Yesterday, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to Interfax news agency in which he said (in Russian): "Президент России считает, что киевские власти должны начать переговоры по вопросам государственности юго-востока страны. "Нужно немедленно приступить к субстантивным, содержательным переговорам, и не по техническим вопросам, а по вопросам политической организации общества и государственности на юго-востоке Украины с целью безусловного обеспечения законных интересов людей, которые там проживают", – цитирует "Интерфакс" интервью Владимира Путина программе "Воскресное время" на Первом канале."
This is being widely reported across all of the Western media as the Russian President calling for granting of independence to the Eastern Ukrainian regions, or calling for the creation of a new state, called Novorossija.
For example, here is BBC report of his interview: "Russian President Vladimir Putin has called for talks to discuss "statehood" for eastern Ukraine. He said the issue needed to be discussed to ensure the interests of local people "are definitely upheld." http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-29003116
I have no idea what Mr. Putin had in mind when he used the word "государственность". Then again, Western media has no such idea either. The problem is that the word used by President Putin - "государственности" - does not mean creation of new state or discussion of the statehood for Eastern Ukraine. In fact, it means something entirely different.
Google Translate does equate word "государственность" with "statehood". But in the context of scientific and jurisprudential use of the term, "государственность" means "organisation of the structure of state". Here is a link (in Russian) to a Russian text book on "Theory and Legal Aspects of the State" http://y-ra.com/book_problemy-teorii-gosudarstva-i-prava-yurisprudencii_866/18_5.-gosudarstvennost-ponyatie-i-stanovlenie. In this text, there is a clear difference drawn between terms "государствo" and "государственность".
Specifically, it says at the very top of the page that: "Если государство представляет собой организацию политической власти в обществе, то государственность, по существу, олицетворяет глубину, широту и качество проникновения в общество идей и взглядов, освещающих реальную деятельность государства. Государственность - это целостная система идей и взглядов, используемых в организации и деятельности самого государства."
Let me attempt to translate this [I preserve Russian punctuation for ease of tracing the text]: "If the state [государство] represents in itself the organisation of the political power system in a society, "государственность" [or 'statehood' in Google translate terms], in essence, embodies depth, spread and quality of development of ideas and views of the real activity of the state in a society. "Государственность" - is a comprehensive system of ideas and views, used in the organisation and operations of the state itself."
In other words "государственность" is defined as something that characterises the state, but not the statehood as a formation of distinct state or a new state.
The text book goes on to say that: "В процессе формирования государственности в современных условиях принято опираться на общечеловеческие ценности, подходить к характеристике государства как объективно необходимого, культурно-ценностного явления. "
Again, translating as well as I can: "In the process of formation of "государственности" in modern conditions it is customary to rely on common human values, approaching characterisation of the state ["государства"] as an objective necessity, cultural and values-based entity."
Nothing in the above definition of "государственность" - the term used by Putin - implies a call for independent statehood or for formation of a new state. All of it is consistent with a call for a discussion of what values and systems of a Ukrainian state should look like in Eastern Ukraine.
If President Putin wanted to suggest that we need to open the discussion of statehood for Eastern Ukrainian regions, he would have used either term "государствo" - directly translated as "state" or "statehood" - or term "независимость" - directly translated as "independence".
I do not claim to know what exactly Mr. Putin has meant by his comment. Nor do I know in which context Mr Putin used the term "государственность" in the context of Eastern Ukraine. But I do know that it is simply wrong to translate his use of word "государственность" as a call to "discuss statehood for Eastern Ukraine".
Please note: I have consistently held a view, expressed in numerous posts here and in my media interviews over the span of months since January 2014, that Ukraine is an independent state and should remain such. I said that all parties to the conflict, including Russia, should exercise full respect for Ukraine's territorial integrity, including in Eastern Ukraine and prior to that in Crimea. This view remains. Russia has no business in putting troops in Ukraine and I called before for Russia to seal its borders with Ukraine to any traffic of troops (volunteer or not) and weapons. My point in the above is not to excuse any alleged Russian wrongdoings in the Ukrainian crisis, nor to excuse the separatists actions or support their aspirations. I am simply concerned that we should be very careful in how we interpret statements by Mr Putin and all other leaders.
Update 19:58: http://en.ria.ru/politics/20140831/192508607/Putin-Calls-for-Talks-Inside-Ukraine-Not-Giving-Statehood-to.html confirms my analysis above. H/T @