The origins of Donetsk separatism

Donetsk separatism only truly became a noticeable problem in 2014. Until then, almost no one believed that it existed.

Crimea was long considered the only potentially dangerous region in this regard. A certain degree of Donbas isolation was acknowledged, but this was initially written off as the result of machinations by oligarchic clans who sought to turn the local population against other regions of Ukraine and reaffirm the myth of the Donbas as the nation’s leading breadwinner.

This was partly true; these clans are still able to divide and to rule. They skilfully directed the wrath of the Donbas’ depressed mining communities against similarly disenfranchised workers from western Ukraine. While average people squabbled with each other on the Internet, the clans were quietly appropriating the Donetsk region’s industries. However, the very same Party of Regions officials from Donetsk and Luhansk who convinced their electorates that the Donbas is a “special region” with the right to occupy a dominant position in Ukraine were more often themselves the captives of stereotypes.

Donetsk separatism existed long before it was popularized by the Party of Regions. It is not about “Donetsk–Kryviy Rih Soviet Republic,” whose existence was noted only by the Bolsheviks who invented it and Donetsk native Volodymyr Kornilov, who wrote a book on it. In the USSR, the Donbas showed no discernible desire for independence. The first signs of separatism appeared in the mining regions at the end of the 1980s before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. However, this phenomenon was primarily economic and not national in origin.

Solidarity became the foundation of the Donetsk miners’ separatism. The popular assertion that “Donbas feeds the entire country” originated among them. The profession had been heroized in the 1920s-30s, with the mine worker portrayed by official propaganda as a true Atlas on whose shoulders rested the economic power of the whole country. And as the Donbas was a major coal mining region of the Soviet Union, its residents, of course, overflowed with a sense of self-worth. It was here that the saying “miners are the guardians of labour”was coined; it was here that the legendary Soviet miner Alexey Stakhanov set his world record; it was the Donbas that a famous Soviet poster named “the heart of Russia”.

Miners strike, Donetsk 1998
Miners strike, Donetsk 1998

Inspirational newspaper editorials about Donbas miners were common until the late 1970s when the region achieved its peak for coal production. Coal output has been decreasing ever since. After the discovery of huge oil fields in Siberia, the Soviet fuel and energy industry began switching from coal to oil and gas. Priorities and investments changed. For the next two decades, the holdings of Donbas coal mining companies remained practically unchanged, with mines continuing to operate without renovation. In the 1980s the coal industry of the Ukrainian SSR inevitably deteriorated, hitting a crisis at the end of the decade that resulted in massive strikes.

Agitators for Narodniy Rukh successfully exploited the miners’ discontent to convince the population of the Ukrainian SSR that Ukraine was the economic engine of the Soviet Union and it was dragging backward regions along. These words resonated with the miners, who were also convinced that “our backs bend while Moscow rests”. Rather than demanding regional autonomy for the Donbas, they wanted greater economic independence for the Ukrainian SSR so that money would remain in Ukraine, and pushed the Parliament to adopt a law to that effect. Thus, for these economic reasons, they voted for Ukraine’s independence in the referendum of 1991. Until recently, many patriotic Ukrainians regarded the Donbas workers’ support for independence as a sign of their increased national consciousness.However, the workers were not in fact moved by patriotism, but rather a desire to keep mining revenues closer to home.

Just two years later, the mood in the Donbas changed dramatically. Prosperity did not follow the collapse of the USSR, and the economic crisis of the late 1980s gave way to the horrors of the early 1990s. In 1993, strikes broke out once more in the region, and again the miners demanded regional autonomy—only this time from Kyiv. As in 1989, they were convinced that their hard work was simply feeding parasites, only now the subjects of their discontent were not the peoples of Central Asia and Moscow, but the residents of Kyiv and Western Ukraine. One of the organizers of the strike was Yukhym Zviahilskyi, a long-time MP, member of the Party of Regions more recently, and a red director, who skilfully manipulated the coal miners’ discontent while simultaneously convincing the authorities that he was helping to resolve the conflict. In the wake of the protests, he moved to Kyiv and was appointed the first Vice Prime Minister. As a result, the fire was gradually extinguished with his help, yet the political demands for Donbas’ regional autonomy remained unsatisfied.

