Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Growing Unrest in the Eastern Ukraine

by Pater Tenebrarum

Pro-Russian Demonstrations Flare Up Again

Over the weekend, pro-Russian demonstrators became active in the Eastern Ukraine again, inter alia by seizing government buildings, a tactic they have adopted from the Pravy Sektor troopers supporting the 'Euromaidan' protests in Kiev. The idea seems to be: it has been effective in Kiev, so why not in Donetsk as well?

In order to avoid biased reporting of both Western and Russian sources on the events, German-language site 'Russland.ru' says that it is collating information exclusively from sources based in the Eastern Ukraine. While we can obviously not vouch for the reliability of this particular source either, it is no big secret that if one wants to know what is really going on, one has to cast a wide net and not rely solely on mainstream sources. For instance, they point out that the reason for the renewed outbreak of unrest has not been mentioned in the Western press. However, according to Eastern Ukrainian media, the detention and subsequent transfer to Kiev of pro-Russian opposition leader Pavel Gubaryev (also sometimes spelled 'Pavlo Gubarev') in early March has been widely cited by protesters as the trigger of the latest demonstrations.

The site also reports that the demonstrations were apparently much bigger than has been reported in the West. 2,000 demonstrators in Donetsk according to a German TV station became 5,000 according to Ukrainian online news site BigMIR, which it is pointed out 'couldn't really tell lies, as it actually aired a live stream of the event'.

The demonstrations are also quite widespread. Apart from Donetsk, Kharkiv and Odessa, the building housing the prosecutor-general in Lugansk has been stormed, and there were also demonstrations in Mariyupol, Melitopol, Dnyepropetrovsk, the Mykolaiv region  and most recently in Nikolayeva overnight (see this brief amateur video from Nikolayeva). The relatively neutral (but in principle pro-new government) Kiyv Post reports:

“[...] the majority of the population of eastern regions of the country, have remained silently complicit with what is happening, which reflects their attitude towards the change of the central government in Kyiv that took place on Feb. 22, after disgraced former President Viktor Yanukovych fled his post amid the EuroMaidan Revolution.

Only 12 percent of the southern areas of Ukraine and 9 percent of the nation's east say the country is moving in the right direction, according to a nationwide poll by GfK-Ukraine.

(emphasis added)

In other words, the allegation that Russian agents are behind the protests is not standing on overly solid ground. With 91% of the Eastern population disapproving of the new government in Kiev, it seems quite likely that the protests are actually genuine. Besides, the fact that the Kiev government is making these allegations amounts to the pot calling the kettle black. The 'Euromaidan' protests after all started out with active US help (the journalist who started it all was reportedly funded by the US embassy).

Meanwhile, the pro-Maidan government Eastern Ukrainian paper Vesharkiv reports that Yanukovich's 'Party of the Regions' has lost about half of its members and it is (rightly, we believe) suspected that they are joining more radical groups instead.

Pro-Russian Groups Call for Independence in Donetsk and Kharkiv

The latest development is that groups occupying government buildings in Donetsk and elsewhere announced yesterday that they regard these regions as independent as of now and are demanding referendums on independence similar to the one recently held in the Crimea:

“Pro-Moscow activists barricaded inside government buildings in eastern Ukraine proclaimed their regions independent Monday and called for a referendum on seceding from Ukraine — an ominous echo of the events that led to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

The Ukrainian government accused Russia of stirring up the unrest and tried to flush the assailants from some of the seized buildings, setting off fiery clashes in one city. Russia, which has tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, sternly warned Ukraine against using force.


Pro-Russian activists who seized the provincial administrative building in the city of Donetsk over the weekend announced the formation Monday of the independent Donetsk People's Republic.

They also called for a referendum on the secession of the Donetsk region, to be held no later than May 11, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.

A similar action was taken in another Russian-speaking city in the east, Kharkiv, where pro-Moscow activists proclaimed a "sovereign Kharkiv People's Republic," Interfax said.

It quoted the regional police as saying they later cleared the regional administration building, and the activists responded by throwing firebombs and rocks at the windows and setting tires ablaze. Local news reports said that the pro-Russian crowds then recaptured the building.

(emphasis added)

Why would anyone be worried by people throwing fire bombs and rocks? That's how the recent 'democratic change of guard'  was achieved in Kiev as well after all. Just asking. Of course the situation is indeed worrisome, because Russia may eventually get involved, and then the escalation no-one really wants will be at hand.

The German version of RIA Novosti incidentally reports via an anonymous source that the Kiev government is sending in three 'anti-terror units' to suppress the upheaval in the East, which will allegedly be supported by 'Blackwater mercenaries' wearing uniforms of the special police unit 'Sokol'.

Obviously, there is no way for us (or anyone else) to ascertain the truth of such reports, but pro-Kiev government agents provocateurs are definitely active in the protests in the East. In Kharkiv (according to the pro-Kiev government source 'Ukraininform'), Western Ukrainian nationalist supporters of 'Pravy Sektor' tried to disrupt the the demonstration with baseball bats, firecrackers and rocks, and were subsequently captured and forced by the enraged mob to crawl on their knees. Here is a video of this particular event:

Western Ukrainian nationalists forced to crawl on their knees by enraged pro-Russian demonstrators

So why does the government in Kiev so desperately want to hang on to a region that promises to be a source of endless trouble? The main reason is that both the bulk of Ukrainian industry is concentrated in the East, as well as most of the known fossil fuel resources. In other words, there are very strong economic motives behind wanting to keep control over the Eastern regions, even though they are populated by what are evidently quite recalcitrant people.

It should be noted that all nation states are eager to keep their territorial integrity intact, as size matters, and letting one region go often means others will split as well (few citizens really want to live in a large centralized state). Russia is no different, as the Chechen war demonstrated.


The Ukrainian hryvnia is at new all time lows, in spite of the recently announced IMF loans and other Western financial support measures:

Hryvnia, weekly

The Ukrainian hryvnia, weekly chart – the currency once again hits a record low – click to enlarge.

The Ruble has stabilized in recent weeks, but has been weakening slightly again in recent days, as the flaring up of unrest in the Eastern Ukraine introduces fresh uncertainties. However, the new trend toward a firmer ruble still appears intact at this point:

Ruble, daily

The Russian ruble, daily: weakening again in recent days, but the move so far looks like a corrective counter-trend move – click to enlarge.


This is a situation that could easily get out of hand. We don't believe Russia's leadership is really interested in intervening in the Eastern Ukraine, as that would produce a far greater headache than the annexation of the Crimea (which was largely motivated by wanting to keep control of the Sevastopol port and could at least be justified on historical grounds), but it can obviously not be ruled out in case the unrest in the Eastern regions of the Ukraine gets further out of hand. The Russian proposal (which all concerned have so far studiously ignored) to create a federal political structure in the Ukraine that delegates some political power to the regions and grants them a degree of autonomy looks better by the day.

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