Today I was at the presentation of Alexander Zhuchkovsky‘s new book 85 Days in Slavyansk [buy]. The author is a Novorossiya activist and humanitarian help coordinator who is based long-term in the DNR.
Many of the big names in Russian nationalism were there:
- On the far left is Egor Kholmogorov (see our translations of his work).
- Next to him is Konstantin Krylov, founder of the NPD, who was once prosecuted under 282 for suggesting that it’s “time to do away with this strange economic system” (of feeding the Caucasus).
- Next is Yury Yurchenko, a Franco-Russian poet who repatriated to fight for Novorossiya.
- Suited man sitting in the middle is Alexander Zhuchkovsky himself.
- Standing suited man is our GREAT LEADER himself, Igor Strelkov.
- Sitting man in camos is “Vandal“, the youngest guy in Strelkov’s regiment in 2014. (He got the nickname thanks to his love of disassembling electronics equipment).
- Suited man on the far right is Pavel Gubarev, the “people’s governor” of the DNR, who has been gradually sidelined from power in the republic.
I am looking forwards to reading and reviewing the book about the decisive first battle of the War in the Donbass, without which the LDNR could not have survived. Even Strelkov, a man who detests flattery, and complained about some minor errors in front of the crowd, called it “pretty good”. That is high praise, coming from him.
The other, less critically minded people on the panel called it the book of the decade.
I won’t sugarcoat things; the general mood was pretty glum. The hopes and dreams of the Russian Spring (a term coined by Kholmogorov) have failed to materialize. After the assassination of Zakharchenko, new elections were announced in the DNR, from which everyone but the Kremlin-controlled candidate of the old Yanukovych clan – Denis Pushilin, a fraudster before the war, and who has close to zero approval ratings in the Donbass – have been excluded. Pavel Gubarev himself is now barred from even entering the republic.
Strelkov himself dates the betrayal of the dream of a reunited Russia to May 25, when Putin recognized the results of the Ukrainian elections that placed Poroshenko. And he expects that the election of Tymoshenko, an outcome that is electorally likely and apparently both anticipated and welcomed by the kremlins, who entertain “delusions” that they can “do business” with her, will just end up boomeranging against them “as with Trump.”
Just to be clear this is perfectly in sync with Strelkov’s outspoken opposition towards Putin and skepticism about Russia’s trajectory, which he expects to end in a new Time of Troubles.
The “intellectuals”, Kholmogorov and Krylov, provided some historical context to if not completely dispel the gloomy atmosphere, then at least to provide some hope.
Kholmogorov compared the Battle of Slavyansk to the Battle of the Alamo; although the latter was a defeat, it provided the Americans with an inspirational call to arms (“Remember the Alamo!”), and a decade later Texas would be theirs and would in time become one of the most American of American states. Russians, too, must remember Slavyansk – until such a time that at least the Donbass, if not Novorossiya, can come back into the fold. But above all, Slavyansk wasn’t so much struggle for the Donbass, or even Novorossiya, but for a Russia that is Russian.
Krylov talked about “the politics of memory”, about how Katyn has become a Schelling point around which the Poles base their identity. He argued that the Odessa massacre must become to Russians what Katyn became to the Poles.
Independent of any political sympathies, I continue to be impressed by Strelkov as an orator and a leader – an impression I’ve had since his debate with Navalny in July 2017. He is not a politician – he promises little, and on the rare occasions that he does, he does so from the first person, instead of hiding behind “we will” and “it should”; when he can’t say something concrete about a sensitive issue, he says so forthrightly, instead of skirting around it with empty babble. As I mentioned above, he rarely praises and never flatters; but that just means that when he does hand down a grudging compliment, it actually means something.
Now Strelkov entertains no political ambitions, at least openly; nor does he have the covert sympathies of some of Russia’s “deep state” liberal technocrats within the Kremlin, as Navalny does. But I don’t exaggerate when I say that he has a greater chance of eventually becoming President than Navalny. It’s still very low, of course. That said, while I can’t imagine a President Navalny except in the most extreme scenarios, e.g. a coup of some sort, I can still just about imagine a President Strelkov – if demotist yearning for empty showmanship can be at least partially overcome. A tall call to be sure, but stranger things have happened.