However, the Donetsk elite did not abandon the idea of separatism, and continued to agitate the situation. In 1994, together with the parliamentary elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, an event occurred that some called a “local referendum” and others a “deliberative poll”. By law, it was not possible to conduct a referendum, so another term was officially used. The survey consisted of four items, the first of which concerned the government of Ukraine. Donbas residents were asked if they would support federation as well as granting official status to the Russian language.

This event was organized in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions by “regional advisory commissions for the deliberative polling of citizens”, which were at the command of regional deputies. The “referendum” was a pre-election move. Ukraine held both parliamentary and presidential elections in 1994, and local elections were held in the Donbas region. After the elections, the results of the “referendum” were no longer mentioned. It is difficult to say how accurate they were, but 80% voted for the federalization of the Donbas at the time.

Protesters in Luhansk against government Berkut forces, 1998
Protesters in Luhansk against government Berkut forces, 1998

Separatist slogans were once again commonplace during the many miners’ strikes in 1996-1998, but the movement never seriously took shape. Once Viktor Yanukovych had taken office as Prime Minister for the first time in 2002, the Donetsk clan ceased to play the separatism card, expecting that all of Ukraine would soon be in their hands and there was no longer any sense in blackmailing Kyiv. After Yanukovych’s career had taken off, separatist agitation declined significantly, even giving way to patriotic rhetoric. Regional elites were quite willing to love Ukraine if the country lived by Donetsk’s rules. But after the failure of the 2004 elections, Yanukovych’s regional separatism again received a major boost.

Unfortunately, all this time the central government in Kyiv failed to take measures to combat the virus of separatism in Donbas. The result of this failure became visible in the tragic events of 2014.

By: Denys Kazanskyi

The economics of rebellion in eastern Ukraine

In April 2014, angry mobs and armed men stormed administrative buildings and police stations in eastern Ukraine, waving Russian flags and proclaiming the establishment of “Peoples’ Republics” in Donetsk and Luhansk. At the time, some observers predicted that the “pro-Russian” uprising would spread to other parts of southeast Ukraine, throughout the vast territory Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to as historical “New Russia”.

Contrary to these forecasts, the rebellion remained surprisingly contained. No region outside Donetsk or Luhansk experienced large-scale armed conflict or fell under rebel control. Not only were separatists unable to realize the project of a greater “Novorossiya” (‘New Russia’) stretching from Kharkiv to Odesa, they failed to consolidate their grip even within the borders of the Donbas. Not more than 63% of municipalities in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts were under rebel control at any time during the first year of the conflict, and less than a quarter of these territories showed resistance to government forces during Kyiv’s attempt to liberate them.

What explains local variation in rebellion? Why is rebel violence more intense in some areas than in others? Why have some towns in eastern Ukraine remained under government control while others fell to the separatists?

The most common answers to these questions have fallen into one of two categories: ethnicity and economics. The first view expects rebellion to be more likely and more intense in areas home to large concentrations of ethnolinguistic minorities – in this case, Russians or Russian speaking Ukrainians. According to this logic, geographically concentrated minorities can overcome some of the collective action problems associated with rebellion – such as monitoring and punishing defectors – while attracting an influx of fighters, weapons and economic aid from co-ethnics in neighboring states. Among others, Vladimir Putin too has cast the Donbas conflict as a primarily ethnic one: “The essential issue is how to ensure the legitimate rights and interests of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the southeast of Ukraine”.

An alternative explanation for rebellion is economic opportunity costs. According to this view, as income from less risky legal activities declines relative to income from rebellious behavior, participation in rebellion should rise. As Maidan and the Revolution of Dignity proclaimed adherence to European values and set the path towards Europe and away from the Custom’s Union with Russia, the opportunity costs of rebellion declined in the Donbas. As a heavily industrialized region with deep economic ties to Russia, the Donbas was uniquely exposed to potential negative economic shocks caused by trade openness with the EU, austerity and trade barriers with Russia. A rebel fighter with the Vostok battalion summarized this view: “Many mines started to close. I lost my job. Then, with what happened during the spring, I decided to go out and defend my city”.

