Fears of an oligarchs war creep into Ukraine

Ukraine’s President Poroshenko has fired the billionaire Governor of Dnipropetrovsk, a southeastern oblast next to war-torn Donetsk, after the latter allegedly sent armed gunmen to the capital on Sunday to enter the offices of a state oil firm when his friend was fired as director.

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Gov. Kolomoisky, appointed after the fall of the Yanukovich government, had been a vital ally in the war with Russia by financing a private army to support the central government. He publicly contends that the gunmen were not part of his units and had not been sent there on his orders. His allies also claimed a political hatchet job was being enacted against him.

According to the Financial Times, fellow oligarch President Poroshenko took a very dim view of this explanation:

Addressing Ukrainian soldiers in Kiev, Mr Poroshenko said: “We will not have any governor with their own pocket army”.

 
Other allegations assert that Kolomoisky has used his private army not just to fend off rebel advances but also to protect his business interests. The fact that he used to manage the oil company directly until recent reforms essentially spun its management back over to the state in a move he has fought probably strengthens the assumption that he was behind the mini-siege at the offices in Kiev beginning this past weekend. Plus, he showed up in person later in the day to defend the need for “private security,” even if he denied responsibility for the arrival of the gunmen.

Ironically (or perhaps cynically), Gov. Kolomoisky has actually previously accused other oligarchs of ill-gotten gains in the largely corrupt, post-Soviet privatizations that made most of them very wealthy.

Nevertheless, this latest fracas raises the specter of the militarily vital private armies being turned against the revolution and the elected government.
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Despite the war, Ukraine is digging itself out

Alexei Bayer for The Globalist (and the Kyiv Post) on the state of Putin’s war in Ukraine:

After [the capture of Crimea], the war has not been going especially well. On the contrary, all of Putin’s plans have failed. After the flight of buffoonish Viktor Yanukovych, Ukrainians have been able to elect a legitimate government and to build a stronger, battle-hardened military.

Ukraine’s economy is struggling, but it has not collapsed and bankruptcy is now unlikely, given the $17.5 billion aid package approved by the International Monetary Fund earlier this month. Slowly but surely, the Ukrainian economic system is undergoing the necessary reforms that have been delayed by a quarter of a century.

Meanwhile, Putin’s Novorossiya project, had envisioned annexing eastern and southern portions of Ukraine to connect by land to Crimea and to link with the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova. The project has failed miserably, shrinking to the size of two small, lawless and starving “People’s Republics.”

 
Russia might win individual battles, but the goals of seizing territory permanently and fundamentally destabilizing the Ukrainian governmental system for years to come are not coming easily or quickly…and might not come at all.

Arsenal For Democracy Background Reports on This Topic:

Putin’s Novorossiya Project
Get to Know a Geopolitical Flashpoint: Transdniestria
Ukraine: In defense of a “total war” in the east
Rebel offensive targets corridor to Crimea

Novorossiya/New Russia in the Russian Empire in 1897. (Credit: Dim Grits - Wikimedia)

Novorossiya/New Russia in the Russian Empire in 1897. (Credit: Dim Grits – Wikimedia)

Inside the final days of the Yanukovich presidency

Over the weekend, The New York Times published a comprehensive narrative report, based on interviews with various key players on both sides of the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution (and in neighboring countries involved in managing the crisis), to try to get the full story of how President Viktor Yanukovich’s presidency came to an abrupt end last spring.

An investigation by The New York Times into the final hours of Mr. Yanukovych’s rule — based on interviews with prominent players, including former commanders of the Berkut riot police and other security units, telephone records and other documents — shows that the president was not so much overthrown as cast adrift by his own allies, and that Western officials were just as surprised by the meltdown as anyone else.

 
My main takeaway from reading the lengthy but compelling piece: Not only did two-thirds of eastern Ukrainians and virtually all western Ukrainians support the ouster of President Yanukovich last year (as was known from polls conducted in March, just after it happened), but it turns out all of the elites had abandoned him too — including his own ethnically Russian-dominated political party. Even former diehard supporters in the east were refusing to host him for a tour of factories and other sites, which might have provided cover for temporarily leaving Kiev for a cooling-off period without appearing to flee. (That disappearance, it seems, while not intended to create a vacuum, may actually have triggered the final decision by parliament to remove him from office early.)

By the end, security forces had shot innocent people, and the situation simply spiraled out of control, with Yanukovich unwilling to give orders — either to suppress the protests or to retreat. Whether people were always opposed to him, or were disgusted by the violence against the protesters, or were unwilling to follow an indecisive leader anymore, in the final days, basically nobody except the Kremlin was supporting him — or believed there was a “neo-fascist” coup in progress, as the propagandists continue to insist nearly a year later. In the end, there wasn’t a coup because the security forces simply abandoned the president and disappeared.

