Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Should Kyiv provide for the welfare of citizens in LNR and DNR?

President Poroshenko's decree withdrawing state services and aid to separatist-controlled territories at a time of extreme hardship for residents living there has caused much discussion. Many consider it to be a callous and inhumane act   particularly in a country over which the spectre of Holodomor still hangs heavy.

But as journalist Vitaliy Portnikov explains, the Kyiv government should make it clear to everyone: separatist-controlled parts of Donbas are de-facto territories occupied by Russian forces and their proxies. As such, the occupiers are absolutely responsible for the administration all aspects of life there.

Putin claimed yesterday, by way of comparison, that Russia continued to pay welfare payments in Chechnya even during the wars that took place in that region. Such comparison is false - Chechnya was not invaded by any foreign power so responsibility for order, and welfare, remained with the Russian Federation.

As for the true situation on the ground in occupied Donbas, it seems that in larger inhabited centres some relief is being provided particularly by charitable organisations and especially by Rinat Akhmetov's personal relief fund. In Donetsk itself, life is, according to some accounts, becoming more bearable that in August/September.

The greatest problems are to be found in remote, smaller towns where most tragically some people, particularly elderly and infirm, are beginning to suffer and die from malnutrition. Here 'machinations' may be taking place between rival separatist gangs over control of aid from the Russian Federation. Food shops appear to be reasonably well stocked but money is running out for consumers despite financial assistance having been promised by LNR and DNR leaders...

Those that can travel from occupied territories to Ukraine-proper can register there for receipt of social assistance, but for the immobile and infirm this is impossible.

Deputy head of president Poroshenko's Administration, Valeriy Chaliy, has stated that Ukraine is willing to provide any humanitarian aid required to these regions, but this cannot be in the form of cash. There is evidence that such money has been 'skimmed off' by separatists into Russian bank accounts.

Nevertheless it seems essential utilities like gas, water and electricity which criss-cross demarcation lines have not been cut off by the Ukrainian side in these areas

The worsening situation and Poroshenko's decree has prompted savers to hit bank ATM machines hard in Donetsk as savers withdraw cash from their accounts just as fast as they can. One queue comprised 350 persons..

Monday, November 17, 2014

Desperate Donbas inhabitants demand humanitarian aid from separatist thug leaders

 "Late Saturday.. [Petro Poroshenko] issued a decree he hopes will bring the people of the [separatist-controlled] industrial region to their senses: ordering the withdrawal of all state services, including funding for hospitals and schools, from rebel-held areas by next weekend. He has also ordered the central bank to cut the separatists off from Ukraine’s banking and credit-card system." [Source]

Some consider this is a gamble and will cause residents of separatist-controlled regions to hate the Kyiv authorities even more. But as humanitarian conditions deteriorate further these residents have no-one else to turn to but to the DNR and LNR thugs who control every aspect of their lives. They will be  the ones who will inevitably feel that ire of desperate residents, and there are signs this is already happening.

Here are parts of a new report from Liga.net

In Sverdlovsk locals have rebelled against LNR - media

The militants are trying to quell the unrest. Witnesses reported sounds of gunfire but, despite this, more people continue to come to the square

November 17 -  During the first half of the day citizens began spontaneously organized a meeting in Sverdlovsk. They were dissatisfied with the actions of representatives of terrorist LNR. 

According to inhabitants of the city, about 500 people gathered outside the building of the local executive committee, where one of the LNR ruling headquarters is located.. There were questions about salaries (state employees have not received money for an extended period), social benefits, and ration cards promised by the head of the "republic". 

The participants of the meeting, having been driven to despair, were not afraid to openly show their dissatisfaction in city's adjacent House of Culture (also occupied by militants). 

The gates of the military recruiting office, where militants are billeted had blue and yellow paint poured on them.

The militants are trying to quell the unrest; witnesses reported hearing gunfire. But, despite the presence of armed militants more people arrived in the square in front of the executive committee building. By 13:30, there were more than a thousand.

