Russian White Guards in the Donbass


Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski

June 29, 2014

There is no revolution in the Donbass, not even a mass movement. They exist only in the propaganda of the supporters of an armed separatist movement, led by far-right nationalists. Imported from Russia, they seek the restoration of the Tsarist Empire. The Kremlin supports this reincarnation of the White Guards and the Black Hundreds who are destabilizing Ukraine; but it seems that it is also afraid of them.

On April 22, Boris Kagarlitsky affirmed that "the successful uprising of hundreds of thousands (and perhaps millions) of people in eastern Ukraine is not to be explained on the basis of Russian interference" [1]. An uprising of hundreds of thousands, even millions? Even the propaganda of the Russian regime aimed at people abroad, with the channel Russia Today in the forefront, is a thousand times more measured.

On the international left, almost nobody knows Russian, and even less Ukrainian; so when the left wants to know what is happening in Ukraine, it finds itself in a catastrophic situation. So as not to depend on the Western media, it is condemned to have recourse to the English-language propaganda of the Putin regime and to that of the so-called "anti-imperialist networks" which are pro-Russian (often "red-brown" or downright brown) as well as what is translated into English byLinks - International Journal of Social Renewal. A site, precisely, which has provided publicity for Kagarlitsky’s writings concerning this great mass uprising, which does not exist.

Much of the left has let itself be taken in by these writings; just as it had believed, previously, in the existence of a "fascist putsch," a "fascist junta" and a "fascist terror" in Ukraine. Part of the left has done this from disorientation, for which, besides, it is itself responsible. For another part, quite considerable, the "uprising" in eastern Ukraine has served as a fig leaf to hide its passage with arms and baggage – neo-campists or simply post-Stalinists – to the side of Russian imperialism.


In the eyes of much of the Western left, Kagarlitsky is considered as an eminent Russian Marxist thinker. This is despite the fact that in his version of the history of Russia [2], there is no place for the colonial subjugation of other peoples, for imperialist domination and Great Russian national oppression, for the "prison of peoples” at the time of the Tsars or in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist era, for the struggles of oppressed peoples for their national liberation. Consequently, in this version of history there is also no Ukrainian national question, no historical struggle of the Ukrainian people for its unification and independence.

That is why, for a quarter century, the author of these lines has considered Kagarlitsky as belonging to a particular species of Russian socialists, namely those who in the eyes of a Bolshevik known to everyone, deserved the not very sophisticated and inelegant adjectives "social nationalists" and "social-imperialists" [3]. It is therefore not surprising that Kagarlitsky - following in this the Russian nationalist far right and the separatist movement that it is leading - has recently begun to designate southeast Ukraine by the name New Russia (Novorossia) used at the time of the Tsars; and that to adorn his site, he has chosen a "new Russian" imperialist emblem [4].

During the Crimean crisis Kagarlitsky distinguished himself by a thesis that was as original as it was clownish. Namely that "there were no insidious schemes or imperial ambitions involved." It was the Crimea itself, by force of the will of the local Russian people and the wisdom of its leaders, that imposed on Vladimir Putin, who resisted, the annexation of Crimea to Russia; or rather "it is Crimea that has annexed Russia". [5]. Links reproduced these words under the heading "Crimea annexes Russia" [6].

Later, when the Russian separatist movement started in the east of Ukraine, Kagarlitsky considered that "in Ukraine, a genuine revolution is unfolding." "A genuine revolutionary transformation is taking place in the consciousness of the masses," who "not only have emerged suddenly onto the streets, but also begun acting independently, organising themselves and making history” [7].