All the security commanders began calling the opposition and requesting escorts out of the capital — for as many as 5,000 troops or police — so they would not have to face protesters after 79 were killed and hundreds injured, particularly after Yanukovich promised to investigate and prosecute the very people protecting him for their roles in the shootings. (Unfortunately, a fair number of these people subsequently became separatist commanders and fighters.) Soon, there was nobody left in the capital’s streets to protect key sites — or the president himself.

In his final hours as president, aides say Yanukovich still appeared to have no idea that virtually everyone in the country had abandoned him and was stunned to learn that executive buildings had been taken over by protesters after he left the capital. He had believed, until that moment, that he would be returning shortly and would remain president for several more months until he could make a graceful, face-saving exit.

Euromaidan anti-government protests in Kiev, December 2013. (Credit: Nessa Gnatoush - Wikimedia)

Euromaidan anti-government protests in Kiev, December 2013. (Credit: Nessa Gnatoush – Wikimedia)

Ukraine: In defense of a “total war” in the east

Ukraine did not oppress or attack its Donbass or Crimean citizens, and yet they took up arms against the government. (A disorderly but civilian-led, non-violent, constitutional change in central government doesn’t qualify as a legitimate cause of secession, particularly when even the former president’s power base in eastern Ukraine overwhelmingly also supported his removal.) Ukraine has held back in Crimea because it was unprepared and secessionist sentiment was much higher there. Ukraine’s government has also held back in the east until now, for the most part, to try to find a political solution and to spare the lives of innocent local civilians wherever possible, particularly since most of them initially opposed the secessions being foisted on them by radicals and Russian infiltrators.

That time has come and gone, and Russian interference continues unabated. Something has to be done to recover rebellious territories that pre-emptively took up arms against their country without warning or cause.

President Poroshenko’s announcement last weekend was that Ukraine is “ready for total war” against the eastern secessionist zones, after much restraint and persistently separatist-sabotaged negotiations.

Total and overwhelming force against armed, insurgent separatists is morally acceptable in the recovery of territory when the government has done nothing to warrant its secession and no peaceful efforts to achieve partition have been attempted. The Ukrainian government is no more “fascist” (as Russian media claims daily) than Abraham Lincoln for trying to end these illegitimate and violent secessions. 

And the specially-elected Poroshenko government and newly elected parliament are legitimate governing authorities elected by free, fair, and popular vote in the non-insurrectionist vast majority of the country. Rebel blockades of the 2014 special Ukrainian elections in their small zones of control are not an impediment to the legitimacy of the elections, in the same way President Lincoln’s 1864 re-election was legitimate despite the non-participation of Union-occupied secessionist states and Confederate-controlled rebel states.

In addition to overwhelming force, Ukraine can also legitimately engage in economic warfare against the insurrectionist areas, as part of the “total war” strategy. Suspension of services, economic blockades, general sanctions, and the like are all regularly deployed tools of warfare. Poroshenko’s cancellation this week of various banking, governmental, and pension services in rebel-held areas is a long-overdue step that most governments would have taken sooner, restraint or no.

People in areas in an active state of insurrection and secession cannot reasonably expect to receive continued government services and pensions, regardless of combatant status. If they have now set their clocks to Moscow time, they can also get Moscow to replace all their abruptly deactivated ATM cards. Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled the combat zones (whether to Russia or to government areas).
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Putin lowering temperature? Or calm before the storm?

From the Wall Street Journal: “Putin Calls on Pro-Russian Separatists in Eastern Ukraine to Delay Independence Vote”

Mr. Putin’s appeal to the separatists to delay the referendum is the first time he’s publicly called on them to do anything to reduce tensions. Separatist leaders reacted with dismay, with some calling it a betrayal, and said they would formulate their response Thursday.

But the referendum was facing increasingly uncertain prospects, failing to generate a groundswell of popular support.

Ukraine’s military and police operation also has limited the ability of the separatists to consolidate their grip. Ukraine’s intelligence service has said that in intercepted telephone conversations, rebels sound increasingly desperate for help from Russia to fight off the Ukrainian offensive.

Even some separatist leaders admitted that their initiative was looking hopeless.

Kirill Rudenko, a spokesman for the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic, said that while he wasn’t reflecting the group’s official position, he found it difficult to imagine how they could hold a referendum in the midst of Kiev’s military campaign.

“In such circumstances, it won’t be possible,” he said.

 
Putin also reiterated his view that Eastern Ukrainians had to be given direct talks with the interim leadership in Kiev — which is a fairly reasonable thing to ask (and consistent with current European norms on settling autonomy / ethnic separation issues) as long as they’re not busy trying to lead an armed insurrection at the same time.