Similarly, in Yenakiyevo a 'mums and kids' protest took place inside the city council building. They were demanding money, which is supposedly due to arrive from Russia. They were told humanitarian aid from Russia and cash was imminent but the truly angry mums were in no way satisfied with the DNR promises.  see videos here

The DNR/LNR meatheads and their Kremlin sponsor do not accept that with power comes responsibility for the millions of people living in areas they control. This is  their part of the 'bargain' they have made...

How Luhansk and Donetsk oblast residents react to their dire circumstances in the weeks and months to come will be a significant factor in this Russo-Ukrainian hybrid war.

If you understand Russian please watch this video filmed by a Horlivka resident who shows how separatists are firing on infrastructure in his city. He calls the separatists losers, the dregs of society who have wrecked his home town in the name of so-called 'Russkiy Mir
[From one of the best twitter feeds on Ukraine,  https://twitter.com/Conflict_Report]

There are reports of great problems for the authorities on 'the other side of the lines' too..

And Putin always has the option of invading under the pretext of  alleviating a humanitarian disaster that DNR and LNR will have been, to a large degree, responsible for.

p.s. The weather forecast for Luhansk this week is daily max of -1 or -2 centigrade....

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Putin pushing for Minsk-2?

Independent journalists confirm large quantities of heavy military hardware have entered, and have been brazenly moving around separatist controlled areas of Eastern Ukraine. This new-stock equipment is undoubtedly Russian in origin.

As Kyiv newspaper 'Delovaya Stolitsa' explains, the new round of escalation in the Donbas region is merely an attempt to repeat of the events of last August when Russia also hugely ramped up military presence to force Kyiv to negotiate with militant separatists.

As a result, after Ukrainian forces' heavy losses in Ilovaisk, the loss of Novoazovsk, and the shelling of Mariupol, on September 5 a ceasefire agreement was signed in Minsk. But neither the separatists nor Russia had any intention to adhere to their side of the deal, and have not done so.

The current escalation is similar to these events at the end of August and beginning of September, the difference being the separatist signatories of the Minsk agreement, Zaharchenko and Plotnitsky, had no formal status at that time. Today Russia is forcing Kyiv to negotiate with leaders supposedly "elected by the voters of Novorossiya".

In September this ruse worked, so why not repeat the same stunt and so achieve the legalisation of "DNR" and "LNR"?

The Ukrainian side has not recognised the pseudo-elections held recently in the occupied enclaves, and neither has any one else of significance, but if former president Kuchma or any other authorised person sits at the table with so-called "DNR and LNR negotiators" this would would legalise their status.

The Kremlin needs to show Russians, and the rest of outside world, that Kyiv ostensibly agrees the conflict in eastern Ukraine is of a purely domestic nature; and that after the armed conflict one side is negotiating with the other on equal terms.

One DNR leader claims such a Minsk-2 meeting could take place in a couple of weeks, but there has not been any hint of any such meeting being arranged by the Ukrainian side.

'Delovaya Stolitsa' suggests that if president Poroshenko and the Ukrainian MFA is indeed conducting such secret deals on a possible Minsk-2, many Ukrainians will be shocked by such a back-down.

Minsk-1 was seen by many as a humiliation and was, perhaps, the main reason Poroshenko's Bloc fared worse than expected in the parliamentary elections three weeks ago.

A freshly-elected parliament is due to start work at the start of December; any cave-in by Poroshenko will result in major ructions in the new Verkhovna Rada. Similarly, any more military pressure from the separatist/Russian side will also reduce the likelihood of any Minsk 2 meeting.

LEvko thinks Putin is deliberately and arrogantly sending unmarked heavy military equipment into eastern Ukraine in order to humiliate Ukraine and the Western community who desperately want a peaceful resolution to the conflict. Such moves merely generate even more distrust and anger because all know it was Putin who triggered this completely avoidable and tragic conflict, and it is Putin who continues to fan its flames.

ps Also well worth reading: "Putin Wants Total Victory In Eastern Ukraine — Not A 'Frozen Conflict". Any Minsk 2 would be a sham, just like Minsk 1.

