"Russia, Mother, take the Donbas home!"
Aktualisiert: 17. Feb. 2021
Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the state-owned international news agency Rossiya Segodnya, called today at the so-called integration forum in Donetsk for the annexation of the Donbas to Russia, saying, "People of Donbas want to live in their homes, want to be part of their enormous, great, our generous Motherland. And we owe it to them to provide that. Russia, Mother, take the Donbas home!"
At first glance, this forum looks like a rather clumsy attempt by Donetsk boys to launder money and Russian journalists to make a quick buck. Finally, the annexation of Donbas remains too risky and absurd for Moscow from an economic and strategic point of view as well as quite irrational.
But it is precisely the rationality behind the potential annexation that remains interesting.
Since Russia's position has become increasingly unstable: increased protest activity, change of administration in Washington, a possible halt to the construction of Nord Stream 2 and a likely new round of sanctions. To make matters worse, the situation in Belarus is slowly stabilizing and the relationship with Lukashenko seems to be returning to normal confrontational trajectories.
From the Kremlin's point of view, Moscow no longer has much to lose in terms of international prestige (at least vis-à-vis the West). It's not going to get much more toxic. Relations with Ukraine cannot get any worse. Apart from that, Ukraine has been lost for decades back in 2014.
In the current situation, therefore, the annexation of Donbas may well bring domestic political advantages. If the Kremlin properly markets the annexation of the Donbas in domestic politics, renewed patriotic consensus (even if it is likely to be much weaker than in 2014) will help "United Russia" and pro-Kremlin candidates win parliamentary elections in the autumn without major incidents. The renewed patriotic consensus will certainly weaken the current protests and Navalny's Smart Voting strategy. In addition, patriotic consensus, just like a confident victory in the parliamentary elections, will have a stabilizing effect on the consolidation of the elites around Vladimir Putin.
The Kremlin seems to be seriously considering playing the Russian Nationalism Card for the first time since 2014. The integration forum in Donetsk ran under the name of "Pyccкий Дoнбacc" (Russian Donbas).
Currently, the discussion of the potential annexation of the Donbas remains clearly speculative. But it certainly looks like a balloon of trial. And, after all, Margarita Simonyan is not a nobody.