They began to create it in the manner in which people create real history - said Kagarlitsky - namely "in Russian, in their mother tongue (which in the space of the former empire, was and remains precisely the language of the working class)." As we can see, the legacy of centuries of Russification in the postcolonial peripheries of the empire represents for Kagarlitsky a class conquest of the proletariat. "For the first time in many years, the working class is beginning to act within the space of the former Soviet Union," Kagarlitsky assures us again. "It is perhaps too early to talk about class consciousness, but on the other hand class confrontation has become a reality." [8]

The revolution having broken out, there is an urgent need for a strategy - announced Kagarlitsky. Without it there is no salvation. However, "today’s Russian elites are fundamentally incapable of thinking strategically". [9]. This is so because "the people who make up the Russian leadership are not politicians but bureaucrats and public relations specialists, people who simply do not have either the experience or the inclination to make risky decisions that radically alter the situation. None of these people can even imagine how they would need to act under the conditions of massive crises and revolutions." [10].

Moreover, the way the "revolutionary" movement in eastern Ukraine is behaving "does not create the conditions for a strategic breakthrough." Its "actions, however, are based on a particular view of the situation, a view that is organically present not only in the movement’s leaders, but above all in a substantial section of the masses in the Ukrainian south-east. The insurgents are convinced that all they need to do is to hold out for a certain time, and Russia will then come to their aid; if this does not take the form of direct military intervention, some other mechanism will be found. Unfortunately, every passing day since the beginning of the uprising has shown how illusory these hopes are." [11].

Kagarlitsky tried therefore to correct this double weakness: instruct the separatist movement on how to create the necessary conditions for a "strategic breakthrough" which will open up for the "revolution" the path to victory. "As they try to manoeuvre and win time, the Russian authorities risk missing the crucial strategic moment." That is why, "as the rebels try to ensure that the strategic initiative finishes up in their hands, they cannot afford simply to wait for decisions by the Kremlin. To the contrary, they need to create a new situation through their own actions, determining in advance what these decisions will be. A breakthrough in the development of the struggle in south-eastern Ukraine will only occur when the largest regional centres, above all Kharkov and Odessa, join in the movement." [12]


However, the problem is that "a broadening of the social base of the uprising" - which, let us remember, has in any case drawn in "hundreds of thousands, even millions of people" - "will depend on its programme". It should be "an anti-oligarchic social programme", but - warns Kagarlitsky - "such a programme does not even have to be exclusively left-wing or socialist. It is enough to call for nationalization of the property of those Ukrainian oligarchs who have openly associated themselves with the Kiev regime" [13]. In other words, it should be a programme adapted to the nationalist character of the "new-Russian” separatist movement about which Kagarlitsky stays silent in his writings, but of which he was - as we see – perfectly aware.

But the idea of such a programme did not last long: it was explicitly rejected by Aleksandr Borodai, the "Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic." In an interview with RIA Novosti on May 31, he explained what the authorities of the "republic" mean by nationalization. "What will be nationalized are those enterprises which were considered up to now as the property of Ukraine. They simply pass from hand to hand. What was state property will be state property in the Donetsk People’s Republic. It is natural and logical." And the enterprises of Rinat Akhmetov? "There is no question of nationalizing them. We have nothing in common with the communists, who get their hands on something and nationalize it. We respect the right of private property." [14]

It is therefore not at all surprising that Kagarlitsky has also kept silent about another extremely important fact, related to the previous one: that from the beginning, this movement not only had the support of the biggest Donbass oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov, but was also inspired by him.

This was known at the time when Kagarlitsky was writing about the outbreak of an alleged revolution in eastern Ukraine. In any case, those who wanted to know, knew; for example, thanks to Aleksandr Kosvintsev, an independent Russian journalist, who had sought political asylum in Ukraine seven years ago because of the persecutions of the Putin regime (he seriously feared for his life), and been granted citizenship. On April 10, he placed Akhmetov on his list of the "Top 10 contemporary Ukrainian traitors." Kosvintsev wrote: "In the homeland of Mr. Akhmetov, the separatists not only have not calmed down, but since recently are working hard to implement the secessionist plan of the Kremlin. Who can believe that the "overlord" of the region is not taking part? " [15]

Later, on May 10, this was fully confirmed by Pavel Gubarev, the ephemeral "popular governor" of Donetsk (for five days, from March 1). He had just come out of a Ukrainian prison, and, in an interview with the Russian press, he talked about the beginnings of this "revolution" and the role played by the Party of Regions, the oligarchic party of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych. Thus, he candidly admitted that: "We saw appearing in every town leaders of a so-called volunteer popular militia. And then our party in power, our ruling oligarchs of the Southeast, began working with the militants of the volunteer popular militia. It turned out that two thirds of these activists were paid by the oligarch Akhmetov. A very small group of people remained faithful to the ideal; however they continued to take the money. Everyone took the money! (...) Under these conditions, everyone was bought off. Those who were not bought off were either marginalized, discredited, or terrorized". [16] Some were even handed over to the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU); this was the fate of Gubarev.

