novorossia, [http://novorossia.su/] Media and discussion
Novorossia Information Agency,
[http://www.novorosinform.org/] News site
Russkaia Vesna – Novorossia,
[http://rusvesna.su/tags/novorossiya] Media and discussion
Novorossiya, [http://novorossiya.name/] News site
The following criteria were used for the selection of web sites: (1)
often cited by VK and FB groups68; (2) was active for more than six
months during the Donbas War; and (3) covered Novorossiyan is-
66 This quantitative threshold for Facebook-based communities also provided ac-
cess to longer lasting discussion groups. VKontakte was much more popular
among Russophone populations than Facebook, which is why there is a differ-
ence between the thresholds.
67 Only those materials with more than 100 comments were analyzed.
68 Here I list those web resources that provided groups with material for discus-
sions at least once per month. In doing so, I have narrowed down the data
sources to only those with constant influence over discussions, as well as those
that shed light upon changes in topics and attitudes among those participating
in the discussions.
Table 14. Key Words and Their Use by Pro-Separatist Populations
Key words Average number
of use per month
Meaning, contested meanings
Not less than 1,120
times per month
Stable frequency 1. Most frequent use: the name used to refer to the Kharkivska,
Luhanska, Donetska, Zaporizka, Dnipropetrovska, Khersonska, Myko-
layivska and Odeska oblasts of Ukraine.
2. Less frequent use: all of the above plus Crimea and Transnistria.
3. Least frequent use: two southern oblasts in Russia and Abkhazia.
Note 1: This term is used mostly for territories; rarely used to describe
a population. “Novorossiyan people” or similar terms were used in
2014 but had almost disappeared by the end of 2015.
Note 2: The term had a positive meaning in the first half of 2014; since
September 2014, the term has had a more neutral connotation
Ukraine/ Ukrainian Not less than 1000
times per month
Used more fre-
quently in 2015
(1100) than in
1. The state of Ukraine that is now at war with Novorossiya/Rus-
sia/the peoples’ republics
2. Less used: territories to the north of the Novorossiyan oblasts.
Note: The use of the term is predominantly negative. Some “neutrali-
zation” of the term arose by end of 2015 (approximately 20% of all
290DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Key words Average number
of use per month
Meaning, contested meanings
Russia/ Russian Not less than 950
times per month
Stable frequency 1. The state of that is the only ally of the supporters of Novorossiya.
2. Less used: a state that should accept/defend/introduce its army into
3. A positive adjective (Russian world, for example), associated with
the past and future.
Note: in March 2015 and continuously since September 2015, there has
been growing concern with the betrayal of pro-Novorossiyan forces.
However, this concern is expressed in terms of the betrayal of Mos-
cow, the Kremlin or Putin himself.
War Not less than 940
times per month
Stable frequency 1. War between the people’s republics (representing Novorossiya) and
2. Less used: War of Ukrainians against Russians in the “Novorossiyan
3. Less used: Humanitarian catastrophe, individual tragedy.
Note: Even though many discussants personally experienced war, they
predominantly describe it in the terms of a collective experience.
Key words Average number
of use per month
Meaning, contested meanings
Justice Not less than 400
times per month
Used more fre-
quently in 2014
(800) than in
1. Predominantly used either in reference to the past (historical justice
leading to the separation of Novorossiya from Ukraine), or the future
(joining Russia or creating of some sort of independent republic).
2. Less often: as a characteristic of a future Novorossiyan organization.
Note: With several rare exceptions, justice is discussed in collectivist,
not individualist terms. It is up to groups to establish justice, not
Enemy Not less than 400
times per month
(with two peaks
in August 2014
2015, when use
cases per month)
1. Enemies to the populations of the peoples’ republics and/or No-
2. Ukraine and the West planning to continue exercising control over
Russophone populations in the Novorossiyan oblasts.
Note: The “West” is constantly used as a synonym with enemy. How-
ever, “Europe” is sometimes used in a more neutral way.
292DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Key words Average number
of use per month
Meaning, contested meanings
Slavs/Slavic Not less than 200
times per month
Stable frequency 1. A common racial denominator for Russians and Ukrainians, the
grounds for some sort of political and “genetic” unity, employed to
justify the unification of a Russian-Ukrainian state and for the destruc-
tion of the independent Ukrainian state.
2. A term for pan-Slavic unity extending beyond Russia and No-
vorossiya. An alternative to the West.
West/Europe/U.S. Not less than 200
times per month
Stable frequency 1. Although these words are used synonymously, in particular the
“West” and the “U.S.” (as well as visual symbols associated with them,
including the American and NATO flags) are seen as existential and
2. Europe has two contrasting meanings: enemy and possible friend.
The values associated with Europe vary frequently in the discussions
of the future of Novorossiya.
4.5. Overcoming European Extremes: In
Place of a Conclusion72
Kyiv is an old city and an ageless Eastern European center. Even
though its hills are not very high, they are high enough to provide
a good view of our continent and the threats posed to its existence.
Today’s Europe, as viewed from Kyiv, is a space of growing
extremes. By 2017 the eastern neighborhood of the European Union
has become a region defined by intercultural conflict, interstate
war, and authoritarian experiments betraying the bright hopes for
continental cooperation, freedom, and peace espoused in the early
1990s. The western neighborhood of post-Soviet Europe has been
sucked into the maelstrom of crises that have tested the EU’s insti-
tutional and ideological ability to survive, progress, and remain
faithful to its founding cosmopolitan ideas. The fissures between
eastern and western poles of Europe are now filled by post-com-
munist “sovereign democracies” with dubious allegiances to hu-
man rights, civil liberties and European solidarity. The wider the
gap becomes, the more essential it is to mend it, first by proposing
a wise and healing strategy for Europe to become a united and
peaceful region defined by progress.
In my Kyivite opinion, this strategy should soberly assess the
long-term tendencies in post-Soviet Europe, the EU’s ability and re-
sponsibility as an agent of change across all of Europe, and the role
of the East in rebuilding Europe as a politically, socially and eco-
nomically developing and inspiring continent.
The Ukrainian experience of the last several years has involved
hybrid war, fast-paced reforms and the re-emergence of authoritar-
ian perspectives. Our experience of fruitless transition over the last
25 years can teach lessons that hold value for all of Europe. Our
72 This chapter was previously published as: Minakov, M. 2016. “Overcoming Eu-
ropean extremes,” in Heinrich Boell Stiftung – European Union, 22 June 2016,
314DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
bitter experience may inspire others toward peace, democratic pro-
cedure, and transnational pan-European cooperation more than
ever before in the post-WWII era.
The EU’s Eastern Neighbourhood
“Oh God, what's wrong with me?
Why does nothing ever work out?”
Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary
In the countries that used to be part of the Soviet Union, the easily
comprehensible and predictable world of totalitarian industrial
modernity was rapidly replaced by the scare of history. At first, the
uncertainty of the leap into freedom was welcomed, since this sud-
den change opened up a space for experiments with personal and
collective life, nation-state building, the free market, political and
ideological pluralism, business, and religion. Mikhail Gorbachev
proclaimed Europe a “common home.” Ukraine, Russia and other
former Soviet countries joined the Council of Europe and imple-
mented most of its mandates. Back then, in the early 1990s, one Big
Europe stretching from Dublin to Vladivostok seemed as if it were
a viable plan.
However, empirical reality took its toll on the bright expecta-
tions of the experimenters: oligarchy substituted for the freedom of
enterprise, authoritarianism suppressed civil liberties and intrusive
clericalism emerged out of spiritual freedom. The early 1990s
dreams of modernization have led, stra ngely, to the rapid ly demod-
ernizing Eastern European world of the 2010s.
