Friday, May 30, 2014

Donetsk and Lugansk Republics Merge as “Novorossiya,” Claiming 6 Other Ukrainian Regions (Plus a “Confederate” Flag??)

International media coverage of the ongoing civil war in eastern Ukraine since the Ukrainian national elections on May 25th has been intensive and unrelenting—as it should be, for this important story.  But not every news source seems to have noticed that the self-declared “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk, in the ethnic-Russian stronghold along the border with Russia, have ratcheted up their claims to stake out a separate territory in Ukraine that is friendly to Moscow, not Kyiv or Brussels or Washington.  I present to you the Federal State of Novorossiya (Федеративное государство Новороссия)—Novorossiya being the Russian for “New Russia,” as the area that is today southern Ukraine was known in Czarist times.

Pavel Gubarev (center), during the first “Donetsk Republic” putsch, in March
Just days after his May 7th release by Ukrainian authorities in a prison exchange, Pavel Gubarev, the Donetsk republic’s “people’s governor,” said, in reference to the May 11th secession referenda in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts (reported on in this blog at the time), “The referendum is everything for us.  It’s our declaration of independence.  It’s the formation of a new entity—the Donetsk People’s Republic.  However, this new entity is only the first step to our forming a bigger entity, Novorossiya, in all the former southeastern Ukraine.”  The Donetsk republic was declared on April 7th (as reported at the time in this blog) and the Lugansk one shortly afterward.

On May 13th, with the Donetsk People’s Republic (D.P.R.) already regarding itself as independent (though unrecognized, even by Moscow), Gubarev announced, “I, on my behalf, hereby proclaim the creation of a new political party, Novorossiya, whose head office will be in Donetsk.  The new party will be led only by those people who in this difficult time showed themselves as true patriots of their Motherland and proved themselves as true fighters and defenders of their Fatherland.”

Denis Pushilin formally announcing the creation of the Federal State of Novorossiya
Then, in Donetsk, on the eve of Ukrainian national elections, 145 delegates from Donetsk, Luhansk (as the oblast is known in Ukrainian), and six other oblasts voted to enact a “unification referendum” embracing not just Donetsk and Luhansk but also Dnipropetrovsk, Kharkov, Kherson, Nikolaev, Odessa, and Zaporizhiye.  The Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol were not included because the delegates recognize them as now part of the Russian Federation.  Gubarev added that the new entity, Novorossiya, would recognize the new Ukrainian president only if Kyiv in turn recognized the D.P.R.’s independence.  The Lugansk republic has taken a similar position.

Novorossiya delegates voting on May 24th in Donetsk
To be clear: it is only in Luhansk and Donetsk that separatist rebels control territory on the ground—and even there, only in some districts.  Some argue that they really only control the array of government buildings that they have occupied, but in reality the police and other authorities have either refrained from asserting (Ukrainian) control or have switched sides.  The other six oblasts claimed are still fully governed by Kyiv.  An attempt to set up a Kharkov People’s Republic in Kharkiv (Kharkov, in Russian) in early April (reported at the time in this blog) was thwarted by the Ukrainian authorities, and the declaration on April 16th of an Odessa People’s Republic on April 16th (reported on at the time in this blog)—soon after renamed (as also reported here) the Odessa Republic of Novorossiya—has not been accompanied by any actual seizures, symbolic or otherwise, of reins of government (even though Odessa has been the site of some of the most serious street violence outside Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts).

This map (which is open to debate) purports to show areas of total (red)
and partial (pink) separatist control in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts as of May 24th.
(Nor is it clear what the implications for Novorossiya unity are of the coup staged just within the past 24 hours by the Vostok Batallion, a militia heavily manned by well-trained Russian citizens.  This shadowy group has ejected the current D.P.R. “government” from their Donetsk headquarters.  Will there be a counter-coup? and, if not, is the Vostok faction in favor of unification with Lugansk as well?  At this point, it is unclear.)