The leaders of the "Donetsk People’s Republic" did not even lift a finger to get him released. Only Strelkov, commander of the separatists in Sloviansk, did so, by exchanging him for a Ukrainian officer who had been taken prisoner. That is why Gubarev, to avenge the betrayal of which he had been a victim, revealed the key role of Akhmetov in the birth of the separatist movement. Today, many militants of the this movement talk about it, as well as observers and commentators, such as Anatoli Nesmiyan, "El Murid", a pro-separatist political analyst in St. Petersburg, known for his Libyan and Syrian connections (which are, besides, not so difficult to decrypt). On the semi-official site of the separatists, Russkaya Vesna (Russian Spring), he wrote, speaking of Akhmetov, that "the Donetsk People’s Republic was his project," and that now, from the moment that he had (supposedly) turned his back on it, "it should show that it is able to survive without Akhmetov, and even against him if necessary." [17]


On May 17, 2014, Colonel Igor Strelkov launched a dramatic appeal "to the population of the Donetsk People’s Republic." A few days earlier, he had become "commander-in-chief of the armed forces" (which the separatists generally call opolcheniye, that is to say volunteer militia) and "Minister of Defense of the Donetsk People’s Republic." His real name is Igor Girkin, he is a Russian citizen, and his unofficial vocation is the exercise of the profession of arms on the borders of the "Russian World" and the Orthodox world. Behind him he has four wars: in Moldova, on the side of the Russian nationalists of Transnistria; in Bosnia, on the side of the Serb nationalists, and in Chechnya, where he participated in two wars in the ranks of the Russian army.

The Centre for the Defence of Human Rights, Memorial, in Moscow, accuse him of having committed crimes against humanity during the Second Chechen War. [18] He also participated in the annexation of Crimea. He arrived in the Donbass from Russia. According to the Security Service of Ukraine, he crossed the border on April 12. His appeal created a sensation among all those who were following the Russian separatist movement in eastern Ukraine. In just 48 hours, a million Russian-speaking people viewed it on YouTube. [19] Nevertheless, the rest of the world - that is to say non-Russian-speaking - has not heard about it up to now.

"I must tell you the truth. Straight in the eyes!" declared Strelkov. "A month has passed since we, a tiny group of volunteers from Russia and Ukraine, after hearing the cry for help which burst from the lips of the leaders that you have placed at the head of your movement, arrived here and are confronting, in an armed struggle, the entire Ukrainian army”. "In the last month” - he continued – “we have heard many times these desperate appeals: Give us arms! Give us weapons so that we can fight for our freedom!” The weapons - continued Strelkov – are already there. "They are at the forefront of the battle - in the besieged city of Sloviansk. They are here! Here, where they are most needed. Here, where the volunteers are protecting with their bodies the rest of the Donbass, including Donetsk and Luhansk."

However... "What do we see? The abundance of all things, except the crowds - who are not there – of volunteers at the gates of our general staffs. Sloviansk has 120,000 inhabitants. Kramatorsk twice as many. In total, in the Donetsk region, there are 4.5 million inhabitants. (...). I can honestly say that I did not expect at all that we could not find in the whole region, not even a thousand men willing to risk their lives - not in their city, on a barricade near their home, from where it would take a half-day drive to meet a soldier of the [Ukrainian] National Guard - but on the front line, where they fire with real bullets every day."

