A Glimpse at Russia's Official View of Eastern Ukraine
Sergei Ivanov, Russia's presidential chief of staff and a former defense minister, gave an interview last week to the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily in which he discussed Russia's current political, economic and military conditions. Given Ivanov's high standing in the Russian government, his statements directly reflect the presidential point of view - they can be directly attributed to President Vladimir Putin. And the use of one particularly potent term may reveal much about Russia's intentions toward Ukraine.
Ivanov mentioned the importance of creating a buffer zone between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels as a means for gradually achieving peace, and he played down Russia's role as an active player in the Ukrainian conflict:
On the map, there is a clear line that separates militias from the armed forces of Ukraine, which creates a buffer zone to allow OSCE observers to mediate. I am absolutely convinced that this will form at least some basis for a political dialogue. As long as people are shooting at each other, such dialogue is impossible. This is a necessary first step - you have to understand that I cannot guarantee anything. After all, Russia is not party to the conflict. This is a Ukrainian civil war.
Ivanov gave a sobering assessment of the current situation in Crimea. Answering the reporter's question on whether or not Russia should more actively support Novorossiya - a Russian term for the portions of eastern Ukraine currently embroiled in conflict with pro-Russian forces, Ivanov replied:
How else can we support such regions? We support them morally because we desire real democracy for those territories - not the so-called Ukrainian democracy - we want human rights to be respected. The West blames us for Crimea. But if the Crimeans did not resist the coup in Kiev and the arrival to power of nationalists and open russophobes - I repeat, russophobes - what would have happened there? A blood bath, perhaps even worse than what is happening today in Donbas.
Ivanov expressed hope that the fighting won't resume, and he added that if common sense prevails and a conclusive cease-fire is reached, Russia may act as a guarantor.
What stands out from this interview is Ivanov's official use of the term Novorossiya - an old Imperial name for Ukrainian territories where today a majority of the population speaks Russian. The term has been bandied about by pro-Russian forces and Russian nationalists who believe these areas should be part of the Russian Federation. But its use by so high an official as Ivanov cannot be a slip of the tongue. Rather, it is a reflection of Moscow's official policy toward Ukrainian regions that may eventually fall under official Russian control.