Here I use the term demodernization to denote a number of
different tendencies in the cultures, societies, political systems and
religious life of the region that are directed at the forms and mean-
ings of the pre-Soviet era. While other parts of the world have
moved on to new forms of collective and private life, former Soviet
peoples, after the shock and disorientation of the “wild 1990s,” are
wasting time by trying to realize modes of collective life character-
istic of pre-industrial societies and their respective political regimes
mired in 19th century style nationalisms.
Most of the former Soviet republics today are a group of frag-
ile, repeatedly failing states. Russia, once encompassing the prom-
ise of a liberal democratic future, has become a source of ideological
inspiration, economic resources, and political models for authori-
tarianism. A clique of KGB officers dwelling in the Kremlin with
very ambitious plans for the Russian Federation and the regions of
the former Soviet Union, former “brigadiers of Perestroika” have in-
stalled despotic regimes in Central Asia and the Southern Cauca-
sus. Belarus is locked into a nostalgic dictatorship; meanwhile,
Putinist Russia and its allies have continued to promote an author-
itarian agenda throughout Eastern Europe.
By 2010, the authoritarian regimes managed to create their
own international “self-support group.” The Eurasian Union and
its informal allies have promoted superiority of “state sovereignty”
over human rights, dominance of tradition over the individual, and
self-sufficiency over European integration. The Eurasian conserva-
tive project now poses a danger not only to the post-Soviet nations,
but also to the EU and the West at-large.
Amid the larger and officially recognized post-Soviet states,
there exists a constantly growing chain of unrecognized, de-facto
states. Between 1990 and 2014 nearly every Eastern European coun-
try participating in the European Neighborhood Policy and the
Eastern Partnership has been pulled into territorial disputes over
these de facto states. The general population of Nagorny Karabakh,
South Ossetia, Abkhazia and separatist Donbas totals over 4 mln
people. Most of these populations have lived in political, economic
and cultural isolation for over twenty years. Over time they have
evolved into unrecognized nations with strong Soviet nostalgia and
hostility towards the existing western-dominated international or-
der. These de facto states keep post-Soviet European states fragile,
limit their chances at any decisive change, and add to the general
entropy and depopulation taking place across the region.
The wave of “Color Revolutions” (Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyz-
stan, 2003–2005) and recent civic revolutions in Kyiv and Chisinău
(2013–2016) aimed to reverse the trend of demodernization. So far,
these attempts have not led to any continuous success. Georgia,
316DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Ukraine are indeed the “weak links” in
the network of eastern European and Eurasian dictatorships. These
states are also not the main sources of reverse development in the
The revolutionary attempts to return to the democratic politi-
cal agenda and launch a more inclusive and socially responsible so-
cio-economic model failed pathetically. We, activists of these revo-
lutions, have managed to inspire our societies and the neighboring
peoples to try to return to the aims of social modernization and
common plan for European integration. Yet we have not managed
to propose any working alternative neither for our own nations, nor
for our neighbours. Against our own will, our repeated failures
have decreased potential lines of support or a democratic break-
through in other post-Soviet countries.
Our failures were predominantly caused by the interplay of
two factors: suppression from the outside and the betrayal of elites
from the inside. Russia and other authoritarian regimes supported
political forces inside the countries that revolted in order to win
over all political competition in a return to the Eurasian agenda. In
two extreme cases, the Kremlin used armed forces to launch “small
wars” (Georgia, 2008; Ukraine, 2014–17) that caused short- and
long-term effects that have been destructive for the democratic de-
velopment of these revolutionary countries.
But the Georgian and Ukrainian experiences also show that
elites who came into power as a result of these revolutions and pro-
claimed themselves as part of a “pro-European vector” were eager
to abuse Western support for their own clan interests. The same
happened in Moldova, which missed a chance at revolution, but
nonetheless peacefully voted pro-Europe. The post-Soviet power
elites learned how to use international aid provided by the EU and
the USA in order to establish their own opportunistic regimes, pro-
moting their clan interests in order to win out in competitions
against other political and financial groups.
