A process of no progress:

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Denys Kazan­skiy

An up­date from the oc­cu­pied part of the Don­bas: mon­u­ments to Rus­sian vol­un­teers, shut­down of mo­bile con­nec­tion, new ar­rests of “min­is­ters”

The front­line has been fairly calm since the be­gin­ning of 2018. The shoot­ing has grown less in­tense, al­though Ukrainian army keeps re­port­ing losses. Talks are un­der­way to have peace­keep­ers in the war zone. For now, all par­ties ac­cept the idea, but there is no agree­ment on the for­mat. Rus­sia in­sists on a mis­sion to pro­tect the OSCE mis­sion and peace­keep­ers that will stick to the con­tact line. Backed by the US, Ukraine wants con­trol over its bor­der back.

There is no agree­ment on who can join the mis­sion. Mos­cow would be pleased to see peace­keep­ers from Be­larus in the Don­bas. Ukraine finds this op­tion un­ac­cept­able. Be­larus is a de facto satel­lite of Rus­sia and has no in­de­pen­dence in its for­eign pol­icy de­ci­sions. Be­laru­sian peace­keep­ers would ob­vi­ously act in the in­ter­ests of the Krem­lin.

There­fore, there is lit­tle hope that the Blue Hel­mets will show up in the steppe of the Don­bas any­time soon. Kurt Volker, U.S. Spe­cial Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Ukraine, speaks along these lines too. He said on Fe­bru­ary 28 that Rus­sia would not take any de­ci­sions on so­lu­tions for the Don­bas un­til the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. No pos­i­tive re­sults in talks with it so far, he added.

Mean­while, the oc­cu­pied re­gions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblats (ORDiLO) are pre­par­ing to mark the fourth an­niver­sary of the Rus­sian Spring. They are set­ting up mon­u­ments to the sep­a­ratists killed in the fights with the Ukrainian army, force peo­ple to get per­sonal doc­u­ments of the un­rec­og­nized republics, and lo­cal car num­ber plates which are good for noth­ing any­where be­yond them.

The res­i­dents of Luhansk must have been happy to see a new mon­u­ment re­cently. The statue for the “Rus­sian vol­un­teers” that popped up in the city cen­ter turned out to be an ex­act replica of the mon­u­ment for the mil­i­tants of the in­fa­mous Vag­ner pri­vate mil­i­tary com­pany that had ear­lier ap­peared in Syria. An­other bad sig­nal is the shut­down of Voda­fone in the oc­cu­pied ter­ri­tory. Ac­cord­ing to Olek­sandr Zakharchenko, the self-pro­claimed leader of the “Donetsk Peo­ple’s Re­pub­lic”, it will not be re­stored there any­time soon.

The lo­cals are forced to use the ser­vices of Phoenix, a lo­cal op­er­a­tor work­ing on the equip­ment stolen from Ukrainian com­pa­nies. The qual­ity of its ser­vices is ex­tremely poor as it has no ca­pac­ity to han­dle the in­flow of clients af­ter the shut­down of Ukrainian op­er­a­tors. Peo­ple are curs­ing Phoenix in so­cial me­dia and com­plain that it takes sev­eral dozen at­tempts to make a call. Pub­lic moods do not bother the lead­ers of the “DPR” and “LPR” who live their lives and pay no at­ten­tion to the right­less res­i­dents. The mil­i­tants keep fight­ing over money and power. The lat­est scan­dal came from the “DPR” in late Fe­bru­ary. Zakharchenko or­dered an ar­rest of Ed­uard Holenko, “DPR Coal Min­is­ter”, and a num­ber of peo­ple from his close cir­cle, in­clud­ing di­rec­tors of coal unions. They are now ac­cused of si­phon­ing off as­sets.

Ac­cord­ing to the “DPR In­te­rior Min­istry” re­ports, the mem­bers of this al­leged or­ga­nized crime group have stolen over RUR 100mn since Jan­uary 2017. “DPR In­te­rior Min­istry has opened a se­ries of crim­i­nal cases on mas­sive theft by the mem­bers of the or­ga­nized crime group. As a re­sult of a spe­cial op­er­a­tion, 22 of­fi­cials of dif­fer­ent lev­els have been de­tained,” the re­port goes.