The article concludes:

The Kremlin may be settling in for a very long geopolitical struggle with the West, with plans to apply maximum pressure not just on Kiev but on the West, including military pressure (short of war, in the coming months and years. The goal would be to use support of the separatists in eastern Ukraine, and military and political brinksmanship elsewhere, to divide the West politically, weaken the EU, and weaken NATO.

What makes this possibility so dangerous is that, while the effort is unlikely to succeed, it raises the risks of a military clash between Russia and the West, with all the attendant risks of escalation

The West have no choice but prepare for such a probable scenario.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Russians not keen on LNR and DNR

Interesting Russian Opinion Poll today from Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) - "the oldest and the leading marketing and opinion research company in the post-Soviet space":

Amongst several topics considered,

43% of Russians polled think their country should not intervene, but rather remain neutral w.r.t. DNR and LNR 

Only 11% think DNR and LNR should be incorporated into Russian Federation. Importantly, this figure has gone right down from 6 months ago...

These figures will give Putin much to ponder..

I've clipped and google-translated one portion below:

Do you think what position should take Russia in respect of Donetsk and Lugansk People's Republic (DNI and LC)? (Close-ended question, one answer)
April 2014 *July 2014October 2014
Not intervene to maintain neutrality453643
Recognize the DNI and LC as independent states132623
Take DNI and LC in the Russian Federation181211
Help DNR and LC expand autonomy while remaining a part of Ukraine12158
Kiev authorities to help regain control over the territory of the DNI and LC423
Difficult to answer8912

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Summary of polling day in separatist Donbas

Brilliant summary from RFE/RL:

"Here are some quick takeaways from an eventful day in Eastern Ukraine 

-- As has already been widely reported, today's vote in Ukraine's separatist republics will not be recognized by the West. From the point of view of the leaders of the self-proclaimed "DNR" and "LNR" however, this may be irrelevant, because Moscow has given every indication that it will recognize them. In theory, this will allow Moscow to more publicly deal with the separatists as a government separate from Ukraine. 

-- Drawing official turnout figures will be nearly impossible. Nonetheless, reports on the ground showed long lines of people and in interviews, many were less enchanted with separatist leaders than bitterly angry with Ukraine's leadership in Kyiv. The war in eastern Ukraine has taken a heavy toll and it is clear that many in Donetsk and Luhansk blame Ukraine.

-- In the weeks leading up to this vote, many had talked about it signaling the start of a long-running frozen conflict, with de-facto borders. However, reports that Russian military personnel and equipment are again entering Ukraine in large numbers may mean something altogether different. Separatist leaders have said they plan to reclaim lost territories and also the important port city of Mariupol. And its not just about land -- areas currently in Ukrainian control have  resources that may be necessary to maintain viable services, including electricity. 

-- Russia appears to be testing the West again. The vote today was a clear violation of the Minsk agreement, signed by Russia, which stipulated that early elections in separatist-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk would have to take place under Ukrainian law. Does the EU -- now distracted by other international events -- have the wherewithal to continue, and add to, the sanctions already in place against Russia? What is the EU prepared to do if Russia escalates the conflict militarily?"

p.s. Unless there is a very firm and concerted response from EU leaders who have been ignored yet again, and military assistance is provided from abroad, Mariupol will be under serious threat of attack.

It appears from video clips/photos that few Donbas citizens in the 18 - 30 year age band voted?  At hustings it was predominantly the middle-aged and elderly who were in attendance. Proper revolutions are youth-driven...no? My guess is a huge number of young people, especially those with marketable skills, have now left Donbas, probably for ever. Old men will not rebuild much..and the young win out in the end.

My father used to tell me in Soviet times, on polling days extra food was frequently distributed, [and expected too]  Normally scarce white bread would surprisingly appear! What a treat!

 crowd of voters gathers outside a polling station near a pile of vegetables that can be bought for less than 10 cents after they cast their ballots on Sunday.