In Digest, Roger Annis, Ukraine

By Roger Annis, published on, April 27, 2014

It is day four of the renewed offensive of the governing regime in Kyiv, Ukraine against “terrorists” in the east of the country. Thankfully, conditions are rather calm. The regime’s capacities seem much stronger in creating bellicose impressions in international media than in changing the unfavourable situation it faces on the ground in eastern Ukraine. What follows are reports and insights over the past few days over what is taking place in the region.

Rally in Lugansk, Ukraine in early April 2014  in support of an autonomy referendum, photo Yuri Streltsov, RIA Novosti

Rally in Lugansk, Ukraine in early April 2014 in support of an autonomy referendum, photo Yuri Streltsov, RIA Novosti

Mitch Potter of the Toronto Star, who is not friendly to the protest movement in eastern Ukraine, publishes an interesting report today from the region of Ukraine bordering on Russia. He speaks to residents who welcome the idea of closer political association with Russia but who also want to keep Ukraine as one country.

Political prisoners

Elsewhere in eastern Ukraine, a military surveillance squad of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe was detained two days ago by officials in the city of Slavyansk. A condition for its release is the release of political prisoners detained by the Kyiv regime. Political prisoners held in western Ukraine? Who is reporting on that? No agency in the West that I can see.

According to Russia Today, there are about 200 prisoners who have been arrested by the Kyiv regime since an anti-fascist, anti-austerity upsurge began several months ago in the east of the country.

The most well known prisoner is Pavel Gubarev, an activist who was an early leader of the Peoples Militia of Donbass and was declared governor of the Donbass region by a large rally in Donetsk on March 1. He was arrested five days later and is currently detained in Kyiv. As best I can ascertain, he is the leader of a small political party whose origins go back more than ten years and which supported the elected president Victor Yanukovych who was ousted two months ago.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia has called for release of the political prisoners held by Kyiv and also for the release of the OCSE squad. Here is what the protest movement has to say, from a report by ITAR-TASS:

Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the people’s mayor of Slavyansk, said the detained persons were not members of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission but were military observers. “The military were on our territory without our permission and were detained of course,” he said.

“What we should do with them we will know after we have determined who they are and what brought them here,” Ponomarev said, adding that the detainees were being held in “normal conditions”. “One of the military officials has diabetes, but we have necessary medications and food [for him].”

Ponomarev said the supporters of federalisation were ready to exchange the detained military for their comrades being held by the Kiev authorities. “The Kiev junta is holding our comrades. But we are ready for an exchange if there is such a chance,” he said.

The detained OSCE team is composed of military officers from Ukraine, Germany, Poland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Denmark. They spoke to foreign media today and said they are being well treated. The Guardian’s Luke Harding uses hostile-talk in writing that they were “paraded” before media.

The New York Times says the popular administration in Slavyansk has detained about 40 people.

Recall that shortly after the overthrow of Yanukovych, the new governing regime in Kyiv appointed some of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen (termed ‘oligarchs’ by media, a term I consider to be disparaging of the people of Russia and eastern Europe) as governors in Donbass and other regions of the east of the country. The appointed ‘governor’ of Donetsk region is Sergei Taruta. He is portrayed very favourably in The Guardian two days ago.

Popular forces in Ukraine

Note the ITAR-TASS use of the term ‘supporters of federalization’ in describing the goal of the protest movement in eastern Ukraine. This is in contrast to the term ‘separatists’ or ‘pro-Russian separatists’ that is now universally trotted out in Western media to describe the movement. I have already reported the views of U.S. academic and writer Nicolai Petro who insists it is misleading and inaccurate to describe the protest movement as ‘separatist’.

A New York Times editor reported two days ago that the democratic reform movement at the heart of the original protest movement that arose last year and was centered in Maidan Square in Kyiv continues to work furiously. It says it has achieved progressive changes of late, for example to laws governing public broadcasting and education and in favour of some decentralization of legislative powers to regions.

A rare, although thin, objective commentary on Russia’s role and interests in Ukraine is published today in The Guardian. Ruth Deyermond is co-chair of the Russian and Eurasian security research group in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. She writes:

Interpretations of the Ukrainian crisis as engineered by Russia to enable a neo-imperialist land-grab, though understandable in places with a long and unhappy history in relation to Russia such as Poland and Georgia, are mistaken. Russia has never seemed keen to bear the political or economic costs of reacquiring other ex-Soviet states when it can achieve its regional objectives through other instruments.