"When I was still in Crimea, I heard the militants of the popular movement say that "when the miners rise up, they will tear everyone apart with their bare hands". For the moment we see nothing coming. Tens and hundreds have joined our ranks, and they are fighting. Tens and hundreds of thousands are watching all that sitting quietly in front of their TV sets with a mug of beer. Obviously, they are waiting for an army to come from Russia, their sister, able to do everything for them; or for a sufficient number of intrepid volunteers to come, willing to die for their right to a more dignified life than the one they have led for 23 years under the power of the Kievan nationalists. Where are these 27,000 volunteers that the journalists are talking about? I do not see them."

"In our ranks of volunteers, there are more and more men ‘well over 40’, who grew up and were educated when it was still at the time of the USSR. But there are very few young men. Where are they - all these boys from here, young and robust? Maybe in these "brigades" of bandits, who, taking advantage of the prevailing anarchy, have rushed to "plunder what was plundered" and to spread lawlessness in the towns and villages throughout the Donetsk region? Yes, every day we receive information about their new "victories". Many dissatisfied "volunteer militia members" demand weapons, mainly to defend their homes from bandits and criminals. Well, their desire is legitimate. Nevertheless, a question arises: how can the commanders of the volunteer militia know who the person is who comes to see them to get weapons? An honest citizen or another bandit disguised as a "Donbass patriot"?

"The answer that we give is simply this: we will consider as "volunteer militia member” only someone who, belonging to a combat unit, will take part directly in the battles against the troops of the junta, and who will do so at the time and place which is deemed necessary by his leaders! Because without discipline there will be nothing! Not only will there be no victory, but no order either! If everyone wants to "make war" wherever they like and whenever they wants to, then the volunteer militia of Donbass will be transformed into something between a horde of rampaging deserters and a band of the Ataman Anhel [20].

"But it will not happen like that! Only those who distinguish themselves in combat against the enemy and who carry out other military duties, will earn the right to put their own house in order, in the ranks of the volunteer militia! And we will establish order in it – be in no doubt about that! All those who, today, pillage stores and businesses, sell drugs or simply plunder the defenseless population, should not count on "the game continuing under the present rules," and on "the war effacing everything ". The end of banditry in the Donbass has arrived! The new government will provide every opportunity to give up criminal activities, but those who do not want to benefit from it will suffer real punishment. A punishment from which no one will manage to buy their way out! In conformity with the laws of war!"

"I come back to the main theme. The Donetsk region needs defenders, and the volunteer militia needs disciplined soldier-volunteers. If men do not meet requirements, then it will have to recruit women. I ordered today that they should be enrolled in the voluntary militia. Too bad that there are no officers among women. Neither on active service, nor in the reserve. But what difference does it make, if the male officers do not even come to see us! Up to now, we have not even found a few dozen military professionals who are ready to command combat units! How shameful! For two weeks, I have been asking them to send me someone who could become Chief of Staff, and at least five people who could command squads and platoons. Silence! Not one!" [21]


Aleksandr Zhilin, an ultranationalist Russian journalist, who is head of the department in charge of security issues in the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti (Moscow News) and military commentator of Radio Svoboda, recently made an effort to "explain why the entry of [Russian] armies into Ukraine was useless and quite simply stupid." He wrote: "Fortunately, Igor Strelkov, the leader of the resistance movement, has done better than me: in his proclamation, he has described very precisely the inertia of the local population of Luhansk and Donetsk, refusing to act to defend its interests." [23]

Another Russian observer, also a supporter of the separatists, expresses himself in the same spirit. "In south-eastern Ukraine there are weapons in huge quantities; perhaps only aviation is lacking. In the warehouses, there are even tanks; you simply need to ensure adequate maintenance. But there is no one to do it. The truth is simple and mundane: the local population does not want to wage war. It does not want to help even a little, because it is afraid that it may later be used against it. The Russian volunteers don’t get much either. There is no "insurgent Donbass." There is a handful of diehards, ready to hold out to the end, and ... an amorphous mass, at most capable of putting a cross on a ballot paper." [24] To be precise: on the ballot paper in the "referendum" organized by the separatists.

So that’s what we can say about this "successful insurrection of hundreds of thousands or even millions of people in eastern Ukraine”, invented by Kagarlitsky and propagated by Links.