In an article forthcoming in the Journal of Comparative Economics, I evaluate the relative explanatory power of these two perspectives, using new micro-level data on violence, ethnicity and economic activity in eastern Ukraine. I find that local economic factors are stronger predictors of rebel violence and territorial control than Russian ethnicity or language. Ethnicity only had an effect where economic incentives for rebellion were already weak. Separatists in eastern Ukraine were “pro-Russian” not because they spoke Russian, but because their economic livelihood had long depended on trade with Russia and they now saw this livelihood as being under threat.

The economic roots of the pro-Russian rebellion are evident from new data on violence and control, assembled from incident reports released by Ukrainian and Russian news agencies, government and rebel statements, daily ‘conflict maps’ released by both sides, and social media news feeds. The data include 10,567 unique violent events in the Donbas, at the municipality level, recorded between then President Viktor Yanukovych’s flight in February 2014 and the second Minsk ceasefire agreement of February 2015. Figure 1 shows the geographic distribution of rebel violence and territorial control during the first year of the conflict.

1-eng

To explain variation in the timing and intensity of violence and control, I considered the proportion of Russian speakers residing in each municipality, and the proportion of the local labor force employed in three industries, differentially vulnerable to post-Euromaidan economic shocks. These included machine-building, which is heavily dependent on exports to Russia, highly vulnerable to Russian import substitution, and currently lacks short-term alternative export markets. At the other extreme, there is the metals industry, which is less dependent on Russia, and a potential beneficiary of increased trade with the EU. Finally, I considered employment in the mining industry, which had grown dependent on Yanukovych-era state-subsidies, and became highly vulnerable to IMF-imposed austerity measures. Given the relative exposure of these industries to post-Euromaidan economic shocks, one should expect the opportunity costs of rebellion to be lowest in machine-building towns and highest in metallurgy towns, with mining towns falling in the middle. Figure 2 shows the spatial distribution of these variables. I also accounted for a host of other potential determinants of violence, like terrain, logistics, proximity to the Russian border, prewar electoral patterns, and spillover effects from rebel activity in neighboring towns.

2-eng

A statistical analysis of these data reveals that a municipality’s prewar employment mix is a stronger and more robust predictor of rebel activity than local ethnolinguistic composition. In municipalities more exposed to negative trade shocks with Russia (municipalities with high shares of population employed in machinery and mining), rebel violence was more likely to occur overall, and was more intense. For a median Donbas municipality, an increase in the machine-building labor force from one standard deviation below (4%) to one standard deviation above the mean (26%) yields a 44% increase (95% credible interval: a 34%-56% increase) in the frequency of rebel violence from week to week.

These municipalities – where the local population was highly vulnerable to trade disruptions with Russia – also fell under rebel control earlier and took longer for the government to liberate than municipalities where the labor force was less dependent on exports to Russia. On any given day, a municipality with higher-than-average employment in the beleaguered machine-building industry was about twice as likely to fall under rebel control as a municipality with below-average employment in the industry.

By contrast, there is little evidence of either a “Russian language effect” on violence, or an interaction between language and economics. The impact of prewar industrial employment on rebellion is the same in municipalities where a majority of the population is Russian-speaking as it is where the majority is Ukrainian-speaking. Russian language fared slightly better as a predictor of rebel control, but only under certain conditions. In particular, where economic dependence on Russia was relatively low, municipalities with large Russian-speaking populations were more likely to fall under rebel control early in the conflict. The “language effect” disappeared in municipalities where any one of the three industries had a major presence. In other words, ethnicity and language only had an effect where economic incentives for rebellion were weak.

