Sunday, September 28, 2014

Splintered Donetsk People's Republic structure means Somalia scenario is realistic

Several days ago 'The Economist' magazine pondered whether 'A Somalia scenario' awaits Eastern Ukraine where the Donbas "becomes a swathe of ungoverned territory harbouring bandits who cross into the rest of Ukraine to raid, kidnap and steal...or a "Transdniestria [type] region, where organised crime and corruption have flourished under a Russian-backed regime."

Anyone who thinks this is overdramatisation should read Yevhen Shibalov's article "Donetsk People's Republic' from the inside - a short primer" in the 'Dzerkalo Tyzhnya'  newspaper. It explains why it will be so difficult for any normal authority to co-operate with DPR in any meaningful manner to restore order. Here's what he says:

Initially Russian special services and politicians, as well as many of the Donbas elite, and even some Kyiv figures had high hopes for the DPR project, but its chaotic structure and unpredictable and violent nature makes it almost impossible to know how to handle this monster.

The DPR is formed of two often opposing disparate wings - the 'sylovyky' [power people] wing, and the 'polityky'. The sylovyky military wing, which comprises mainly field commanders of varying types, certainly dominates. The sylovyky do not take orders from the polityky...but occasionally take account of their requests when it suits them.

The leadership of the DNR can be split into several groups and sub-groups.

First there are 'The Idealists' who supported the DNR project from the very beginning; they can be split into two sub-groups: The Republicans, and the Anti-Kyivites.

This group's initial aim was federalisation..but as the Kremlin committed more arms and financial resources and violence erupted, their ambitions grew...first to autonomy, and then to creation of a fully independent republic. However this was not what the Kremlin had in mind at all.

The Republicans are led by Andrei Purgin. Many of his supporters have done well for themselves, commandeering apartments... automobiles etc.

The Anti-Kyivite sub-group do not recognise the new authorities in Ukraine's capital, but are ready to accept Donbas remaining part of Ukraine on their own terms. Their leaders include Oleksiy Hranovskyi and Oleksandr Khryakov. Oleksandr Khodakovsky, a 'Vostok' field commander is also attached to this group.

The Idealists included some whose intention was to attach Donbas to Russia proper, but most of these have left the oblast as chances of this occurring fade.

Representatives of the Idealists take part in any negotiations with Kyiv and other parties.

A second significant group in DPR are 'The Betrayed'. These include those who feel betrayed by local elites in Donbas. Many had been members of sylovyk structures under Yanukovych e.g. DPR 'chief of police', form head of Donetsk economic crime unit, Oleh Dykiy, and the above-mentioned Khodakovsky who had been head of an 'Alpha' special forces unit. Amongst 'The Betrayed' are guys who feel betrayed by Ukraine proper, who had come from other parts of the country initially to fight against the DPR, but feel they have been let down, so have switched loyalty to DPR.

A third significant group in the DPR are The Parachutists and Imports from Russia who look down upon the Idealists, but as the chances of Donbas linking up with Russia proper recede, this third group's influence is receding too. Their main man was Vladimir Antyufyeyev, formerly of ex-TransDnistrian security services, but he has now left Donbas. The Parachutists still fulfil a role of co-ordinating supply of arms and humanitarian aid to the region from Russia.

The final group in DNR are the 'crazies' who participated in many serious human rights violations, who have nowhere else to go. They include local thugs and gangsters, foreign mercenaries, 'volunteers', looters, adrenalin junkies etc. They operate in small unorganised units and are accountable to no-one.

The current head of the DPR Oleksandr Zakharchenko has great difficulty coordinating all of these disparate groups. He allegedly recently survived an assassination attempt when the car he was travelling was flipped over. His state of health is unknown. Many of his close team have now left the Donbas oblast.

And amongst this lot of vipers are millions of normal everyday Donbas citizens who just want some peace and quiet and stability, and are not overtly concerned who will be in power. Many have descended into a deep apathy...just  waiting for things to end. Those who can have left, perhaps to seek a better life elsewhere.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Will EU call Gazprom's bluff?

A trilateral meeting on gas issues between Ukraine, the EU and Russia is due to take place on Friday September. 26.

The German "Handelsblatt" newspaper reports that Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak has threatened to stop the supply of gas to Europe if some consumer countries re-export gas to Ukraine in its hour of need.

Both Russia and the EU are well aware, both as gas supplier and gas consumers, they are absolutely, irrevocably linked. As Owen Matthews in 'Newsweek' explains: "An all-out gas war between Europe and Russia would be the economic equivalent..... “of the old MAD thinking”—MAD being the Cold War acronym for the mutually assured destruction that would follow a nuclear strike. "

So when are individual European countries going to smarten up their act and finally call Russia's bluff?

