In a televised townhall forum, Vladimir Putin today put an arc of land including all of Eastern Ukraine and southern Ukraine — all the way to Odessa — on the chopping block, alluding to its role as a Russian imperial frontier zone from the 18th century onward. This would (by cutting Ukraine off from the sea) link Russia by land all the way to Russian-occupied Crimea and Russian-controlled Transdniestria region of Moldova.
Here’s the strongest quote, as translated by the New York Times:
“The question is to ensure the rights and interests of the Russian southeast. It’s New Russia. Kharkiv, Lugansk, Donetsk, Odessa were not part of Ukraine in czarist times, they were transferred in 1920. Why? God knows. Then for various reasons these areas were gone, and the people stayed there — we need to encourage them to find a solution.”
For a labeled map of some of these regions, see our earlier post “Ukraine Crisis Map (as of April 12, 2014)”. I have not yet labeled Odessa on there (since it hadn’t come up before), but it’s located near Moldova close to the Dniester River and is a major Ukrainian port on the Black Sea coast.
The Times analysis argues that this is a deliberate rhetorical step up:
Mr. Putin’s use of the historical term “Novorossiya” or “New Russia” [from the Tsarist era] to refer to southeastern Ukraine, which he had not emphasized previously, suggested that he was replicating Russia’s assertions of historical ties to Crimea before the occupation and annexation of the peninsula.
Putin’s neo-imperialism is really starting to become more and more transparent. Another reason to drop the “new Cold War” chatter.
Below is a map of Novorossiya, circa 1897.