The ac­tual rea­son for Holenko’s ar­rest and purges at the “Coal Min­istry” is hardly cor­rup­tion. Any theft of this scale could not have taken place with­out su­per­vi­sion of Zakharchenko and Olek­sandr Ty­mofeyev, “DPR’s” sec­ond man re­spon­si­ble for the quasi-re­pub­lic’s fi­nance. The “DPR”-con­trolled ter­ri­tory is a par­cel of land where every­one knows and sees each other. There­fore, the most likely rea­son for the lat­est de­vel­op­ments is an­other re­dis­tri­bu­tion of money.

Ac­cord­ing to Kos­tiantyn Dol­gov, Zakharchenko’s one-time spin doc­tor who fell out of fa­vor and fled to Mos­cow, Ty­mofeyev and Zakharchenko re­placed Holenko be­cause he could re­move their mid­dle­man en­tity from the cor­rup­tion scheme.

“Holenko was in­con­ve­nient be­cause he pro­posed set­ting up a state en­ter­prise to sell coal with­out in­ter­me­di­aries. This did not suit Zakharchenko and Ty­mofeyev. The lat­ter had set up The Don­bas Coal, a spe­cial in­ter­me­di­ary, to make sure that the mark-up on the coal sold ends up in the pock­ets of the tan­dem in power. They want to re­place Holenko with their man, Alek­seiy Sos­novski. That one is fac­ing crim­i­nal charges in Rus­sia,” Dol­gov wrote in so­cial me­dia.

A sim­i­lar sce­nario had un­folded in Luhansk be­fore. In 2015, the peo­ple of Leonid Pa­sich­nik, the cur­rent leader of “LPR”, ar­rested Dmytro Li­amin, the “En­ergy Min­is­ter” and a close ally of the then “LPR” leader Igor Plot­nit­sky. Plot­nit­sky helped get Li­amin re­leased. Ed­uard Holenko has no in­flu­en­tial pro­tec­torate or cu­ra­tors.

By con­trast to Donetsk, Luhansk is now all calm. With Plot­nit­sky out, the group of Pa­sich­nik and Kor­net has taken over. It now en­joys un­di­vided con­trol of the re­gion. Not every­one is happy about it. The new “gov­ern­ment” is crit­i­cized from Rus­sia by Vladlen Zaruba, for­mer deputy for Va­leriy Bolo­tov, the first self-pro­claimed leader of the “LPR”. Zaruba fled Luhansk a long time ago.

In a re­cent in­ter­view he stated that Pa­sich­nik and Kor­net are in fact no bet­ter than Plot­nit­sky; that they had been in­volved in all of his crim­i­nal and cor­rup­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, and in as­sas­si­na­tions of the mil­i­tant lead­ers. Ac­cord­ing to Zaruba, Plot­nit­sky him­self is un­der ar­rest and tes­ti­fy­ing in Rus­sia.

In­ter­est­ingly, Zaruba also men­tioned a re­cent ar­rest in Rus­sia of Oleg Mkrtchan, a founder of the In­dus­trial Union of Don­bas (Ser­hiy Taruta is a co-founder). This ar­rest is linked to the fund­ing of the “LPR” mil­i­tants as in­structed by the Rus­sians.

“Af­ter Plot­nit­sky’s tes­ti­mony in Rus­sia, his cu­ra­tor was ar­rested. He co-owns Alchevsk Me­tal­lur­gi­cal Plant,” Zaruba shared. Ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from Mkrtchan back in De­cem­ber 2018, the In­dus­trial Union of Don­bas lost con­trol over it around that time. Mkrtchan was in­deed ar­rested in Mos­cow on Fe­bru­ary 7, 2018. Of­fi­cially, he is ac­cused of si­phon­ing off the as­sets lent to the In­dus­trial Union of Don­bas by a Rus­sian bank.

So far, no way out is in sight from the swamp in which the Don­bas has found it­self af­ter pro-Rus­sian mil­i­tary for­ma­tions took over ORDiLO. Quite on the con­trary, the quasi-republics are root­ing deeper into it as time flows.

While “LPR/DPR” sup­port­ers are some­what con­cerned about the Rus­sian elec­tions and a prospect of Putin giv­ing up on them, that sce­nario is highly un­likely. Putin will hardly change once reappointed as Rus­sian pres­i­dent yet again.


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