EU gas utility companies can stop taking back-handers from Gazprom and take control of purchase of Russian gas in a co-ordinated and synchronised manner in order to obtain the best possible single price, most importantly, at the Russian-Ukrainian border. They can sort out further transportation and storage down the line amongst themselves.

It can be done, if the political will exists. Europeans have to sort this out ASAP otherwise they will continue to be blackmailed  by the Kremlin.

Meanwhile Ukrainians, in extremis, will not allow their children and grandparents to freeze in their apartments and houses whilst vast quantities of gas flow through their country.

Could turn out to be quite a battle of wills...

Friday, September 19, 2014

Yevtushenkov's arrest, war in Donbas, and Putin

Vladimir Yevtushenkov, one of Russia's richest men, was placed under house arrest a couple of days ago accused of money laundering. There were suggestions this was primarily an asset grab instigated by Igor Sechin, a close ally of Vladimir Putin.

However Vitaliy Portnikov in Liga.net explains that the arrest may be linked to Putin and his war in Donbas.

Here is a summary of what he has to say:

Yevtushenkov had been building up a web of business and other interests in Ukraine over several years, and had been close to former president Viktor Yanukovych. It was Yevtushenkov who was making offers to the former president "that he could not refuse" in order he scuttle the Association Agreement so carefully constructed between the EU and Ukraine.

But most importantly, Yevtushenkov was the main oligarch standing behind Konsyantin Malofyeyev, about whom I have previously written.

Malofyeyev was one of the main organisers of the invasion and coup in Crimea - the "Orthodox oligarch" obsessed with the restoration the Russia's former empire. He generously financed the separatists/terrorists in the self-proclaimed Luhansk and Donetsk republics, and is allegedly the main sponsor of arms purchases and the paymaster for Russian volunteers/mercenaries currently operating on Ukrainian territory. It may also be that Yevtushenkov was the conduit through which Yanukovych provided operational funding to the separatists from the massive sums he had stolen from Ukraine's budget.  Nevertheless, the overarching mastermind behind the occupation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine was, and is Vladimir Putin.

In recent weeks Putin and Poroshenko have been holding closed consultations to somehow de-escalate the situation in the Donbas.

[Note: What is being discussed is very hush-hush. Some noted observers like Sonya Koshkina have already declared: "the authorities are making the same fateful mistake as Viktor Yanukovych's team. That mistake is the deficit of openness". E.g. the text of the Minsk declaration was only leaked after several days, and then by OSCE sources..Voting in parliament for new laws providing special status for Ukraine's two easternmost oblasts took place in a closed session...in highly dubious circumstances etc.]

Part of these Putin-Poroshenko negotiations resulted in the unexpected postponement of the implementation of the economic part of the Association Agreement. According to Portnikov, Yevtushenkov's arrest may also be linked to these negotiations, .

If Putin really wants to deprive the militants/terrorists in the Donbas freedom of manoeuvre, he must not only get them to withdraw, but must also cut off their sources of funding.

Yevtushenkov's detention may be a signal that from now on only Putin, and nobody else decides further operation of the Moscow-controlled mercenaries in Donbas. Hitherto this has not been the case. The separatist fighters will begin to understand they can only rely on the ruler in the Kremlin.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What most Ukrainians feel in their hearts

Despite today's voting in the Verkhovna Rada granting self-rule and amnesty to Donbas separatists, most Ukrainians would strongly agree with VR deputy Inna Bohoslovka when she declares:

"I did not vote for the law on special status for certain regions of the Donbas.

I will never forgive those who killed, tortured and dares to further torment my fellow Ukrainian countrymen. I will fight them until the last of them will be sentenced or killed."

Bohoslovska was a Party of Regions deputy until end of November 2013..and is a friend of Ukraine's top oligarchs.

At the start of this year she accurately predicted the advent of the plague exported from Russia that has now enveloped eastern Ukraine.

The "special order of local governance in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts" is a grotesque joke...Does it cover the entire oblasts, or only those portions currently in the hands of separatists? Will towns liberated from separatists again be terrorised by those who have already tortured, kidnapped and murdered their citizens and looted their property?

Poroshenko has been forced to throw millions of Ukraine's citizens into the clutches of lawless cut-throats who have been given carte-blanche to do as they will.

 This was a black day for the EU and a black day for Ukraine..Dark days await....

And for those in Donbas who may have supported the separatists? What kind of victory have the last few months fighting produced for them? What future awaits them? Who is going to fix the huge damage? Russia is not interested...As for Kyiv - the treasury is bare.

The Yanukovych years will be just a pleasant memory.