Whichever path post-Soviet nations choose—a desperate rev-
olutionary cycle and/or authoritarian dystopia—the choice is not
driven by local vision leading to opportunity or a common Euro-
pean future. The real Eastern European neighbourhood is now a
playground of diverse ideologies hostile to freedom, equality and
justice. The decline of human, social, economic and political re-
sources in Eastern Europe is not helpful for European integration.
The major trends in our region are increasingly dangerous for the
existence of the EU.
In this context, European integration remains the only realistic
democratic and peaceful alternative. In the absence of trustworthy
counterparts in the East, the future of all of Europe depends upon
the EU and its leaders, whether they like it or not.
Post-Soviet Europe’s Western Neighborhood
“You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed”’
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The nations of the western part of the European continent have pro-
foundly changed their region by abolishing those economic, politi-
cal, social and cultural factors that have caused wars and conflicts
in this part of the world. This preventive strategy was realized by
the creation of a number of highly intelligent self-evolving institu-
tions that ensured multilateral super-, inter- and sub-national coop-
eration between actors in all EU Member States.
From a Kyivite perspective, the EU appears to be a self-perfect-
ing set of institutions that have emerged out of profound conflicts
and historical cleavages that once tore Western Europe apart over
many centuries. It is tempting to believe that once having solved
the current crises, the EU will translate its newly gained experience
into an even better institution that will allow it to continue to func-
tion by preventing these specific types of crises. In the past Western
Europe ended war between France and Germany, created one eco-
nomic zone, and united into an integrated educational space with
respect for cultural diversity.
In this regard, the paradoxical meaning of Europe, about
which Ilana Bet-El (Bet-El 2016) writes—that Europe “is a continent
318DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
in concept as much as pure geography”—can be resolved by look-
ing at the EU as an extreme example in making this concept a real-
ity. Conceptually, Europe is an idea founded in a prosperous peace
among nations. Realistically, however, the EU is an extreme, un-
precedented, long-lasting attempt to make the peaceful cohabita-
tion of nations a reality.
It is true that at present the EU is facing an exponential increase
in emergencies including, among others, the refugee crisis, ISIS-in-
spired terrorism, the Grexit, the Brexit, the Ukraine crisis and the
Russian threat. Each of these crises poses an overwhelming chal-
lenge to the fundamental goals and values of a united Europe.
However, if and when adequately addressed, these problematic sit-
uations might empower the EU and increase its institutional power
(for more on this see: Krastev 2012; Meiner & Veel 2012). The suc-
cessful treatment of crises is fundamental to the EU’s existence and
Today the “learning from crises” perspective must be taken
into account in order to improve EU policies vis-à-vis post-Soviet
Europe and the idea of “One Europe.” So far, neither the European
Neighborhood Policy (ENP) nor the Eastern Partnership policy
(EaP) were adequate to address the scale of the problems in the
East. The current crisis in Eastern Europe must lead to the creation
of better, long-term European policies that increase democratic de-
velopment, peaceful cooperation, and pan-European integration.
The new EU policies towards Eastern Europe must take into
account the defects in its previous regional and country-specific ap-
proaches in the framework of the ENP and EaP:
the unforeseen effect of the ENP/EaP in provoking inade-
quate and overestimated expectations concerning EU
membership by Eastern European societies, while the EU
was not ready to propose clear membership strategies;
the absence of vision regarding the competition with Rus-
sia and the Eurasian Union in the region;
the lack of adequate policies regarding the territorial in-
tegrity of partnering states in the region;
the shortage of ENP instruments for country-specific ac-
tions in times of crisis.
When the ENP was launched in 2004, it was a somewhat direc-
tionless policy with the aim of promoting democracy, socioeco-
nomic development and security. The first initiatives of the ENP
were based on joint Action Plans and Progress Reports with the in-
volved parties: these included the post-Soviet states of Azerbaijan,
Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. I must say that the ENP
viewed cooperation with its Eastern European partners without
any clearly established goals in mind; which also signaled that
Brussels sensed the need to deal with Eastern Europe in one way or
In 2009 the EU made—in comparison with its previous pol-
icy—a daring attempt at deepening integration with its East Euro-
pean neighbors by launching the Eastern Partnership Initiative.