The seemingly rational economic self-interest at the heart of the conflict may seem puzzling, given the staggering costs of war. In the eighteen months since armed men began storming government buildings in the Donbas, over 8000 people have lost their lives, and over a million have been displaced. Regional industrial production fell by 49.9% in 2014, with machinery exports to Russia down by 82%. Suffering heavy damage from shelling, many factories have closed. With airports destroyed, railroad links severed and roads heavily mined, a previously export-oriented economy has found itself isolated from the outside world. If local machinists and miners had only known the scale of the destruction to come, the economic rationale for rebellion would surely have appeared less compelling. Yet when choosing between a high-risk rebellion to retain one’s economic livelihood and an almost certain loss of income, many people chose the first option.

From a policy standpoint, the economic roots of the Donbas conflict should be seen as good news. Despite the ethnocentric media coverage of this war in Russia and the West, the data show that attempts to divide Ukraine along ethnic or linguistic lines are likely to fail. These results can also explain why the conflict has not spread beyond Donetsk and Luhansk. Home to a large concentration of enterprises dependent on exports to Russia, highly subsidized and traditionally shielded from competition, the Donbas became exposed to a perfect storm of negative economic shocks after the Euromaidan. No other region in Ukraine, or the former Soviet Union, has a similarly vulnerable economic profile. Without a compelling economic motive, a pro-Russian rebellion is unlikely to occur elsewhere in Ukraine.

By: Yuri M. Zhukov, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

What to do with the Donbas: Phase 3

On July 16, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko steered the draft law to provide more autonomy for separatist-occupied areas of the Donbas through Parliament and to the Constitutional Court for approval. Though the motion passed convincingly (288 votes in favor, 57 against)—it was opposed only by the Radicals and Samopomich faction, and even supported by the Opposition Party—it represents only the first in a complex process focused on article 11 of the Minsk-2 Agreement signed earlier this year, which will change the status of the Donbas.

Providing that the court approves the law, it will be returned to Parliament where it requires the support of over 300 deputies in order to become valid. US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who was coincidentally in Ukraine during the deliberations, supports its acceptance as do the leaders of Germany, France, and other countries of the EU. In fact Ukraine is under intense pressure from its Western allies to accept the law in order to put the principles of Minsk-2 into operation.

There are, however, a number of disturbing issues raised by the passage of the draft law.

First of all, it contravenes the existing 1996 Constitution, which does not permit outsiders to dictate changes to the Ukrainian government. Specifically, it is stated in Article 157 that:

The Constitution of Ukraine shall not be amended, if the amendments foresee the abolition or restriction of human and citizens’ rights and freedoms, or if they are oriented toward the liquidation of the independence or violation of the territorial indivisibility of Ukraine.

In December 1991, when a Ukrainian referendum backed the August 24 Declaration of Independence all the countries currently pressuring Ukraine to the constitutional amendment recognized the country within its existing borders. The Constitution further strengthened the notion that these borders were inviolable.

Second, Minsk-2, like its predecessor Minsk-1, gave a voice to the leaders of the breakaway “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic.” It was signed by the leaders of these two regions, instantly enhancing their credibility when hitherto the Western world had considered them little more than advance posts of a predatory Russia. The rebels now demand that these changes become enshrined officially in an amended Constitution of Ukraine.

Whether the DNR and LNR have any real legitimacy is a moot point. There appears to be as much in-fighting among their leaders as there are barbs directed at the government in Kyiv. Clearly the settlements within are disaffected, having been bombarded by the Ukrainian army over the past year and used as a refuge by the renegade leaders. The reality is that we do not really know how popular they are, and how much support they could attract were a free and fair election possible.

Third, the goals of Russia are uncertain and fluctuating. Speculation about the eleventh point in the Minsk-2 agreement, which is already nebulous, suggests that Vladimir Putin’s personal advisor Vladislav Surkov, a Russian-Chechen businessman who was First Deputy Chairman of the Russian Presidential Administration for twelve years (ending 2011), inserted that particular clause, undoubtedly with the president’s approval. It stipulates that Ukraine should be decentralized “(taking into account peculiarities of particular districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, agreed with representatives of these districts).