Who is this Strelkov? "I consider myself a supporter of the autocratic monarchy in Russia" [25], he explains. "I am firmly convinced that to this day the Bolshevik power continues to exist in Russia. Yes, it has changed, become unrecognizable, but in its essence it remains unchanged: from the point of view of its anti-Russian, anti-patriotic and anti-religious orientation. In its ranks can be found the direct descendants of the people who "made" the revolution of 1917. Quite simply, they have been disguised, but their substance has not changed. They have remained in power, having thrown away the ideology that prevented them from enriching themselves and enjoying material goods. But the process of direct destruction of the Russian nation (and of other aboriginal peoples of the Russian Empire) continues by other means; with a "success" such as makes one dizzy. In 1991 there was a putsch; but the counter-revolution has not been completed." [26]

"To save the situation, we need in Russia a fundamentally new White ideal" [27]. New -. Strelkov explains - because "a large part of the population meets the ideology of the White movement with hostility. To take it to the masses "in its pure form" would mean to condemn ourselves in advance to failure." [28]

"Probably, with the present government we can only build a Great Honduras, where before there was Great Russia. I have the impression that this has already been fully successful.” [29] This "government is the enemy of Great Russia, just as is "the opposition". They came to power with the help of the West, and they do not want to give it up to the new "chosen ones" of the West. " [30] "All the ‘explosions’ of discontent in Moscow and Petersburg are funded secretly from abroad. Of course, "the money for the revolution" is not directly given by the West to its puppets. It is the local oligarchs-sponsors ("of democratic orientation") who give it... because their interests are inextricably linked to international Judeo-Anglo-Saxon capital, of which they are a subsidiary." [31]

This political orientation is shared by Aleksandr Borodai, whom Strelkov recalled from Russia to make him the "Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic." The separatist movement in Ukraine, which they lead, is - according to their strategy - the armed base of the Russian monarchical counter-revolution, indissolubly linked to the reconstruction of the empire, as well as to "the politico-religious revolution that can save humanity from degradation and extinction, with as the objective of its development: the transcendental values of the spirit and the aspiration to divinity." [32] Borodai - son of a philosopher, supporter of the ideas of Lev Gumilev [33] and nationalist militant - is also a militant ideologue of the far right.

"It seems that only we - the Russians - are suited to play this role of initiators of the religious revolution," affirms Borodai. "For if we believe Gumilev, our superethnos is still very young; although it has used, in a few centuries, enormous resources to create super-states (Third Rome - Russian Empire - USSR), it is still capable of finding within itself the strength necessary to undertake a crusade in the name of the higher values of the spirit. (...) The religious revolution is an inevitable war against evil; it is also a bitter, ruthless war. Is the Russian nation capable of such a feat? What will be the contours of the future religious revolution? Will its banners and flags carry Orthodox crosses and other Christian symbols?" [34]

In the "Constitution of the Donetsk People’s Republic" Borodai and Strelkov inserted a formula copied verbatim from the Fundamental Laws of the Russian Empire in 1906, which states that "the supreme and ruling faith" in this “republic” is the Orthodox faith. They also wrote there that this faith "is the matrix of matrices of the Russian World." They added that it is the faith “professed by the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate)" [35]. In Ukraine, there are also other churches, including the Ukrainian Orthodox Churches.

From the Ukrainian periphery, the counter-revolution must extend to the whole "Russian World" and lead to the restoration of "historical Russia" – the Russia of the Tsars. In their "constitution" Borodai and Strelkov have proclaimed "the creation of a sovereign and independent state, oriented towards the restoration of a single cultural and civilizational space of the Russian World, on the basis of its traditional religious, social, cultural and moral values, in the perspective of accession to Great Russia, halo [sic] of the territories of the Russian World" [36]. What will become of the rest of Ukraine, when it also falls, after "Novorossia"? All of Ukraine - affirm Borodai and Strelkov - must, along with Russia and Belarus, "be reunited in a single viable state, provided with a Slavic national core" [37].