Russia should not have been surprised that there wasn’t an overwhelming flood of support for the separatist cause and annexation into the Russian Federation, given that polling less than two months ago showed that three quarters of Eastern Ukrainian residents didn’t approve of Russia’s Crimea takeover. That’s why it’s important not to buy too heavily into your own ginned up propaganda. The United States did in Iraq in late 2002 / early 2003 and look where that got us.

Interesting too, I think, that the separatists are being pushed back relatively easily so far, despite the rough shape of the Ukrainian armed forces and the large stockpiles of modern combat weaponry that the separatists have been reported to have.

I suppose that would lend credibility to the position of some of our Russian Federation readers who still assert there are no Russian special forces on the ground in the Donets Basin, in Eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, weapons drops and special forces advisers do not an army make, as both the U.S. and the Russians (previously the Soviets) have learned time and again in proxy wars in the developing world.

Ukraine Crisis Map (as of Aug 28, 2014)

Updated Aug 28: To help clarify when you read news, here or elsewhere, on the crisis in Ukraine, below is a map highlighting key regions and cities in Southeastern Ukraine and Crimea, as well as Ukraine’s neighbors and the disputed Russian-held Transdniestria region of Moldova. (November 12, 2014: See also our narrower, updated eastern Ukraine crisis map.)

Click to enlarge. Map created by Bill Humphrey for Arsenal For Democracy. Please link here if re-publishing.

Click to enlarge. Map created by Bill Humphrey for Arsenal For Democracy. Please link here if re-publishing.

August 28, 2014 Update Notes:
– Added Mariupol from our closeup Eastern Ukraine map [link changed, 11/12/14].
– Added Novoazovsk following August 27th Russian invasion.
– Added MH Flight 17 path from our MH Flight 17 crash map.
– Updated key.

May 2, 2014 Update Notes:
– Base map switched from Riwnodennyk’s 2008 Wikimedia map of Eastern Ukraine to Sven Teschke’s Oblast Donezk map from Ukrainian Wikipedia.
– All labels in Roman alphabet use conventional U.S. English transliterations. Cyrillic labeling used only for Russian Imperial-era place names.
– Highlighting for “Novorossiya” territory allusion by Vladmir Putin on April 17, 2014 added. Map already included Putin’s citation of the Russian separatists in Moldova.
– Added Donetsk city and Sloviansk. Odessa, site of May 2 protests, also marked with a blue dot, along with Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea.
– Map key added.

Is Ukraine’s next president Willy Wonka?

The latest political news from mainland Ukraine’s special presidential election campaign is that Tymoshenko is in, Klitschko is out, and Poroshenko is in:

Boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko pulled out of the race for Ukrainian president on Saturday, throwing his weight instead behind billionaire confectionary oligarch Petro Poroshenko.
[…]
Poroshenko, 48, confirmed his candidacy late on Friday. Several opinions polls already had him in the lead even before he said he would run to succeed ousted president Viktor Yanukovich.

Poroshenko was an early and influential supporter of the popular uprising that toppled Yanukovich in late February, three months after he spurned a deal on closer ties with the European Union and plunged the country of 46 million people into turmoil.

 
Klitschko announced he will run for Mayor of Kiev instead, which still seems pretty big. But back to this Poroshenko fellow:

Klitschko’s withdrawal sets up a May 25 contest between the man known as the ‘Chocolate King’ and Ukraine’s former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

 


 
From the Wikipedia summary of the Chocolate King’s company:

Roshen Confectionery Corporation is a Ukrainian confectionery manufacturing group, controlled by Petro Poroshenko. The leading manufacturer of confectionery products in the country, it united factories in Ukrainian cities of Bershad, Kiev, Vinnytsia, Mariupol and Kremenchuk, as well as in Klaipėda (Lithuania) and Lipetsk (Russia). The name of the company is created from the last name of its owner, Poroshenko.

As of 2012, Roshen Corporation was ranked 18th in the “Candy Industry Top 100” list of world’s largest confectionery companies. It has a total annual production volume exceeding 410,000 tonnes. It exports to Russia (stopped in July 2013), Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the United States, Canada, Germany and Israel.

 
ukraine-flag-sqBut fear not, he is more than just master of all the oompa-loompas of the Dnieper: Mr. Poroshenko has also previously served (fairly briefly each, at various points) as Ukraine’s Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council (2005), a very pro-NATO Minister for Foreign Affairs (2009-2010), and Minister of Trade and Economic Development (2012).

He was first elected to parliament in 1998 and served there until the 2007 elections, when he did not run. He was elected back overwhelmingly as an independent from a Western district to the national parliament in the October 2012 elections. He is believed to have been a major financier of the 2004 Orange Revolution and former president Viktor Yushchenko, once chairing the latter’s party’s national campaign.