That Russia supports more autonomy for the Donbas is evident, but what are its long-term goals? The answer would seem that these goals have receded from the once triumphant (though fundamentally and historically flawed) concept of Novorossiya to one of holding on to one’s gains and propping up, more or less, a defunct gangster regime that will ultimately succumb to pressure from the Ukrainian army or collapse from within thanks to feuds and in-fighting.

The limitations of Russian ambitions are illustrated by a reluctance to escalate the conflict further and to engage in any form of physical occupation. Though propaganda against the “neo-Nazi” government in Kyiv has been relentless—and boosted by the rash actions of the Right Sector in Mukachevo, whether or not these were based on a moral crusade against corruption and smuggling—Putin himself has been strangely subdued, even extending some feelers to the West for cooperation over the crisis in Syria, while protesting the notion of an international commission to investigate the shooting of a Malaysian airliner over Donetsk region just over a year ago.

Lamentably, through the blundering of both sides, the Donbas is the real victim of this protracted conflict. Economically it is a wasteland that will take years to rebuild, if indeed it can be reconstructed. It would require enormous investment, an outlay that at present is as remote from the Ukrainian reality as it is possible to be. Its more enterprising souls have fled the scene. Thousands are dead, victims of shelling that does not discriminate between one side or another. Those surviving live amid intermittent warfare, dreading the coming winter. It may well be a frozen conflict, but that conflict is for a land that one one really wants.

Thus what the Europeans and United States are saying to Ukraine is: you must retain these devastated areas, feed them, provide them with resources, but without taking full authority over them or at least, not in the immediate future. In short, the fulfillment of this part of Minsk-2 would weaken fundamentally the Ukrainian state established in 1991. Today no one outside the country is supporting the notion of a centralized Ukraine under the rule of president or parliament. One would have to conclude that the recognition of 1991 has been abruptly violated by both friends and enemies of the country.

There are further implications for Ukraine here. The return of Crimea is not even part of Minsk-2. Further, those placing pressure on Poroshenko are not exerting similar pressure on the separatist governments, which are largely and openly ignoring the agreement, after some token gestures to comply. Most of its stipulations, like Ukraine’s control over its original eastern border by the end of the year, are unenforceable. Ukraine can survive without Donbas and (especially) without Crimea, but only if they are severed permanently. At present it cannot regain Crimea but it cannot discard the occupied Donbas, which it has treated as alien territory for some time.

Other questions will emerge, most notably the determination of where the border of the two oblasts should lie and whether Russia will permit the disarming and defeat of the two separatist regimes by ceasing the constant flow of advanced weaponry over the border and removing its “volunteer” soldiers from the war zone. For Putin it is a drain of resources; one suspects that for most of the Russian troops fighting in Ukraine, it is an unpopular war. The messianic phase is over but the end goal is unclear. The only certainty is that there are no winners in this conflict.

10 reasons why Ukraine’s Donbas is not and will not become a Northern Ireland

At a time when many commentators are seeking to explain what is going on in Ukraine by searching for analogies with other places and events, it is useful to be reminded of the limits of at least some of these comparisons as Bogdan Butkevich does in an article entitled 10 Reasons Why the Donbas will Not Become Ulster.

The Fourth Power analyst points out that “journalists and publicists, especially those who are pro-Russian, love to draw parallels between the war in the Donbas and the conflict in Ulster, thereby attempting to show that the war in Ukraine is a civil war,” but there is no factual basis for such claims.

The civil conflict in Northern Ireland lasted “more than 40 years” while the one in the Donbas was provoked by Moscow and is now directly supported by its troops, turning what the Russian side liked to claim was a “hybrid” conflict into “an ordinary war of conquest,” according to Butkevich.

That is obvious if one makes a serious comparison of the two, and he offers ten ways in which the two are very different:

1. The History of the Question.

The conflict in Northern Ireland has its roots in the English conquest of Ireland in the 12th century and the subsequent colonization of the northern countries by British people, almost all of whom were Protestants. The war in the Donbas is totally dissimilar. Until the mid-19th century, “this territory was practically empty.” It acquired importance because of industrial development, something that attracted people from throughout the Russian Empire and USSR regardless of ethnicity and who were mixed together once they got there. Indeed, the term “Donbas” is “more an economic than a political one,” let alone “a cultural or ethnic” description.