In appearance only, the Muscovite socialist Kagarlitsky seems more sympathetic to Ukraine than the Russian far right. He affirms that "it may be that after a time we shall again see a Ukrainian state that is not divided by the fronts of a civil war," but he immediately adds, "the road to founding such a state lies through civil war. Ukraine will again be united only if the forces of the insurgent south-east raise their banner over Kiev”. [38] Now we know what flags they would be.

In Russia, in he eyes of the nationalist, fascist and neo-Stalinist right, Strelkov has now become a national hero. "Strelkov resembles the legends of the Civil War: General Kornilov and Admiral Kolchak." That is how they write in the ultra-reactionary weekly Zavtra (Tomorrow), to which he and Borodai have been linked for a long time. "With such a commander, not only will the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk be Russian, but the whole Southeast, Kharkiv, Odessa, Kiev and the whole of Ukraine." [39]

However, Strelkov is not at all preparing the means to conquer Kiev and the whole of Ukraine, but acknowledges publicly that he will lose without a Russian military intervention, which he demands despairingly in his public statements. "Where can we find a source of optimism? In our small successes? They are purely tactical; from the strategic point of view we started to lose a long time ago. The way top Russian civil servants consider the question of support for the New Russia is outright sabotage." Strelkov wrote that on June 16. "If there is no military support, the military debacle of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics is inevitable." [40]

During this time, the TV channels subject to the Russian regime keep silent about Strelkov. Why? Because Putin is afraid of his return to Russia after the military campaign in Ukraine. So says Boris Nemtsov, one of the most prominent leaders of the opposition to Putin. Nemtsov has no doubt that Strelkov and his "volunteer militia" will lose.

"Sooner or later, this war will end, and Strelkov with his comrades-in-arms will be obliged to return to Russia. Of course, the fighters of his "militia" are aware that Putin has betrayed them, and it is quite understandable that they will return to Russia very angry. Because not only did the Kremlin not annex Donbass to Russia, but it did not even send its army there." "Putin is a traitor, a rascal and a scoundrel"- in Nemtsov’s opinion, "this is exactly how Putin is seen by the people fighting in the Donbass”. Upon their return, "the people could precisely support these "heroic militiamen" about whom the Russian media have spoken so much". Meanwhile, "they will certainly not take kid gloves to the Muscovite traitors". [41]

This article appeared in the French electronic journal, Mediapart.


[1 ,

[2] [See B. Kagarlitsky, Empire of the Periphery: Russia and the World System, London, Pluto Press, 2007.

[3] The reference is of course to Lenin






[9 ,


[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] [Ibid.

[14 See my article, « Des militants ouvriers ukrainiens sur la situation dans le Donbass »,






[20] During the revolution and the civil war in Ukraine, Yevhen Anhel (1897-1919) commanded an independent guerrilla movement, refusing to submit to the political and military authorities of the Ukrainian People’s Republic, headed by Symon Petliura, and fighting for its own account against the Red Army.

[21 ,

[22] The White Guards were the counter-revolutionary forces who fought against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War. The Black Hundreds was a right-wing nationalist movement, monarchist, clerical and instigator of anti-Jewish pogroms. It made its appearance during the revolution of 1905. Its combat sections were a prototype of a fascist movement.








[30] Ibid.



[33] [Lev Gumilev (1912-1992), Russian thinker, created a philosophy of history based on a "theory of passionary ethnogenesis." It constitutes a fundamentation of cultural racism, particularly anti-Semitism, and of genocidal wars between "ethnic systems" designed as organic wholes. The "superethnos" and "ethnic chimera" forming at the points of contact between the different "superethnos" are typical categories of this theory. The democratic sectors of the Russian scientific community subject it to a relentless critique, but it has had a dizzying career in many universities and in Russian society. It has many supporters in far-right circles. See M. Laruelle, "Lev Gumilev Nikolaevic (1912-1992): biologism and Eurasianism in Russian thought", in: Journal of Slavic Studies, Volume 72, Issue 1-2, 2000.



[36] Ibid.


[38 ,