How Russia wants to change the connotations of occupied Ukraine

How Russia wants to change the connotations of occupied Ukraine

Lviv - The coat of arms of Ukraine has disappeared. The new abbreviation - Tvr - is that of an old imperial governorate of Tsarist Russia, the Tauride. It had been abolished two centuries ago. These are the new car plates that the municipal administration of Melitopol installed by the Russians, after they occupied the city in southern Ukraine, circulated on the Telegram channels of separatist groups. They will soon replace the existing ones, as a tangible sign of a new course taking place.

It is also yet another message, as if it were still needed, of the Kremlin's clear desire to completely annex the southern oblasts that has already occupied since the beginning of the invasion. A territory of over 100 thousand square kilometers that includes the entire coast of the Azov Sea and a large part of the Black Sea coast (excluding the crucial port of Odessa). And so, while the attention is now almost entirely concentrated on the eastern front, that of the Donbass, what is happening to that part of Ukraine to which the Russians are already changing its connotations?

One of the pro-Russian plates for Melitopol Telegram Ukraine that "returns" to Russia The new political puppets placed by Russia in the conquered regions (for now) can't wait to consolidate their status. According to the Ukrainian daily Pravda, the new mayor of Kherson, a city disconnected from the world for days because the military had replaced the cell phone network, is the former driver of the duly elected first citizen. Together with other colleagues, he asked the Russian President Vladimir Putin for the accession of the city (300,000 inhabitants before the attack) to the Russian Federation, which for its part is pushing the occupied population to collaborate: either so or you will be replaced, and maybe expelled from Novorossya, the mythical land independent of Kyiv dreamed of by anti-Westerners on the right and left.

According to various testimonies, the situation in Kherson is difficult: the invaders are requisitioning the houses, preventing civilians from fleeing, controlling the political affiliations of those who remained. In the countryside, then, the land dwindles of farmers, the seeds dissipated, the work animals requisitioned. household goods squandered or loaded onto trucks and shipped to the Crimea. Russification is taking place.

The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, agreed: "The residents of Kherson should decide", and this fateful decision should be taken - he added charitable - with "absolutely clear legal grounds" and "Completely legal, just like in the case of Crimea." It is a pity that the nearby peninsula was annexed in a farce referendum in March 2014, not recognized by anyone except the Kremlin. But if at least the peninsula was historically linked to Moscow, with an avalanche of investments ready to await her, worse went to the self-proclaimed "popular" republics of Donbass, two months later, with a consultation that took place while still fighting between pro-governments and separatists and with millions of displaced persons.

However, , there is still time to decide and many other civilians not happy to be ruled by Moscow could emigrate from the occupied territories, creating space for a more stable consensus. in war he wants to survive under multiple pressures and not have trouble with the new masters. For this reason, among other things, the rumors "on the ground" collected by some media, such as those from Mariupol broadcast by Report (and immediately used by the Kremlin propaganda) must be taken with a grain of salt.

D on the other hand, there are significant and moving pro-Ukraine protests in the occupied cities, but there is no strong armed resistance. It is undeniable that a genuinely pro-Russian (when not explicitly pro-Russian) sentiment exists in the occupied areas, although it is difficult to calculate. Many older Ukrainians, of Russian ethnicity and Russian speakers, had built their sociality in the former Soviet Union, which they now associate with a glorious past. Or they believe that Ukrainian identity can and should be reconciled with Russian culture. Even after the Euromaidan anti-corruption revolt and the outbreak of war in the Donbass region, it was normal for 15-20% of the population to feel both Ukrainians and Russians.

The war has erased these ambiguous identities. Many Ukrainians from the areas still under Kyiv's control, especially in the west, have built their identity in opposition to past and present Russia, which for them is a "big other", as sociologist Volodymyr Ishenko wrote, and they see these “wavering” demographic segments even as a denial of their own existence.

