In 2016, independent journalist Graham Phillips brought the story of a young British man called Ben Stimson to the attention of the wider world. After researching the conflict online, Stimson travelled to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) where he volunteered as an aid worker with the armed forces of the DPR. While he never saw combat and never fired a shot in anger, he was nevertheless tried and convicted in an English court on “terrorism” charges, in spite of the fact that neither the UK nor EU lists the armed forces of the Donbass Republics as terrorists.
In a world filled with confusion over what does and does not constitute a ‘state’, ranging from the centre-left/progress Catalan Declaration of Independence to the so-called “Islamic State” on the other side of the spectrum of extremism, it is important to clarify the position of the Donbass Republics.
There are few recognised states in the world today with a less genuine basis for existence than that of Ukraine. The present borders of Ukraine are an ill conceived hodgepodge of lands that have been Russian since the 1654 Treaty of Pereyaslav, combined with further lands won back by Russia from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, culminating in the Second Partition of Poland in 1793. Other parts of present day Ukraine were won by Russia from the Ottoman Empire, including Donbass, which until the industrial revolution of the 19th century were sparsely populated. After the First World War, further territory was added from the Czech and Hungarian lands (Transcarpathia) of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire., while in 1945, Galicia was added to Soviet Ukraine from territory that had previously belonged to the Second Polish Republic.
In summary, modern Ukraine is an amalgamation of historic Russian lands that from the middle ages to the late modern period had been ruled by Poland, combined with sparsely populated Ottoman territories and territories populated by Hungarians and Romanians. Crucially, until the 20th century, there was no concept of a distinct Ukrainian nationality. The land was home to Russians, Cossacks, Hungarians, Romanians, Turkic Tatars and in the western most regions of what is now Ukraine, were slavic peoples who spoke a dialect that was effectively a combination of the Russian and Polish languages. While there is nothing wrong or unusual about a multiethnic state, there is something very much wrong with a multiethnic state controlled by extremist ethno-nationalists, seeking to impose a made-up identity on people with an actual historic and present day ethno-lingustic identity. This can be contrasted with a country like Syria whose civic-national identity is based on a shared linguistic and cultural reality that does not discriminate against ethnic minorities. This is why many Druze, Assyrians and Armenians continue to fight with valour as part of the Syrian Arab Army.
Against this backdrop, The Donbass Republics are fighting to preserve their independence from a Kiev regime which seeks to impose an artificial “Ukrainian” identify upon people who identify either as Russian or Russophone Donbass people who prior to 2014, were relatively at peace with being part of a Ukrainian state, in spite of the creeping ethno-nationalism even among regimes which were in power prior to the fascist coup of 2014. The ultimate goal of the Donbass Republics is to either rejoin the Russian state or to form a confederation with other fraternal parts of present day Ukraine. This latter proposal was elucidated in Donetsk leader Alexander Zakharchenko’s Malorossiya Declaration of 2016.
Donbass Republics are politically centrist and do not seek to forcefully incorporate any external territory. The armed forces of Donbass are currently fighting a defensive war and at no time, have they engaged in vicious acts, such as IED bombings against civilians from the other side.
Any attempt to classify the Donbass Republics as “terrorist entities” is therefore disingenuous in the extreme. At the end of the day, Donetsk and Lugansk would prefer to join existing states or revive historically valid confederations, rather than create new entities. The current status quo is the result of a militarily and politically frozen conflict.
The same cannot be said for the groups and entities that the US and major European states, as well as individual citizens from the US and EU support in the Middle East. In Syria, the US and some EU powers support the Kurdish YPG, a group which is implicitly aligned with Turkey’s PKK, a terrorist group which has killed over 20,000 people in Turkey, including Turkish civilians and foreign civilians–mostly from Europe. The YPG is the PKK’s sister organisation whose supporters march with photos of the PKK’s jailed terrorist mastermind Abdullah Öcalan through the occupied streets of Syria. Recently, social media accounts associated with the YPG have called for attacks on hotels and resorts in Turkey as a “response” to Ankara’s Operation Olive Branch. For average Turkish civilians, this is as offensive as parading photos of Daesh (ISIS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before civilians who had been slaughtered by the Takfiri terrorist organisation.
But this reality has not stopped the US from heavily arming the YPG, nor has it stopped many volunteers from the west from joining the YPG. Likewise, the major western powers as well as their Middle Eastern allies including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and “Israel” have supported various Takfiri groups whose members at various times fly under the flag of the FSA, al-Nusra and even Daesh. While western governments and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia officially deny supporting Daesh (in spite of being exposed by Wikileaks), no one disputes that countless European, American and Gulfi citizens continue to fight under the Daesh flag.
Now that Turkey is conducting a military operation whose stated goal is to eliminate the YPG, western governments are faced with the embarrassing reality that their official YPG proxies whose ranks include western volunteers, are firing upon and being fired at by the second largest army in NATO, that of The Republic of Turkey. This is the awkward reality that develops when western powers shamelessly arm and support terrorist organisations. This awkwardness is made all the more uncomfortable when one realises that in both the war on Libya and the current Syrian conflict, western powers actually covertly helped many of their citizens arrive in war zones in order to fight among Takfiri groups. Compounding the matter, many Takfiri volenteers from the west are set to join the pro-Turkish FSA in the fight against the YPG, thus resulting in the reality that in short order western “citizen terrorists” will be firing upon other western “citizen terrorists.
While all of this is going on, supporters of the joint partnership between Syria, Iran and Russia who are legally fighting terrorism in Syria, find themselves constantly slandered in the press, even though such people are the only one’s advocating for fighting terrorism using legal means. Others are either supporting terrorism directly as is the case with the YPG, SDF and elements of Nusra, or covertly as is the case with Daesh.
A final layer of hypocrisy is realised when westerners fighting for the YPG are lionised as heroes and westerners fighting with Takfiri groups like Daesh are welcomed back to countries like Sweden and Canada without facing any meaningful punishment, while Ben Stimson continues to languish in jail in spite of the fact that he did not fire a shot while volunteering in the service of the Donestk People’s Republic which his own country does not name as a terrorist entity.
The west has its hands dirty in the game of international terrorism ranging from the secular killers of the YPG to the Takfiri killers of al-Qaeda affiliated groups. Rather than come clean about this duplicitous behaviour, the west instead prosecutes non-terrorists while aiding those who have committed acts of terror while working in clearly defined terrorist organisations.