The triumphant Vostok Batallion today in the Donetsk Republic headquarters (New York Times photo)
The idea of Novorossiya is not new.  In late 2012, Kremlin policy experts produced a paper (discussed recently in this blog) projecting a changed Europe in the year 2035 in which the Russian Federation has annexed not just Crimea, Belarus, and slices of the Baltic States and Georgia, but also Moldova’s separatist Transnistria region and the “Donbas” and “Novorossiya” territories in the southeast of the Ukrainian mainland.  Their map (see just below) shows Novorossiya’s contours much like the Donetsk and Lugansk rebels are presenting it today.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has used the imperialist term Novorossiya as well, mentioning in a speech that it was only a quirk of history that made the region, dominated by Russian-speakers, part of an independent Ukraine in the first place.  And as early as January of this year, this blog was reporting on ethnic-Russian nationalists in Crimea—which at that point had not yet seceded from Ukraine—calling for a similar territory to be called Malorossiya, or “Little Russia.”  That Czarist name more properly refers to the borderlands of the Donbass and north, including Kharkiv, rather than the plains just north of Crimea.  But a map circulated at the time showed Malorossiya swallowing up much more than the less-than-half of Ukrainian territory claimed by today’s Novorossiya separatists (see map below).

What is not clear is what form this new entity of Novorossiya will take.  Is it to be a loose federation, along the lines of the “Union State” that today links Russia and Belarus—or something closer to full independence, or closer to Russian Federation membership?  That has not been clarified.  Though perhaps, for a clue, we can look to a scrawled-upon map in the office of the chairman of the D.P.R.’s Supreme Soviet (yes, sadly, it is called that), Denis Pushilin, an image which has been widely circulated on the Internet.  It shows both Crimea and a large chunk of southeastern Ukraine (more like the above Malorossiya map than the current Novorossiya one) labeled simply, “Russia”:

However, Novorossiya does have a flag—or two, or three.  Earlier this year, Gubarev, on his Facebook page, solicited flag proposals from the public, resulting in an informal contest (see the web page, which includes, disconcertingly, the almost-defunct “.su” domain suffix for the Soviet Union).  Here were the eleven finalists:

The last, no. 11, has circulated fairly widely on the Internet, including as the masthead image of a pro-Kremlin Facebook account with the risibly definite-article-free title “Truth about Situation in Ukraine”:

This proposal (above) is simply the Russian tricolor with a cross superimposed on it.  Chillingly, the cross in question is the Ehrenkreuz (“Honor Cross”) used by Nazi Germany.  Other submissions, in particular the tricolors, echo the flags of the already-declared “people’s republics” in the region (from left to right, Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkov, and Odessa):

This is especially true of another Novorossiya flag which has been seen around lately, which seems to be a modification of the Russian tricolor with Ukraine’s blue and yellow and, like the “people’s republic” flags, features a double-headed eagle from the Russian Empire’s (and post-Soviet Russia’s) coat-of-arms:

A flag enthusiast and blogger named “Arcktick,” who opposes Ukraine’s disintegration, offers a deconstruction of this submission which is almost dizzyingly talmudic.  It involves taking the average of the most common colors in Ukrainian oblast flags and finding the most felicitous arrangement.  Interestingly, it resembles most closely a former flag of the Kingdom of the Netherlands

—(with orange of course corresponding to Protestantism and the House of Orange), which is ironic given one version of the origin of the Russian tricolor, which is that it modeled itself on the flag of the Netherlands, that being the nationality of an engineer aboard the first Russian naval vessel, in the 17th century.  The modern Dutch national flag is the same as Russia’s current one, with the stripes rearranged:

To no one’s surprise, the winning entry in the contest uses the Russian colors of red, white, and blue, which are also the colors, for example, of the post-Soviet (and also post-annexation) flag of Crimea—

—which merely transposes the top two stripes and expands the now-centered white one.  The first inkling of what this Novorossiya flag would look like was on Gubarev’s Facebook page in December 2013, though without a caption:

A photo of an apparent official unveiling of this flag (with slightly different tints) appeared in the online magazine Ukrainian Policy, though I have not been able to confirm the source of the photo:

The Novorossiya flag (with the Donetsk People’s Militia emblem below it)
However, it is the flag emblazoned, on the masthead and then again in the coat-of-arms, on the front page of the first page of the Novorossiya political party’s newspaper, also called Novorossiya:

As American readers may have noted, this is nearly identical to the frequently seen battle flag of the Confederate States of America from the period of the American Civil War (not the C.S.A.’s national “Stars and Bars” flag, incidentally—which is less commonly seen today—

—but the flag most commonly used today used to invoke Confederate heritage or sympathies—