This attempt was more of an intelligent ENP strategy based on the
idea that the EU development model was superior to other models
in terms of the quality of its regulatory impact and the effectiveness
of the reforms that it entails. The EaP’s plausible hypothesis rested
on the idea that, by applying the EU model of regulation and gov-
ernance, all participating partners would benefit from the modern-
ization of their economies and political systems (for more on this
see: “Eastern Partnership: Communication from the Commission to
the European Parliament and the Council 2008”; Lightfoot, Szent-
Iványi & Wolczuk 2016). It was expected that whichever motiva-
tions partnering countries have, their development would be faster
and bring these states closer to the EU socially, economically, and
possibly also politically.
Seizing upon the opportunities that the EaP offers, some of the
partner countries (e.g. Ukraine, Georgia) started negotiations on the
Association Agreement with the EU, which is a binding legal
framework for economic and political integration. Thus, the Deep
and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), a crucial part of the
AA, promotes a regulatory approximation that, in turn, opens
greater access to the EU market among partners. In some cases, the
DCFTA included a political section in the AA outlining additional
320DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
obligations for an associated state. If the Eastern European region
were to evolve peacefully and democratically, the ENP/EaP would
become a brilliant strategy and greatly increase the chances for pan-
European unity and cooperation.
However, post-Soviet Europe has developed in a different di-
rection, as I have argued above. In the wake of the conservative,
anti-western backlash in post-Soviet Europe, the EaP had unfore-
seen effects from Brussels’ point-of-view. By promoting socio-eco-
nomic modernization in Eastern Europe and closer integration with
the EU, the ENP/EaP triggered unrealistic expectations for full EU
membership. These unrealistic expectations became an important
factor in the internal politics of Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Ar-
menia. This dynamic also had an impact on the Russian and Bela-
rusian opposition. In the absence of strong and consequent pro-de-
mocracy parties, the EU membership idea became a sort of surro-
gate for liberal ideology—inspiring democratic movements across
the region. Unwillingly, the EU became an important internal po-
litical factor in Eastern European countries; meanwhile, EU deci-
sion makers were not prepared to address this problem in a timely
or adequate manner.
The above effect coincided with another one. The strategy un-
derlying ENP and EaP focused on the rule of law in post-Soviet Eu-
ropean countries (e.g. see “European Neighborhood Policy: Work-
ing towards a Stronger Partnership” 2013). The idea was that con-
vergence with EU rules would bring stability and prosperity to the
Eastern neighborhood. This idea mirrored the policies applied ear-
lier in other post-communist countries, e.g. the Baltic countries; but
in these cases there was a clear goal defined by accession to the EU,
which was a decisive motivation for elites and citizenry in support-
ing further integration. In an ENP/EaP context, this motivation was
absent, so the integration had no clear outcomes among any of the
parties. In many ways, the process added to the utopian European
aspirations of Ukrainians, Georgians and Moldovans. These, in
turn, opened a window of opportunities for certain political groups
to use these unrealistic expectations to gain power and later dis-
credit the EU regarding the (lack of) results. This effect is clearly
visible in the Chisinau-based protests and the recent support
among Ukrainians for a leader with a “strong hand” (KIIS poll as
of June 2, 2016).
A review of the documents defining ENP and EaP policies in
the period between 2004 and 2014 shows evasion of the questions
concerning Russia’s role in the region and the role that the EU
wants to play (only the 2014 ENP strategic document describes Rus-
sia’s critical steps in destabilizing the Eastern European region; see:
“Neighborhood at the Crossroads: Implementation of the European
Neighborhood Policy in 2013”: 3). These documents also failed to
acknowledge the change in the Russian Federation’s stance to-
wards ENP and EaP. Here I just want to point out that there were
periods when the Kremlin was a partner in joint regional projects
with the EU, or simply indifferent towards preparations for the As-
sociation Agreements, not viewing them as a danger to its own in-
terests in the region. At that time, there were opportunities to di-
minish the risks in the successful implementation of EU strategies
in Eastern Europe. In its preparations for an EU Global Strategy for
Foreign and Security Policy, it is crucial for the EU to address Rus-
sia as both a factor in the realization of its own interests in the east-
ern neighborhood, as well as a threat to EU unity.