2. The Causes of the Conflict.

The struggle in Northern Ireland was between Catholics who wanted to join the Republic of Ireland and the Protestants who “by manipulating the law and using the support of London” were able to prevent that. The Catholics turned to terrorist actions, and the Protestants both responded directly and forced London to send troops to try to suppress the rising. The Donbas was and is different. A privileged economic zone in Soviet times, it has suffered economically since then. The oligarchs in the region and the pro-Moscow Party of the Regions used it to try to retain power in Kyiv. When that didn’t work, Moscow intervened.

3. The Typology of the Conflict.

“The conflict in Ulster is a civil war with internal causes and a logic of development,” Butkevich says.  “The war in the Donbas is in essence an invasion by Russian under the form of inciting a civil conflict.” But it is not a civil conflict in the sense that the one in Ulster is.

4. The Mentality of the Population.

“Irish Catholic, Protestant Englishmen and Protestant Irishmen are a settled population in Ulster.” Their views have been fixed by centuries of historical experience; they are not subject to radical and rapid change.  The majority of the people of the Donbas have been there no more than two or three generations; they are typical of “new arrivals” in that they have not formed specific “traditions, views and worldviews” and are more subject to the influence of propaganda.

5. The Religious Issue.

The divide between Catholics and Protestants forms the basis for the divisions in Northern Ireland.  There is no such divide in the Donbas, despite efforts by Russian propagandists to spark one.

6. The Nationality Question.

In Ulster, this is the key division, but in the Donbas, it isn’t. Ukrainians and Russians “are fighting on both sides,” and “the chief role in the conflict is played not by nationality but by worldview factors,” with those supporting a liberal democratic order being for Ukraine and those supporting “national conservatism” backing Russia.

7. Foreign Interference.

Although the IRA received some support from abroad, “the conflict was entirely internal. But in the Donbas, “from the very beginning, Russia took the most immediate part in exacerbating it” and finally “introduced regular units of the Russian army,” making the conflict into an ordinary war of conquest.

8. Type of Military Actions.

“The Ulster conflict is a classical example of terrorist guerilla war, that is, of war in the city, primarily by means of the conduct of terrorist actions. “The conflict in the Donbas as a result of Russia’s efforts very quickly grew over into a full-scale war with regular military units involved.

9. Weapons and Tactics.

In Ulster, the basic weapons were personal arms and explosive used to carry out terrorist attacks; in the Donbas, the main weapons are heavy artillery and tanks used to carry out aggression or defense against it.

10. The Number of Victims.

Over almost 40 years of conflict in Northern Ireland, an estimated 3,000 to 8,000 people were killed or less than 250 per year on average at most. In the Donbas, the number of killed is more than 5,000 and may be as much as 10,000 – and that in one year, not 40.


Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Russian soldier posts gory photos of victims online

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 11.44.01 AM
A screenshot of the VK profile

A Russian soldier fighting in a terrorist group in eastern Ukraine has posted photos and video of himself online, documenting his victims among the Ukrainian military. The man, Dmitry Gritsyuk, is from St. Petersburg and based on his history of photographs, is a member of the Russian armed forces.

Gritsyuk, whose cached VK profile can be viewed here, recently began posting photos and videos of Ukrainian soldiers who were killed in action by his unit. He and his comrades posed next to dead bodies as trophy kills, and filmed the gory wreckage of a burned out BMD. In all of the photos he has posted online, unlike most insurgents, he consistently wears the officially issued Russian camo BDU, as the ‘Green Men’ did in Crimea.

Because of the gory and graphic nature of the video, we’ll link to it here without embedding it.