—which is actually a variation on several C.S.A. member states’ battle flags).  The only difference, other than variations in proportions and shading, is the presence of stars in the Confederate version, which are lacking in the Novorossiya flag.  Could the Ukrainian separatists be invoking the rebelliousness, the David-and-Goliath courage, or the sheer anti–United States sentiment of the original Confederacy?  Indeed, the geographical contours of these two southerly separatist movements are surprisingly similar:

(A further parallel—depending on how far one wants to take this—is that the original Southern U.S. secessionist movement, along with its modern, fringe-politics remnant, emphasizes the supposedly more “English” and “Celtic” nature of Southern white culture, as opposed to the (immigrant-“contaminated”) “Yankee” culture.  The modern, white-supremacist League of the South (L.S.), which uses the Confederate battle flag (above) as its “national” flag, even uses British spellings such as colour and organisation, thus rejecting the American spelling reforms of the Connecticut-born Yankee traitor Noah Webster.  Like the Russian ultranationalists in eastern Ukraine, the L.S. rejects the central government (in Kyiv, rather than Washington) in light of perceived cultural and historical commonalities with the “mother country.”  The fact that the Confederate “Stars and Bars” and battle flags more closely resemble the Union Jack (see below for more discussion of the Union Jack) than they do the U.S. “Stars and Stripes” is a further reflection of this.)

Some Southern nationalists in the U.S. use a black-and-white version of the St. Andrew’s Cross,
(more on that below) with visual resonance of the flags of both Scotland and Alabama.
But back to the Novorossiya flag—despite a resemblance to the Confederate flag, a more immediate and likely origin for the design is that it is based on the Russian naval ensign, in use since 1712:

This uses the St. Andrew’s cross (saltire)—which is also the flag of Scotland—and St. George’s Cross—also the flag of England—which are also ingredients of the United Kingdom’s national flag, the Union Jack:

SS. George and Andrew were both prominent patron saints in the Russian Empire, as they have long been in the British Empire.  In fact, the St. George’s Cross shows up in the flag of the formerly-Soviet Republic of Georgia (the patron saint of Georgia being, naturally, George)—

(incidentally, those are Jerusalem crosses, not Nazi Ehrenkreuzen!)—and the flag of the Black Sea Fleet, which Russia captured, in violation of an earlier treaty, when it annexed Crimea, is merely that of Scotland with the colors reversed (see below, on the right, amid the Russian flags):

(In fact, in the contest entries shown above, St. Andrew’s–type saltires are almost as common as Czarist coats-of-arms.)  And of course the history of naval power in the Czarist empire has been an important historical, geopolitical, and symbolic rallying point in southeastern Ukraine’s pro-Russian rebellion.

The D.P.R. foreign minister, Yekaterina Gubareva, in front of Slovyansk municipal flags,
wears the Soviet-era “St. George’s Ribbon,” which has become a symbol
of pro-Russian separatism in Ukraine.
First we will have to see whether the next weeks and months will spell the demise of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics and their reabsorption into a Ukraine.  If they survive, in whatever form, they may likely do so as a new (and old) entity called Novorossiya.

[You can read more about Novorossiya and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Thanks are due to Stanislav Zamyatin and Szymon Pawlas, of the Facebook group “Flags of the World,” for alerting me to some of the vexillological information.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Babes of the New Russian Empire: Putin Serves Up Neo-Soviet Imperialism with a Slathering of Cheesecake

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, presents his newly muscular nationalism as an answer to Western decadence (very much taking a page from Germany’s 1930s propaganda playbook).  Wholesome Russian pop music, we are told, is being drowned out to be suggestive lyrics sung by bearded women from Austria.  Catalogues of Russian brides are slavered over by sexually frustrated Americans eager to abduct Russia’s young women into the Gomorrah of a cesspool that is the United States.  The West has embraced the shameless, sacrilegious, unpatriotic, ungrateful harlots of Pussy Riot as though they were some sort of brave dissident heroines.  The Russian Orthodox Church is laboring to give the Russian people a moral grounding of which decades of Soviet communism had robbed them.  On the other hand, of course, Putin tells us that the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s was a catastrophe for Russia.  He aims to fix all of this.