The general ENP/EaP approach to post-Soviet Europe con-
tained one more flaw. It treated all five eastern European countries
in the same way without taking into account that some of them (and
since February 2014, all of them) do not fully control their territo-
ries. This territorial lack of definition among partner states, as well
as the presence of a number of de facto states, would have been an
important factor for understanding and mitigating the risks pre-
sented by separatist movements. These risks clearly emerged dur-
ing the Ukraine crisis and the Novorossiyan revolt. Activists from
South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria were and remain im-
portant factors in the Donbas war in particular, and destabilization
of the region in general (Trenin 2014).
Finally, with the deepening of cooperation between the EU
and some eastern neighborhood partners in the 2010s, the cohesion
between regional and country-specific EU policies declined. This
322DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
lack of strategic coordination was one of the key reasons the EU lost
its proactive position and belatedly reacted to the snowball of prob-
lems on its eastern borders. Here I will use the example of Ukraine
to show how inadequate were the aims and tools of EU policies
during the crisis of 2014–16.
The EU-Ukraine Association Agreement has had huge signifi-
cance for Ukraine. If implemented properly, the AA could have
been a part of an important strategy to help Ukraine develop and
become a safer neighbor for the EU. Ukraine as EU success story
could have also set an example of democratic development for
other post-Soviet countries. However, this dynamic became one of
the causes of Euromaidan and Russian aggression.
So far the EU-Ukraine AA has had limited success concerning
economic development. Although some Ukrainian companies and
products gained access to the EU market, many more companies
lost the Russian market due to Russia’s decision in December
The political component to the AA is critical for the develop-
ment of anti-corruption institutions and judiciary reform in
Ukraine. Yet the newly established law enforcement agencies are
adding to the president’s control over power elites in Kyiv, while
the EU-backed constitutional reform has increased the Ukrainian
president’s control over Ukrainian judges for several years.
This mismatch between the goals and tools of EU policy to-
wards Ukraine, as well as the lack of monitoring around how the
EU’s support to Kyiv contributes to the strategic goals of the
ENP/EaP, remains highly problematic and requires maintenance at
all levels of EU involvement in Ukraine.
73 The EU has helped Ukraine reduce its dependency on gas and oil supplies from
Russia to a minimum, although the fuel that Ukraine purchases from EU Mem-
ber States is of Russian origin.
Rebuilding the European Neighborhood
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative
efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
The Schuman Declaration, May 9, 1950
“That kings should philosophize or philosophers become kings is not
to be expected. Nor is it to be wished, since the possession of power inevi-
tably corrupts the untrammelled judgment of reason. But kings or king-
like peoples which rule themselves under laws of equality should not suf-
fer the class of philosophers to disappear or to be silent, but should let
them speak openly.”
Immanuel Kant, Perpetual Peace
The growing gap between two European neighbourhoods creates
increasing tension among all involved parties. This tension may kill
not only the prospects of a united Europe from the Atlantic to the
Pacific Ocean, but also destroy the EU from within. It may sound
too alarmist, but the idea of “sovereignism” of Putinist Russia is
more and more shared in the East: it is winning in Turkey, it rules
in Belarus, it gains support among conservative parties in Ukraine,
the Balkans and the Visegrad Four countries. The conservative
backlash in Eastern and Central Europe poses a real and tangible
The EU is the only agent that can revert these threatening
tendencies in Europe. This is why a new EU policy towards the
Eastern neighbourhood is critical not only for the survival of the
EU, but also for the democratic future of all Eastern European na-
tions and for the preservation of Europe as an idea and reality.