That’s a useful antidote to the nonsense published in Western media and unfortunately echoed by some in the international left that makes an equivalency between the political offensive and military threats of the NATO countries in Ukraine and eastern Europe, on the one hand, and Russia’s actions, on the other. Russia is deeply interested in capitalist stability in Ukraine. Its actions are primarily defensive with respect to the NATO offensive. Regretfully, simplistic interpretations of Russia’s interests get in the way of, or serve to avoid altogether, needed analysis of the popular forces in motion in Ukraine, their distinct goals and the challenges they face viz-viz Russia.

Without doubt, events in eastern Ukraine are being driven by concern over the policies of the rightist government in Kyiv, the presence of extreme rightists and fascists in the government and its embrace of the austerity policies of Europe’s leaders. Austerity policies have caused the decimation of the economies of entire countries in southern Europe, such as Greece. People in eastern Ukraine are not stupid. They know what the leaders of Europe and the U.S. have in mind–austerity–for the Ukrainian people as a whole if they get their way.

Russia and China

Yesterday in Malaysia, President Barak Obama issued another threat of sanctions against Russia and eastern Europe. So far, no industries in Russia have been targeted, only individuals, a sign of division or unease among the warmongers. The U.S. has sent 600 additional soldiers to Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. It is conducting naval exercises in the Black Sea, including with Romania. The Stop The War coalition in London has issued a statement of condemnation against plans by NATO to hold military exercises on Ukrainian territory in July.

President Obama is visiting a series of countries in Asia, including China. He will be busy trying to stem the tide towards closer economic relations between China and Russia that U.S. and NATO threats against Russia and Ukraine are prompting. This lengthy report in the Globe and Mail yesterday shows that the president is facing an uphill battle. From the article:

Ties between the two countries have steadily strengthened in recent years. China now forms roughly 10 per cent of Russia’s trade, higher than any other individual nation (although EU zone countries are, together, roughly four times higher). In the past 12 months, Russia has signaled a willingness to move further, as the country opens some of its crown jewels to Chinese ownership. In October, oil and gas company Rosneft signed a 51-49 joint venture with China National Petroleum Corporation to explore for oil in Eastern Siberia, whose reserves could be used to fuel Chinese cars. Last June, CNPC also took a 20 per cent stake in Yamal LNG, a giant Arctic natural gas development being pursued by NOVATEK, another large Russian energy company…

If China is prepared to buy [Russian] gas, Gazprom has outlined a near-$40-billion (U.S.) plan to develop gas fields in Eastern Siberia and lay the 4,000-kilometre Power of Siberia pipeline, capable of carrying 61-billion cubic metres per year of gas…

The vast untrammeled stretches of Eastern Siberia nonetheless offer all manner of opportunity for profit between Russia and China. Flowing atop underground reserves of oil, gas and minerals are untamed rivers that could pump large volumes of hydroelectricity to China. It’s a matter of no small interest for Beijing as it seeks smog-free ways to power its cities – an argument that also favours a Sino-Russian gas trade.

Background: Ukraine government risks a whirlwind in efforts to halt protests in east of country, by Roger Annis, in, April 16, 2014


Postscript, April 29, 2014:

BBC news is reporting new occupations of government buildings in eastern Ukraine by pro-autonomy forces. In Lugansk, activists seized the regional government’s headquarters and prosecutor’s office and opened fire with automatic weapons at the main police station. According to BBC, Interim President Olexander Turchynov criticised local police for “inaction” and “criminal treachery”.

The Beeb’s David Stern writes:

The pro-Russian gunmen in Ukraine’s east seem to be following a strategy of constant expansion and pressure on the Kiev government. Hardly a day goes by without another incident. Just recently, official buildings in Kostyantynivka have been taken over, Western military monitors detained, peaceful demonstrators in Donetsk attacked, and now the regional administration building in Luhansk has been seized.

It is difficult to say what their ultimate goal is. Perhaps it is to keep government officials in Kiev on the defensive, forcing them to put out a number of fires at once, while others pop up throughout the region. Or else it is simply to keep the situation unstable, in order to prevent the presidential election scheduled to take place on 25 May

Or it could be just the opposite, as many in Kiev and throughout the country fear: to provoke the Ukrainians into a full crackdown, which would in turn spark a Russian invasion. The militants have called on Moscow to intervene on more than one occasion.

Recall that referendums are being organized by pro-autonomy forces throughout eastern Ukraine to take place on May 11. the Ukraine government said today that voting in its planned presidential election for May 25 may not be able to take place in all regions of the country.


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