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 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 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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Get better soon, Ksenia

Russian Journalist Hospitalized After Violent Street Attack

Ksenia Batanova, a producer with Dozhd, Russia’s only independent television news channel, is recovering after unknown assailants fractured her skull. The channel has devoted significant resources to covering Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict and struggled against government pressure.

Watch this brief and most engaging youtube clip of Ksenia talking to camera about herself...what a beautiful person...what a dreadful, cruel crime...

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Can Donbas survive without Ukraine?

With the ceasefire and cessation of hostilities the situation in Eastern Ukraine has reached an impasse. The forces of the so-called Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic now occupy the two major regional cities and about a third of the territory of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts.

With the respite in the fighting, residents can now begin reflect on where their future lies and what their prospects will be.

Unless there is more significant violence resulting in gains or losses of territory in the next few weeks, with the onset of winter, boundary lines are unlikely to change at least until well into the New Year.

The announcement by president Poroshenko today of withdrawal of the majority of Russian troops and equipment would indicate the heavy fighting is now less likely and current boundaries encompassing rebel-held territory will remain as they are, at least for months to come.

A vital portion of industry in this region is export-orientated. If companies are to survive they require unhindered access to ports and overseas markets. Similarly, new equipment for modernisation and development has to be imported, mainly from abroad. Investors need security and political stability.

The port of Mariupol, which remains in the hands of Kyiv forces, is vital to the maintenance of prosperity in the region. If the separatists and their Russian sponsors and armourers want to conquer the city they would most likely have to launch a bloody and destructive assault.

Two of the three biggest employers in Mariupol are the giant AzovStal and the Illich MetKombinat steelworks which account for about one third of Ukraine's steel production and are the sixth and seventh biggest companies in Ukraine. They produce a major chunk of the country's metallurgical exports. The third biggest employer, AzovMash, manufactures railway freight cars, mainly for export to CIS countries as well as other engineering products; their output has been hit very badly by the troubles.

Mariupol is Ukraine's second biggest gateway for exports, predominantly produce of Donbas.

Donbas and Luhansk oblasts may well be granted special status in the near future. But who will pay pensions, and salaries of teachers, doctors and civil servants in the cities and areas controlled by DNR and LDR separatist gunmen? Who will ensure business and trade can return to normal?

Residents will certainly have much to think about before any elections..

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Thoughts on Minsk protocol

Sergey Tolstov, writing in describes what may well await the east of Ukraine following signing of the Minsk protocol.

The protocol, most significantly, makes no mention of the presence of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory:

Below is a summary of the conclusion of his well-detailed article:

Elections at gunpoint and [formal] recognition of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics [DPR &LPR]

Until now the DPR &LPR were inherently military forces which have not fulfilled out any administrative function on the territories under their control; they were, and still are, purely parasitic structures.

Under the new [proposed] conditions the leaders of these groups will receive partial political recognition as participants of the settlement process and as representatives of territories having a "special status".

Such recognition, and, especially, participation of the DPR & LPR leadership [and candidates supported by them] in any local elections in territories they control will provide them with political legalisation, enabling them to create their own administrative apparatus.

Moreover, the holding of such elections would open the possibility of direct managerial control by DPR & LDR of public utilities, trade, and transport and energy infrastructure in the territories controlled by them.

As for elections in the territories controlled by the DPR & LPR their leaders are hardly going to abandon the use of repressive measures against political opponents. All sorts of prohibitions and barriers to participation for candidates from Ukrainian political parties can be expected. [Surely an understatement by the writer.]

As to restoration of the economy and infrastructure of Donbas, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has stated that Russia will help the south-east of Ukraine, but Kyiv has to restore it. In other words, the Russian government wants Kyiv to fund areas controlled by the separatists.

It this is to be the Russians stance then Kyiv must insist implementation of the program of economic revival of Donbas and the provision of humanitarian assistance to territories controlled by DPR & LPR  be dependent on the withdrawal of Russian troops. Otherwise Kyiv allocated funds should go only for the restoration of infrastructure in territories controlled by the central government.

In actual fact Tolstov has explained why the Minsk protocol is surely a 'dead duck'

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Better for Ukraine to lose part of its territory than return Donbas on Putin's terms?

Serhiy Vysotsky, in a article entitled: 'Does Ukraine have to return Donbas on Putin's terms?' says what perhaps many think, but are unwilling to say right now.