Gritsyuk posing in his uniform in an album titled "Army"
Gritsyuk posing in his uniform in an album titled “Army”
Gritsyuk with fellow Russian soldiers
Gritsyuk with fellow Russian soldiers
Gritsyuk posing with weapons, spelling out "" with bullets
Gritsyuk posing with weapons
One of his accomplices laughs and covers his face
One of his accomplices laughs and covers his face
Gritsyuk talking to the camera as he documents his victims
Gritsyuk talking to the camera as he documents his victims

 

Evidence of paid Russian mercenaries mounting

Evidence over the past several days illustrating the motivations behind Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine has been mounting. While some have, indeed, been driven by revanchist ideology (with one famously telling TIME that they were simply conquering “historically Russian lands”), the source of these groups’ financing has been more difficult to trace than the source of their weapons in lieu of a paper trail. This week has, however, seen three illuminating examples of the financial motivations of those recruited.

On June 19, The Interpreter published an investigation, discussing the motivations of those involved in the battle for Donetsk International Airpot. The article discusses one, Yevgeny Korolenko, a rifleman and veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan:

He was a mechanic by training who had a job in some friends’ computer repair shop as a delivery man until they were unable to pay him. His wife speculated that perhaps his shortage of funds could have pushed him into volunteering for Donetsk, although he didn’t speak of it.

Two days later the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) published a video confession of a mercenary claiming to have been contracted by Russia’s KGB successor agency – the Federal Security Service (FSB). The man in the confessional says he was acting on a $1,000 bounty for every Ukrainian officer killed (and $300 for soldiers).

Today, the Moscow Times published an article citing well-known journalist Olga Romanova, describing another insurgent who was also killed in action during the same battle in Donetsk as Korolenko:

 Four other young men from Ivanovo died with him. I asked his parents why he went there. Their reply was grotesque: ‘He wanted to pay off some loans …'”

All of this precedes today’s other revelation that Russia has been actively attempting to recruit mercenary veterans of the French Foreign Legion, targeting especially those of Slavic ethnic origin. The Russian military has in recent years opened its recruitment scope to foreigners with the lure of acquiring fast tracked citizenship.

While the number of professional, heavily armed Russian soldiers mounts in Ukraine, so too is the evidence behind the financial motivations of those fighting there – shaping the war to be less a result of ad hoc extremism, but instead rather that of a state-financed proxy war.

Evidence of paid Russian mercenaries mounting

Evidence over the past several days illustrating the motivations behind Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine has been mounting. While some have, indeed, been driven by revanchist ideology (with one famously telling TIME that they were simply conquering “historically Russian lands”), the source of these groups’ financing has been more difficult to trace than the source of their weapons in lieu of a paper trail. This week has, however, seen three illuminating examples of the financial motivations of those recruited.

On June 19, The Interpreter published an investigation, discussing the motivations of those involved in the battle for Donetsk International Airpot. The article discusses one, Yevgeny Korolenko, a rifleman and veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan:

He was a mechanic by training who had a job in some friends’ computer repair shop as a delivery man until they were unable to pay him. His wife speculated that perhaps his shortage of funds could have pushed him into volunteering for Donetsk, although he didn’t speak of it.

Two days later the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) published a video confession of a mercenary claiming to have been contracted by Russia’s KGB successor agency – the Federal Security Service (FSB). The man in the confessional says he was acting on a $1,000 bounty for every Ukrainian officer killed (and $300 for soldiers).

Today, the Moscow Times published an article citing well-known journalist Olga Romanova, describing another insurgent who was also killed in action during the same battle in Donetsk as Korolenko:

 Four other young men from Ivanovo died with him. I asked his parents why he went there. Their reply was grotesque: ‘He wanted to pay off some loans …'”

All of this precedes today’s other revelation that Russia has been actively attempting to recruit mercenary veterans of the French Foreign Legion, targeting especially those of Slavic ethnic origin. The Russian military has in recent years opened its recruitment scope to foreigners with the lure of acquiring fast tracked citizenship.

While the number of professional, heavily armed Russian soldiers mounts in Ukraine, so too is the evidence behind the financial motivations of those fighting there – shaping the war to be less a result of ad hoc extremism, but instead rather that of a state-financed proxy war.

 

Counter-terrorism Operation in Sloviansk

Following a late night session of the National Security Council which discussed anti-terrorism measures and the possibility of introducing a state of emergency, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov announced a counter-terrorist operation would begin in Sloviansk under the leadership of the Security Service (SBU). The operation is said to include units from all service branches in Ukraine.