EU decision-makers face difficult choices. One option is to turn
the EU into a “Fortress of Europe” and build an Iron Curtain sepa-
rating it off from the rest of the world. Yet both the Roman experi-
ence and the legacy of the Cold War teach us that the limes/walls
will fall sooner or later.
The option of “One Big Europe” seems too utopian today.
Without trustworthy partners in the East, this project is simply un-
324DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
The real option demanded by the situation unfolding both in-
side and outside the EU, which might be ameliorated by the ability
of EU institutions to learn from crises, is the middle way: to ensure
the solidarity among Member States aro und th e fundamental issues
of the EU survival, to establish a united EU security mechanism,
and to build an effective EU foreign policy.
The latter should include a wise, creative, and proactive strat-
egy towards Eastern Europe. This strategy should combine three
a general approach to post-Soviet European countries;
a policy towards growing competition and possible coop-
eration with Russia in the region.
The general approach towards the post-Soviet European countries should
aim to increase resources for the peaceful co-existence between and
possible integration of all countries. It is critical to work with all
countries in the region, independent of the fact of whether their
governments have signed a common agreement or not. This means
that Belarus, as well as the populations of unrecognized states,
should also be covered by this policy.
Since the Novorossiyan revolt and the thawing of the
Karabakh conflict, all six governments are keen on cooperating
with the EU and the West in the area of security. By referencing the
threat of separatism and its endorsement by Russia, the EU may
gain new vantages for cooperation with all governments in the re-
Even though it is a difficult task, the EU should be in perma-
nent communication with all political forces in Ukraine, Moldova
and the other post-Soviet countries. These channels of communica-
tion, as well as the involvement of all different opposition groups
into a European dialogue, can balance the Eurasian networks, and
start gaining competitions for the hearts and minds of Eastern Eu-
ropean leaders. This will also decrease the monopoly over commu-
nication with the West by ruling groups.
Furthermore it is crucial to promote horizontal communica-
tion among civil society organizations, mass-media, leaders of local
self-governance, local business associations and artistic communi-
ties in Western and Eastern Europe. This network of networks must
become a tool for opposing new dividing lines developing within
The EU should also cooperate with all governments to cut the
ground away from the separatist movements. Support for decen-
tralization, subsidiarity, and more inclusive cultural and social pol-
icies should become part of the conditionality for EU/Western aid.
In comparison to previous years, the ENP should engage the
populations of unrecognized states into its regional framework.
This is a very delicate and sensitive area for national governments,
however, the continuation of policies that contribute to isolation
will only work against peace and progress in Europe. Populations
in de facto states should become an integral part of future European
One more issue that will remain critical for all ENP partner na-
tions is EU membership. The more blurred the EU’s response is on
this point, the more utopianism it will create in the East, and the
more damage it will do to the future of a unified Europe aiming at
a shared future. By contrast, whatever Brussels and the EU Member
States decide will only increase the rational behavior of Eastern Eu-
ropean citizens and leaders, as long as it this point is clear.
Separate country-specific policies should be developed for
Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, as
well as for Nagorny Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and the
separatist zones of Donbas and Transnistria. There are many fea-
tures that Eastern European societies share, but when it comes to
real political, diplomatic and security issues, the EU should be
ready for country-specific aims and actions. This forces the EU to
invest in a new generation of specialists and institutions able to im-
plement this policy.
For example, the West has had three opportunities (in 1992,
2005, and 2014) to secure a trustworthy partner in Ukraine for
326DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
building a safe and prosperous Europe. Yet the interplay of local
weaknesses and the EU’s flaws have prevented these opportunities.
The lessons of the past, as I see them, should lead to the fol-
The EU delegation should be more open in its communication
with Ukrainian society, the media, and the opposition. Thus far,
ruling groups have monopolized communication with the West.
Taking into account the pluralist nature of Ukrainian politics, with
the ever-present prospects for change among ruling groups, the
new government in Kyiv might be less open to the possibility of
European integration and respect for European values.
