Recognition of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk

Areas controlled by the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk just before the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. For approximate changes that have occurred since then, see our Ukraine control map. (Map by Evan Centanni and Djordje Djukic. Contact us for permission to use this map.)

Donetsk and Lugansk: unrecognized “republics”

Although now overshadowed by war, an important political geography event took place in the days leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, altering some versions of the world list of countries.

In April 2014, the month after Russian-backed separatists in the Crimean peninsula declared independence from Ukraine, Russian-backed rebels in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk also announced that they were forming independent countries: the Donetsk People’s Republic (CMA) and Lugansk People’s Republic (RPL). (“Luhansk” is the Ukrainian spelling of the place name, while “Lugansk” is the Russian version.)

But unlike Crimea, which had already been secured by the Russian military and was quickly absorbed by Russia with the permission of its supposedly independent government, Donetsk and Lugansk would remain unrecognized for the next eight years – not officially treated as independent countries by no other country. , even Russia.*

* That is, unless you expect them to recognize each other, or to be recognized by Russian-backed South Ossetia, which claims independence from Georgia but is itself barely recognized by any other country.

Ukrainian flag.  Two solid horizontal bars, the upper one blue and the lower one yellow. Full country name:
• Ukraine (English)
• Ukrayina (Ukrainian)
Capital: Kyiv

Russian recognition

In any case, everything changed last month, just days before the Russian army launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. On February 21, Russia officially recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent countries, its president sign a document to grant them what international law experts call “diplomatic recognition”. [Correction: The recognition officially took effect only after the upper house of Russia’s legislature ratified the document on February 22.]

While almost every other country in the world still considers Donetsk and Luhansk to be part of Ukraine, Russia’s recognition has technically elevated the two self-proclaimed countries from “completely unrecognized” status (by any member country of the UN) to “partially recognized“.

Flag of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR).  Three solid horizontal bars of colors (from top to bottom) black, dark blue and red. Name of proclaimed country:
• Donetsk People’s Republic (English)
• Donetskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Russian)
Capital: Donetsk
Recognized by: Russia
Status according to others: Ukrainian province

Which countries recognize the independence of Donetsk and Lugansk?

So far, Russia is the single country known for having formally recognized Donetsk and Lugansk as independent countries. Close Russian ally Syria made a point of saying that he supported Russia’s decision to recognize the two self-declared republics, while a few other countries did various statements of general support for the Russian side. But so far, no evidence has emerged that they officially offer their own separate recognition.

Are Donetsk and Lugansk really independent countries?

Although the Russian government now considers Donetsk and Luhansk to be independent, does this mean that they are in fact real countries? Well, most governments in the world would say “no” on principle, but what if we were just being realistic?

There is an argument to be made for each side. On the one hand, the DPR and the LPR have their own governments, with military forces and at least some government services, which are certainly not controlled by Ukraine. But on the other hand, they largely depend – and more and more integrated – with Russia, so some people might claim that they are de facto (“actually”) parts of Russia – for better or for worse – rather than de facto independent countries.

Beyond official declarations and diplomatic recognition, independence is a bit of a fuzzy concept, so ultimately it depends on your interpretation. There is not necessarily one correct answer.

Flag of the self-proclaimed Lugansk (Luhansk) People's Republic.  Three solid horizontal bars of colors (from top to bottom) light blue, dark blue and red. Name of proclaimed country:
• People’s Republic of Lugansk (English)
• Luganskaya Narodnaya Respublika (Russian)
Capital: Luhansk (Lugansk)
Recognized by: Russia
Status according to others: Ukrainian province

Unrecognized and partially recognized countries

By receiving official recognition from Russia, the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk have joined the small list of proclaimed countries that are not considered independent by the UN, but are considered independent by a small minority of member countries of ONU. The only other recognized by a single UN member country is Northern Cyprus, considered independent only by Turkey. Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which claim independence from Georgia, are each recognized by five UN member countries.

After the DPR and LPR upgrade, there are only three self-declared countries that are not recognized by any member of the UN, but have governments that act independently of the countries they are widely considered to be part of. :

Transnistria – yet another self-proclaimed republic with Russian military support, claims independence from Moldova, a neighboring country of Ukraine, while the Republic of Somaliland claims the independence of Somalia. Meanwhile, the self-proclaimed Republic of Artsakh (or Nagorno-Karabakh) is considered part of Azerbaijan by the UN, but is run by a separate government with close ties to neighboring Armenia.

For a more detailed account of partially and completely unrecognized countries in the world, see our “How Many Countries Are There In The World” explainer, which has been updated for recent events.

Ukrainian flag graphics (The source), DPR flag (The source), LPR indicator (The source) and the Russian flag (The source) are in the public domain.

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