Putin contemplates some further modifications.
How embarrassing, then, when the newly appointed Minister of Culture for one of the newly established but still diplomatically unrecognized ethnic-Russian, pro-Kremlin puppet states, the Lugansk People’s Republic, turns out to have a semi-pornographic past.  No sooner was Irina Filatova (Ирина Филатова) appointed by the junta that has taken over Ukraine’s eastern border oblast of Luhansk than sultry photos of her were discovered the social-networking site VK (VKontakte) (which, with a quarter-billion users, is the Russian version of Facebook but, predictably, also shades a bit into being the Russian equivalent of AdultFriendFinder).  The photos were supposedly hurriedly removed, but can still be found anyway with not much effort [oops, this link now dead for the time being; apologies (June 2, 2014)].


More than anything else, the photos are a bit depressing.  Presumably shot in Luhansk city, the nearby sidewalks in these outdoor shots are strewn with gravel, the photos use drab, abandoned-looking post-Soviet backdrops like a gas station, and one photo (see below) even shows a bikini-clad Filatova sitting spread-eagled on a park bench clutching a champagne bottle, looking like nothing so much as one of the vodka-addled vagrants who people Russian cityscapes in the Western imagination.

Darn.  Well, I guess that’s the end of her political career, right?  That was certainly the gist of the exultant coverage of the Filatova revelations in the pro-Ukrainian press.  But, wait.  Not so fast.  In fact, not only might this be no problem at all, but it might have been actually planned.  By way of explanation, I’d like you to meet the newly appointed Minister of Culture in Lugansk’s unrecognized sister republic in Ukraine’s rebel-run Novorossiya (“New Russia”) region, the Donetsk People’s Republic (D.P.R.).

* * *

Natalia Voronina, minister of culture for the Donetsk People’s Republic
The new Donetsk minister, Natalia Voronina (Наталья Воронина), is a semi-celebrity fashion designer and, as with many female Russian celebrities, the line between sophisticated and tacky and between respectable and pornographic is ... well, let’s just say those lines are not drawn quite in the same place they are in other countries.

Voronina’s husband, the industrialist Aleksandr Kalyusskiy (Александр Калюсский), an habitué of the rebel capital’s hoity-toity “Donetsk Mafia Club,” happens to be the D.P.R.’s Deputy Prime Minister for Social Policy, but this red-headed bombshell also has a law degree and runs her own boutique and fashion line.  (Her boutique’s anti-Western, Anglophobic credentials may be in doubt however: Voronina’s spring line last year was called, in (sort of) English, “Lady Batterfly” (sic).)

Vorinina’s trophy husband: pro-Russian oligarch Alksandr Kalyusskiy
She is a positive asset to the popularity of the D.P.R.  Rebel-government handlers in her case were a bit more successful in scrubbing the Internet (in particular, VK) of some of her more erotic poses, apparently, but what remain are, while in the realm of high fashion, still fairly titillating.

If the culture ministries of the new “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine are intended to provide their citizenry with “bread and circuses” while their rights are eroded and their once economically productive region is turned into a rubble-strewn war zone, then Filatova and Voronina are well cut out for the job—or, um, well, at least Voronina is.*

*[As of a couple weeks later, Voronina is no longer culture minister.  See my report in this blog on this development.]

Um ... whatever.
* * *

But this is nothing new in Putin’s new empire, and this is why this blog decided it was time for a Russo-specific follow-up to a popular previous blog post, “The World’s 21 Sexiest Separatists,” which included only two figures from the former-Soviet world (Emilia Plater, the 19th-century “Polish Joan of Arc,” and one of Chechnya’s presidents-in-exile, the actor and London playboy Akhmed Zakayev).

Though the pugnacious ultranationalist “new Russian” culture that Kremlin propaganda is erecting on the rubble of Ukrainian sovereignty is openly patriarchal, like much of Russian folk culture, there is a high proportion of female politicians in high positions in the zone of Russian expansion, but they feature a suspicious preponderance of visually pleasing ones.  Perhaps the most extreme example is Natalia Poklonskaya (Ната́лья Покло́нская) the new attorney general (chief prosecutor) of the Republic of Crimea, installed when it declared independence from Ukraine earlier this year and was subsequently annexed by the Russian Federation.

Poklonskaya, with her doe-eyed, innocent pretty looks, has unexpectedly become a global Internet meme and something of a cult figure in the mostly Japan-based world of the manga and animé subcultures.  A March 11th press conference by Poklonskaya posted on YouTube resulted in an explosion of fan art by Internet fans in Japan and China, who made her face into an animé icon in the pedophilia-tinged moé style—doubtless reinforced by her youthful appearance (though 34, she could pass for 14) and her office’s military-style uniform, with a jaunty tie that evokes the school uniforms popular in Japanese manga—and Japanese porn.

