A Russian Reclamation Of Novorossiya Would Devastate Ukraine

Photo courtesy of Tinou Bao via Flickr, modified by Curiousmatic. 

Putin surprised people when he talked about “New Russia” in April 2014.

The historically named Novorossiya is the latest region many are suggesting could break from Ukraine to Russia’s great advantage, and damage to Ukraine.

What is Novorossiya?

Novorossiya refers to the area in Ukraine that’s north of the Black Sea, which was conquered by the Russian Empire at the end of the 18th century.

The area belonged to Russia until its fall in 1917, after which the region was claimed by the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and Ukraine upon the fall of the soviet union.


Translating literally to “New Russia,” the concept is the latest many are worrying about as a historical justification for Russian interference. Putin himself brought up the formerly Russian region in a recent April Q&A, according to the Washington Post:

“I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days – Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa – were not part of Ukraine back then,” he reportedly said.

“The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained.”

Re-seizing history

Historically speaking, of course, Putin is correct.

And though the statement by Putin was more of an aside than an overt threat of invasion or reclamation, pro-Russian activists have apparently latched onto the term as well, having chanted it during their April takeover of government buildings.

In fact, Russian separatists have explicitly expressed desire to recreate Novorossiya as an independent state. They’ve declared a “Donetsk’s People Republic” for the region, along with an active website and Twitter account in its favor – though the Twitter account has since been suspended.

These protests are almost certainly backed by Russian government, and are believed to be part of Russia’s larger goal of federalizing Ukraine, which would give pro-Russians the ability to block decisions that could further integrate Ukraine with the EU.

Redefining Novorossiya for economic advantage

Some have pointed out that the modern version of Novorossiya differs from history’s, with Putin’s version pushing its boundaries to include other provinces with large Russian-speaking populations.

The loss of these cities would cost Ukraine a third of its land mass, nearly 45% of its population, and subtract nearly two thirds of the country’s GDP. The area also encompasses most of its industrial base, all of its Black Sea shoreline, and a major gas pipeline connecting Russia to the EU.

This, even though an April public opinion poll by the International Republican Institute (IRI) found a majority of Ukrainians were opposed to succession, which would serve to compromise an already struggling democracy.

It’s hard to say whether or not there are actually plans of this nature on Putin’s part; regardless, doing so would inevitably lean odds in Russia’s favor as a huge step toward the creation of a Eurasian Union reminiscent of Russia’s “golden” days.

But as separatists are already fighting over who would lead the hypothetical state, the road, if taken, will be anything but smooth.

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Jennifer Markert