Can Ukraine push Russia out of the occupied territories? Russia failed to knock out the Kyiv army in a few days, as many feared, by occupying the capital and placing a friendly president there. According to the New York Times, one of Putin's most blatantly wrong calculations was that of trusting in a revolt by the Russian-speaking ruling class in Ukraine and in a brisk reception of the invaders. It didn't happen that way. Many ordinary Ukrainians, even in Russian-speaking territories, have instead joined the Territorial Defense or returned from abroad to enlist.

Just to stay in the last few days, Russian forces have failed to make significant progress in the offensive for the eastern region of Ukraine. Two weeks ago they bombed Kharkiv, the second largest city in the country. Now those same troops have been pushed back up to 30 kilometers towards the Russian border, following a counterattack.

In Kyiv, ambitions and hopes for a wider recovery have increased: "Victory is an evolving concept" Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said. Good news also came from US President Joe Biden, when he signed a package of military (and other) aid for 40 billion dollars: almost a third of Ukraine's GDP. Andryi Zagorodnyuk, former Ukrainian defense minister, believes that Russian troops could be pushed back "by October" from all the territories they occupied after February 24, and even from the disputed Donbas.

Despite this, Russia he is trying to consolidate his control over most of Kherson and much of the neighboring Zaporizhzhia region, even when his troops withdrew from central Ukraine in late March. "Russia's goal is to make Ukraine a landlocked state, which would be a major blow to the Ukrainian economy," Rajan Menon, military analyst with Defense Priorities think tank, told Even without controlling the entire Black Sea coast, Russia, thanks to its naval superiority, has blocked Ukrainian exports, 80% of which are by ship. In addition, Russia controls a large part of the Kherson province in the north of Crimea, 60% of the Zaporizhzhia province in the southeast, and most of the Lugansk and Donetsk provinces. In this way he created a terrestrial corridor between Russia and Crimea ”.

A reconquest of these territories, with greater financial and military investment by NATO countries and especially by the United States, is theoretically possible. But it could take a long time and Ukraine could suffer even greater destruction and losses. This is why other experts are using greater caution. Avril Haines, director of US national intelligence, said that Russia is ready for a protracted conflict and that Putin still has goals that go "beyond the Donbass", and even include the creation of a corridor reaching as far as the Transnistria region. separatist of Moldova, deprive Ukraine of all access to the sea. For Samuel Cranny-Evans, analyst at the Royal United Services Institute, "Ukraine is not losing and Russia is not winning". In short, the general picture would be stalled.

The Chechen precedent And in this way some precedents with the Russians create disturbing omens: Grozny, the capital razed to the ground during the first Chechen war of 1994-96, is now a city transformed, after a restructuring funded by oil revenues and oligarchs close to Putin. Russian Crimea is today a land suspended between sanctions and a desire for normality, in which the Kremlin has poured an avalanche of money. But investors need international capital: Western sanctions would prevent big banks from operating in the occupied Ukrainian territories. And it is difficult to think that Western sanctions will be lifted if Russia does not return to the borders of three months ago.

Part of the Russification program remains for now only propaganda: the announcement about the putting into circulation of the ruble in the occupied territories has remained so for now. In Kherson on 9 May, the day of the victory over the German Nazi-fascists, a red flag was waved and a statue of Lenin was reinstalled. For the Facebook group Committee for anti-Nazi Donbass, a demonstration with 200 people taken by Russian state television is proof that all is well and the locals were looking forward to it. In any case, the Ukrainian hryvnia still remains the only usable currency. Occupying soldiers must go to the money changer.

All evidence shows that Putin is ready for a long war. And if the war continues and the West grows weary of Ukraine, it may be time for a political settlement based on compromises that Ukraine, for entirely understandable reasons, is unwilling to make now. It is possible that the majority of the population of Novorossya would remain passive, and it is not certain that armed resistance would be relevant. But if Moscow were to establish a very repressive regime in the occupied territories, or disappointing from the socio-economic point of view, an unarmed resistance could be a source of permanent instability. Not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia.

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