Natalia Poklonskaya’s many moods
But far be it from me, or this blog, to suggest that Poklonskaya is merely decorative or was chosen only for her looks.  As reported recently in this blog, her actions since taking office have included threatening the Mejlis (Council) of the Crimean Tatar Nation—which represents the 12% of Crimea who are Muslim Tatars and overwhelmingly opposed the annexation—with “liquidation.”  For a people that suffered ethnic engineered famine, ethnic cleansing, and mass deportation and death under Josef Stalin, the experience of suddenly finding themselves ruled from Moscow again and intimidated with words like “liquidation” is having the effect of terrifying many of them into silence.  So one could hardly say that Poklonskaya does not know how to do her job.

Poklonskaya’s unusual sort of fame has been welcomed by many Russian nationalists, and she famously wielded one press query about her private life by saying, “As the idiom goes, ‘Beauty saves the world.’”  But the velocity of the growth of Poklonskayamania has baffled and worried other Russian officials.  And the Kremlin has at times tried to contain the problem of floods of inquiries about her, as well as a fake Twitter account in her name.  (A Twitter tribute account remains.)

This is many Japanese middle-aged men’s fantasy, but Crimean minorities’
nightmare.  One way to put it is: the Tatars don’t have a safeword.
* * *

A little less polished and professional, so far, is Yekaterina Gubareva (Екатерина Губарева), wife of the founder of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Pavel Gubarev (Павел Губарев), who has, initially through the connection with her husband, become the D.P.R.’s Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Gubareva being interviewed at a separatist rally, with St. George’s Ribbon in buttonhole.
Gubarev first came to the attention of this blog in March when he led the first major rebellion in mainland Ukraine this year by declaring the “Donetsk Republic,” though he had already been arrested and jailed by Ukrainian authorities (as reported in this blog as well) by the time the D.P.R. was declared under its new name a month later.  (Flags still say simply, “Donetskiya Respublika.”)

Yekaterina Gubareva
Her husband’s imprisonment and, according to his supporters, his suffering torture at the Kyiv government’s hands (never substantiated) enhanced his status as “people’s governor” and lent Gubareva a kind of Yelena Bonner–like moral authority.  Her fashion-model good looks did not hurt the cause, either.

Gubareva became spokeswoman for her imprisoned husband.
(The D.P.R. does not seem to run a particularly tight ship when it comes to the protocol for cabinet appointments, however.  This week the leadership was embarrassed when a medical-school professor named Konstantin Scherbakov heard second-hand that he had been appointed the republic’s Ministry of Health.  No one had even asked him if he wanted the job, or even suggested his name was in the hopper.  As it turns out, he has no interest in the position.  “I never agreed to this, I never signed any papers, it was a complete surprise,” Scherbakov said, adding, “I work at a medical university.  I have things to do.”)

Yekaterina Gubareva
Though other leaders have come to the fore in the D.P.R., leaving Gubarev (who was released by Ukrainian authorities in a prisoner exchange this month) with a more symbolic “people’s governor” role, Gubareva’s influence has only grown, and she may prove in the long run to be even more of a shaker and mover in the separatist movement than her husband.

* * *

Already established in politics before the Ukraine crisis began last year was Nina Shtanski (Нина Штански), who is Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, a.k.a. Trans-Dniester Republic, a.k.a. Transnistria, a.k.a. Transdniestria.


This tiny sliver of eastern Moldova along the Ukrainian border, defended by the Russian military and propped up by infusions of rubles from the Kremlin, declared independence in 1991 but has existed in a kind of limbo, serving mainly as a way to prevent Moldova from being absorbed into the European Union (E.U.) or NATO.  After the annexation of Crimea, it was Shtanski who became the public face of Transnistria’s effort to get her small, diplomatically unrecognized pseudo-state admitted to the Russian Federation as well.

Shtanski, who is 37, is trained as a jurist and political scientist and has served diplomatic functions in her home republic since its foundation.  She was made foreign minister in 2012 and this year was given the added title of Deputy Prime Minister.  But she has also attracted attention for dressing in a manner that would not exactly be considered professional in other countries.  You’ve never seen Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, or Hillary Rodham Clinton gussied up like this.


