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Separatists Proclaim A 'Little Russia' State in Ukraine -- WSJ

19 Jul 2017 6:33 am

Announcement in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk puts in jeopardy cease-fire deal
By Nathan Hodge 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (July 19, 2017).

MOSCOW -- Russian-backed separatists declared a new state in Ukraine on Tuesday, ratcheting up a confrontation with the Kiev government, though Moscow distanced itself from the move as the Trump administration steps up efforts to resolve the three-year-old crisis.

A statement released by the separatist Donetsk News Agency declared the formation of a new state called Malorossiya, or Little Russia -- a name once used to refer to Ukrainian lands within the czarist empire. The new state, the declaration said, would include all the regions of Ukraine except Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

"We agree that the new state will be called Little Russia, since the very name 'Ukraine' has discredited itself," the statement said.

Russia's state-controlled media gave heavy play to Tuesday's declaration, but Boris Gryzlov, the Russian government's envoy to the peace talks, said the declaration had no legal force.

"This initiative does not fit into the Minsk process," he said. "I take it only as an invitation to discussion."

The announcement drew swift condemnation from Ukrainian officials. Oleksandr Turchynov, the secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for inciting the rebels.

Calling separatist leaders "Kremlin clown puppets," Mr. Turchynov said the declaration was "proof of Mr. Putin's aggressive plans and his maniacal reluctance to resolve the issue in eastern Ukraine peacefully."

Washington dismissed the declaration. "That is something that is certainly an area of concern to us but beyond that I don't want to dignify it with a response," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.

Ukraine, which won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has been locked in conflict since separatists took over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of eastern Ukraine, the country's industrial center.

There were signs Tuesday that not all the separatists supported Tuesday's declaration. The separatist leadership in the Luhansk region said it didn't send representatives to the discussion about creating Little Russia.

The long-running conflict has sparked intense combat, with frequent artillery duels. Fighting has continued despite a European-brokered cease-fire deal that was reached in Minsk in 2015. Over 10,000 people have been killed to date.

The Ukraine crisis has been a flashpoint in U.S.-Russia relations. The U.S. and the European Union imposed sanctions on Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and its backing of separatists.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently visited Kiev to shore up support for Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, saying sanctions would remain in place until the Russian government reverses its policies, which the U.S. and Ukraine say has included furnishing heavy weaponry and the covert deployment of Russian troops.

In a further push for a lasting cessation of hostilities, President Donald Trump recently appointed Kurt Volker, who has served previously as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, as Washington's special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

The front lines in Ukraine's east have largely solidified, with neither rebels nor government forces making significant territorial gains in recent months. A senior European official said the separatist announcement appeared designed to leave a frozen conflict in the country's east.

"They just want to scrap the Minsk process, that's clear," the official said.

Write to Nathan Hodge at nathan.hodge@wsj.com
 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 19, 2017 02:33 ET (06:33 GMT)

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