Also, since the trust in Europe is still high in Ukraine, an hon-
est and open dialogue between EU and European political leaders
and the Ukrainian population is critical for current and future ef-
forts at integration.
Part of the conditionality for cooperation between the EU and
Kyiv should be zero tolerance for attempts at authoritarianism, the
establishment of the vertical of power, or the use of European chan-
nels for tax evasion. Recent events internal to the country show that
the risks to Ukrainian democracy are increasing, as the fragile sys-
tem of political checks-and-balances is being destroyed. Silence
from the West inspires pro-authoritarian forces to go on with their
non-democratic consolidation of power.
The EU may need to increase its cooperation with local com-
munities, media, civil society organizations (CSOs), and local busi-
ness associations. Simultaneous communication and support be-
tween the center and its peripheries may help to establish a bal-
anced model of governance that would be more open to European
practices and standards. With the current egoistic dominance stem-
ming from the center, Ukraine cannot progress as an example of
successful European reforms.
Freedom of movement and communication should remain
core values and practices for Europe. The “Schengen policy” was a
huge step for EU integration. But the price for this was a severe cut-
off of the other half of Europe from communication, which has torn
the traditional ties between central and eastern European societies
and enforced anti-western resentment and isolationist tendencies
in the east. A visa free regime must be established for all Eastern
Country-specific policies should focus on forming cadres and
institutions that diminish the risk of war and ethnic conflict in Eu-
rope, and increase long-term cooperation and integration.
The EU should treat Russia as both a threat and an opportunity in
Eastern Europe. Even though the Kremlin’s policies are one of the
major sources for hazards to security and cooperation in Europe,
Russia should also be seen as a source of possible solutions for a
common European future.
First of all, it is important to support the Russian political and
civic opposition. The resistance in Russia is weak, and it is becom-
ing weaker with the increasing emigration of politicians, business-
men and intellectuals to Eastern and Western Europe. It is critical
now to network these recent emigrants and help them become a
cadre of change in Russia.
It is also critical to involve the Russian opposition into joint
networks with Western and Eastern European peers to prepare for
future joint endeavors. For several decades now Eastern European
leaders have been losing the ability to communicate and jointly
work for the public good. Today, in times of distrust and war, the
vision of peaceful cooperation and development is gone from pub-
lic discourse, educational curricula and cultural competencies in
our part of the world. It is time to invest in a new generation of
leaders able to reverse the entropic trends in Eastern Europe and
make the “One Big Europe” idea return to the political agenda.
Another important part of the policy should be directed at lim-
iting the Russian use of European political and financial networks
to undermine the unity of the EU and peace in Eastern Europe. This
policy should rely on the cooperation of the security agencies of EU
Member States, ENP partner states, and other interested organiza-
tions (NATO, OSCE, etc).
The West in general, the EU, and the countries participating in
the ENP must jointly prepare for destabilization during a change of
leadership in Moscow (as well as in Minsk and some other capitals
328DEVELOPMENT AND DYSTOPIA
in Eastern European authoritarian nations). During such times of
regime change, a window of opportunity will open for promoting
the EU’s political agenda in the region. Also, as Sergei Guriev
warns, “a peaceful transition is unlikely” (Guriev 2016). The West
and its allies in the region must be ready to act effectively and not
lose to Russia again. This also implies readiness to involve Russia
in long term cooperation in order to realize the project of a common
Lost in ad hoc aggressive acts and their unforeseen after-ef-
fects, Russian leadership has forfeited the capacity for long-term
planning. Therefore, the EU has a chance to support progress via a
combination of short- and long-term approaches in Eastern Europe,
as well as in other areas of competition with the Kremlin.
Even though I said above that the EU is the only agent for heal-
ing Europe, there are other important players that can become al-
lies. Brussels must take responsibility by merging existing re-
sources for security and cooperation in Europe to ensure the
growth of this key sector.
From the vantage point of Kyiv today, it appears as if only a
united Western Europe can take responsibility for a free, safe and
dignified life across the whole of Europe. There is simply no other
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