Many, including myself in this blog, have speculated that annexing Transnistria may be a goal of the Putin administration.  Though not at all far from Crimea’s western edge and though including the navigable estuary of the Dniester River, Transnistria is still landlocked, and linking it to Russia would probably mean the annexation or control of at least the predominantly-ethnic-Russian and fairly restive Odessa Oblast (activists have already declared it the “Odessa Republic of Novorossiya,” as reported in this blog), with its valuable Black Sea port.  Putin may even be contemplating the pros and cons of seizing all of Ukraine’s Black Sea coast.  That would make Transnistria Russia’s westernmost outpost other than the Baltic Sea exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, at the location of Germany’s former East Prussia province.  A race for Transnistria across Ukraine’s soft underbelly might also spark a true Second Crimean War.  If so, Nina Shtanski will rise from obscurity to become a major player in global geopolitics.

It’s Christmas in Transnistria, and Nina Shtanski’s got the whole world in her hands.

* * *

Also in this category we could put Alina Kabaeva (Али́на Каба́ева), an Uzbekistan native of half-Russian, half-Tatar ancestry and since 2007 a member of Russia’s parliament for Putin’s United Russia party, whose long-term romantic relationship with the only-recently-divorced Putin is an open secret in Russia.  Kabaeva was recently listed by one business-news website as one of the “9 Most Attractive Politicians in the World” (a list with an admitted right-of-center bias; others included Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney of the United StatesRepublican Party; at no. 1, Silvio Berlusconi’s former Minister of Equal Opportunity in Italy’s cabinet, Mara Carfagna; Mexico’s establishment president, Enrique Peña Nieto; and Orly Levy, a Likud–Yisrael Beiteinu member of Israel’s Knesset who heavily courts the Russian-immigrant vote).

She is also an Olympic gymnast—a rhythmic gymnast, as the tabloids never tire of specifying—who won a bronze in Sydney in 2000 and a gold in Athens four years later.  Her presence as a torch-bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics in Sochi earlier this year was seen as in some sense a “coming out” and acknowledgement of her personal ties to Putin.


Though she serves in the Duma (parliament), her athletic past hardly qualified her for the position.  Like most United Russia deputies, she votes in lock step with Putin as he expands his quest for Eurasian domination.  This trophy wife—actually, trophy mistress—of one of the world’s most brutal authoritarian rulers is a decorative figurehead indeed.

Duma legislator Alina Kabaeva plunks down her designer attaché case
for another day of pretending to listen to long boring speeches.
* * *

On the other hand, it is hardly the pro-Russian faction in Ukrainian politics that has a lock on beauty and fashion.  The pro-E.U. but, most agree, quite corrupt former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko (Ю́лія Тимоше́нко)—who was later imprisoned by her pro-Kremlin successor Viktor Yanukovych and became a hero of the Euro-Maidan movement before running for president again in this weekend’s election (she is not favored to win)—has frequently been called “the world’s most beautiful politician.”

With her trademarked blonde braids, she has been a telegenic constant in coverage of Ukrainian politics.  Her stark beauty, while a political asset, has been used against her as well, both by pro-Ukrainian, anti-Moscow groups like the Ukrainian feminist culture-jammer guerilla-theater collective Femen, who have skewered her appearance in nude street demonstrations targeting her corruption—

—and perceived too-conciliatory approach to Putin—

—as well as by pro-Russian mobs and activists in places like Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine, whose loutish misogyny cannot separate their political opposition to her from her status as a sexual object:

* * *

Yet another Ukrainian beauty, Natalia Korolevska (Наталія Королевська), of Luhansk, was running for the presidency until withdrawing her candidacy on May 1st.

Natalia Korolevska
Korolevska, who turned 39 last week, was Yanukovych’s Minister for Social Justice until his ouster and then shifted her support to Tymoshenko.  The social-democratic “Ukraine—Forward!” party Korolevska runs focuses on anti-corruption.

Ukraine’s former social-justice minister Natalia Korolevska

* * *

But the real question remains: is Irina Filatova ready to take on the heady responsibilities of the Ministry of Culture portfolio in the Lugansk People’s Republic?  We believe she is.  We believe she is.  I mean, just look at her.

[You can read more about Transnistria, the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and many other separatist and new-nation movements, both famous and obscure, in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]

Thanks to William Abernathy, Olga Buchel, and Jeff Groton for alerting me to sources and information used in this article.

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