Shortly thereafter, Avakov stated that separatists had opened fire on special forces in the city. He then posted a notice to citizens in the city to leave the city center, stay at home, and avoid windows for their own safety.

Riot police were then reported to have cleared a separatist roadblock leading in to the city. Eyewitnesses stated that the Russian tricolor had been also taken down from atop the city administration. Helicopters have been seen flying over the city.

The news follows yesterday’s explosion of armed separatist uprising in the northern Donetk region city of Sloviansk, where masked men in army fatigues and bulletproof vests, armed with assault rifles captured the executive committee building, the police department and SBU office in the city, along with a sizable weapons cache.

The counter-terrorist operation would be the first sign of retaking the Donetsk region, which has thus far been apprehensive to fight back. The last notable operation of its kind took place on April 8 when Jaguar units from Vinnytsia were used in the arrest of 70 separatists in Kharkiv attempting to take over the Regional State Administration building.

Motyl: Could Russia Occupy Ukraine?

Citing a 2008 study by US Army Major Glenn E. Kozelka and a 1995 RAND Corporation study by James Quinlivan, Motyl comes to the following conclusions when assessing troop requirements to occupy Ukraine in a military invasion scenario:

  • • In order to occupy Donetsk and Luhansk provinces alone, Russian would have to deploy somewhere between 26,702 and 133,514 troops.
  • • A “land bridge” from Crimea to Transnistria would mean occupying Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa provinces—which would entail somewhere between 46,497 and 92,994 soldiers.
  • • Occupying all seven southeastern provinces would require between 118,536 (26,702 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 91,834 for the others) and 317,182 (133,514 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 183,668 for the others).
  • • If Russia decides to conquer all of Ukraine, it would need an additional 548,587 troops—for a grand total of 667,123 to 865,769 troops.
  • • Kyiv city and Kyiv Province alone would require 90,676 occupying soldiers.

In light of Russia’s estimated current force levels on Ukraine’s borders (50,000–80,000), the best Russia could do under low- and medium-violence assumptions would be to invade a few southeastern provinces. If those assumptions are changed to medium or high, only one or two provinces would be within its grasp. These conclusions assume that an invasion would entail no force deterioration as a result of the Ukrainian army’s resistance. Change that assumption, and Russia’s capacity to occupy southeastern Ukraine declines even more.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

Read the full article

Motyl: What Russia Can Expect in Ukraine’s Rust Belt

In their search to maintain control, Russians would quickly discover that they are in possession of economically unviable provinces that cannot survive without massive infusions of rubles. According to a detailed Ukrainian study of how much Ukraine’s provinces paid into and received from the central budget in the first half of 2013, Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, Mykolaiv, and Zaporizhzhya represented an enormous drain on Kyiv’s resources: 22.82 billion hryvnia (around $2.5 billion, or 90 billion rubles). And that is only for the first six months of the year. Multiplied by two, the deficit amounts to 45.64 billion hryvnia (about $5 billion, or 180 billion rubles).

In 2014, Russia expects its budget revenues to be around 13.6 trillion rubles (around $375 billion); its expenditures are supposed to total 14 trillion rubles ($380 billion). That amounts to a deficit of 400 billion rubles ($11 billion). Even without extra development funds or the costs of an occupation, annexing Ukraine’s southeast will raise Russia’s deficit by 45 percent.

The bad news gets worse for Russia. Luhansk and Donetsk provinces are home to Ukraine’s loss-making coal industry. Kyiv spends between 12 and 14 billion hryvnia(around $1 billion–$1.5 billion, or 47 billion–55 billion rubles) annually to support these mines. Will Russia back these enterprises even as they compete with more economically produced coal from Russia’s Kuzbass? It will have to: As Kyiv knows from experience, firing thousands of coal miners could spark massive civil unrest. Moscow will also have to pay them their wages on time. In 2013, wage arrears reached a total of 135 million hryvnia (about $15 million, or 530 million rubles) in Donetsk and Luhansk.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

Read the full article