I've loosely translated his thoughts:

Better for Ukraine to lose part of its territory than return Donbas on the aggressor's terms.

According to Putin and Poroshenko the truce is generally being observed. [maybe at time of writing...LEvko]

The situation may now develop along two possible scenarios. If at some point the cease-fire is violated by the Russian army or their proxy separatist militants, the war will continue. Or, more likely, shooting will stop for a longer period until the Winter or early Spring, and the break in the fighting (along with an economic war and the turning off of gas) will be used by Russia to persuade the Ukrainian authorities to capitulate and to provoke a new widespread social revolt.

The aim of the Kremlin in Ukraine is not so much the occupation of the territory, but rather a creeping counter-revolution in response to the EuroMaidan. A strong, modern Ukraine is Putin's nightmare, because such a country would show there is a realistic, clear alternative to his regime. That is why Russian peace terms imposed on the Donbas do not include independence for a terrorist Novorossia. On the contrary, Russia wants Ukraine to remain united, but this unity has to be achieved and maintained on Putin's terms.

It is no secret that the Donetsk clan headed by Yanukovych introduced a gangster-type economy with criminal traditions amongst a Sovietized population, first in its own region, and then in the whole country.

Putin planned the carve-up of Ukraine on clear terms, with kickbacks  for the garage manager [Yanukovych]  on the sale of strategic enterprises, Ukrainian infrastructure and defence industry. Yanukovych almost did manage to sell Ukraine, but then the Maidan sprung up.

The political dominance of Donetsk, the corruption by them of the political classes, their total pressing of public resources and private businesses resulted in a situation where the entire country began to work for the bottomless pocket of the Donetsk clan.

According to Moscow's peace plan, the idea that the Donbas should remain part of Ukraine as a kind of autonomous territory, but with representation in Parliament with the right of veto on foreign policy decisions throughout the country while and at the same being financed from Kyiv, means Moscow wants to return to the status-quo. It intends to hang the Donbas criminal/political yoke back onto the neck of Ukraine.

What is the Kremlin actually offering Ukraine in its peace plan? Instead of the financing of an army and National Guard it proposes the reconstruction of a Donbas destroyed by Russia. But of course, the money will not be for funding the region's recovery, but rather for financing terrorists granted amnesty and legalised through local elections as a new power.

The fifth columnists of the Donets Basin, the fighters who tortured prisoners and killed soldiers and civil society activists, will be formed into a political force that will enter parliament on an anti-Ukrainian ticket. It is easy to imagine what an election will be like on territory controlled by militants - it will be just like the May "referendum".

And who is to supervise such local or parliamentary elections on the occupied part of Donbas - the Russian army? Or will troops and paramilitary forces of the Russian Federation be withdrawn?  Acceptance of the Kremlin's peace plan means surrender.

Despite the complexity of the situation in Ukraine, the direct intervention of Putin's troops and the threat of a full-scale war, the human tragedy and the pain of loss, the fact that the Donbas is soaked with blood of our soldiers and volunteers, despite the tragedy of the few Donetsk and Lugansk patriots who heroically helped our troops, we must honestly ask ourselves: do we need imaginary territorial integrity in exchange for national interests and annihilation of the ideals of the Maidan?

This is a complex, sensitive issue. But it is necessary to give an honest answer. Are we ready to feed an army of invaders, who will not withdraw voluntarily from the Donbas? Are we ready to see in the streets of Kyiv, in parliament, people bragging about the numbers of murdered Ukrainian volunteer battalions? Are we ready, instead of strengthening the army and introducing radical reforms, to work on a huge fraudulent Donbas budget scheme intended to help Akhmetov, Yefremov and other collaborator clans rebuild?

The honest answer is as follows: The only way to return Donbas and Crimea is either win them back after radical reforms and the creation of an effective efficient army, or to return them quietly - through negotiations after the collapse of the Putin regime as a result of sanctions. Meanwhile these occupied territories will be our painful abscess, reminding us of the 23-years of  civil irresponsibility and the time lost in building a functioning state. The loss of part of our territory as a result of aggression is not a sentence. In the current circumstances it is a last chance to create a successful and powerful country.

However, there is one big problem in this sort of speculation. Over the years, a majority of Ukrainians in the easternmost oblasts have considered themselves to be 'patriots of Ukraine'. Should these people be ditched?