Ukraine crisis, who are the leaders of Donetsk and Lugansk: the former 007 and the confectioner friends of Putin

Of Francesco Battistini

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KIEV – «O Vladimir Vladimirovic…». Two photocopy appeals for two photocopy leaders. The only difference was in the tie: one burgundy, the other dark. For the rest, for evacuate the population and ask Moscow to be recognized last Saturday Denis & Leonid aired at the same time as Moscow, on the same TV in Moscow and with the same dress they had already worn on December 6, in Moscow, at the great United Russia party. The great evening of their coronation. A hug that already resembled an annexation. Vodka and lobsters: «Welcome home!», Another photocopied leader, Dmitry Medvedev, Vladimir Putin’s avatar, waved his hand. It was that sumptuous ceremony – the membership in the Putinian party of the leaders of the two republics, Donetsk and Lugansk – what the US feared, and a little expected, to launch the first alarm in the world: in two months, everyone amazed the House Bianca, and you will see that Russia will recognize the strange couple, invading Ukraine …

Two and a half months later, here they are again. Leonid Pasechnik and Denis Pushilin. The pawns (says Putin) or puppets (says Biden) of this war game. When the Ukrainian media mentions them, they call them “the separatist terrorists” and list articles 109, 110 and 258 of the Criminal Code, which would impose at least a life sentence on them. But Pasechnik, 51 years old and a past in the Kiev secret services, since 2017 president of Luganskaja Respublika (for all: Lnr), still takes offense: “I am a soldier and I have a code of conduct – he once said – I also received a medal because I had refused a bribe”, a very noble gesture in a very corrupt country. That was another life: Leonid always felt Ukrainian by chance, they call him “Magadan”, from the city of the Stalinist gulags overlooking the Pacific Ocean, because as a boy he grew up and had forged himself in nostalgia for everything he knew about Russia. What was someone like him doing in the Lugansk that Brezhnev himself had named after the heroic Marshal Vorosilov and the most faithful exegete of Stalinism? What could Leonid Pasechnik do with a Ukraine like the one that came out of the 2014 revolution, with a country that dreamed of the West?

Parallel and different fate, the other president. That he never had anything in the military: Denis Pusilin, 40, little desire to studysome strange deal with a financial company accused of having defrauded 10 million Russians, a pastry chef experience at the “Dolce Vita” factory, when in 2018 he became the head of Donetska Respublika (for all: Dnr), in the first photos he stood out above all for his electric blue blazers and silver domopak suits in the midst of the camouflages of his soldiers. He had already attempted a career in Kiev, founding a pro-Russian party voted by 0.08%. The Maidan revolt surprised him unemployed, struck him on the way to Moscow and made his political fortune.

Could this upcoming drama have two such actors? It’s not for sure. The Novorossija of Donetsk and Lugansk, in all two and a half million inhabitants, it looks more like the old Soviet Union than a new Russia. And the leaders last less than one shot: they killed six in eight years. “Magadan” Pasechnik came to power in a coup: after having surrounded the house of his rival, Igor Plotnitsky for three days, he had him sign a letter of resignation “for health reasons”. Pusilin instead became boss when Kremlin’s close friend, President Alexander Zakharchenko, the last survivor of the 2014 separatist uprisings, jumped over a mysterious car bomb planted at his favorite Donetsk café, the ‘Separatist’. Last evening, Denis & Leonid tuned in to Moscow time and they enjoyed the TV show of the Tsar of all the Russias, including theirs. They made history, Putin liking it.


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