Behind the Donbass “Economic Offensive” – Part 2


March 2, 2017 – Fort Russ – 

By Eduard Popov – translated by J. Arnoldski –

The blockade of the railway tracks along which flows trade between Ukraine and the republics of Donbass began back in December. It is no coincidence that the blockade started with railways. First of all, such a blockade hits hardest of all the large enterprises belonging to Ukrainian oligarchs. Rinat Akhmetov’s businesses are suffering worst of all. But President Poroshenko himself has also been struck by all of this.

According to the testimony of the president’s former friend and deputy of the Verkhovna Rada, Alexander Onishchenko, trade with the DPR and LPR is directly controlled by Petro Poroshenko’s entourage. As follows, Poroshenko himself reaps in considerable profit from trading with the “separatists.” This has drawn indignation from the militants of the neo-Nazi battalions and the UAF units who have joined them. The state is officially waging a war against the DPR-LPR “terrorists”, yet unofficially the head of this state (and commander in chief of the UAF) is profiting from trade with them.

Questions are also being raised on the other side of the border. On October 18th, 2015, the Ministry of State Security (intelligence and counter-intelligence) of the LPR arrested the republic’s Minister for the Coal Industry, Dmitry Lyamin. According to the security ministry, Lyamin had from January to September 2015 illegally sold more than 3.3 million tons of coal products to Ukraine. This is more than 88% of the total coal produced and used by the republic. Literally the next day, Lyamin was released on the personal order of the LPR’s leader, Igor Plotnitsky, and the Ministry of State Security head was removed from office.

Lugansk’s security services have been unable to break the backbone of this criminal trade being conducted between local oligarchs and Ukraine. A year and a half later on the other side of the border, Ukrainian neo-Nazis are now trying to stop trading with the enemy. 

Poroshenko’s regime has been forced to respond to these provocative actions by the “blockaders.” There are two reasons for this. First of all, there is the economic motive, since without Donbass anthracite within a month and a half or two months Ukrainian energy stations would cease working, thus leading to the collapse of the Ukrainian energy system, production halts, and shortages of lighting and heating in homes. The second reason is political in nature and boils down to a simple formula: the government, by being afraid of dispersing the “blockaders,” is openly succumbing to the neo-Nazi gangs. This offers an occasion to increase pressure on the government by gradually increasing the ultimative quality of their demands. Both of these factors could lead to a collapse of the government.

Therefore, the authorities of Ukraine are faced with the painful, but alternative-less choice of dispersing the blockade by force.

The ultimatum to lift the blockade in the shortest possible time simultaneously put forth by the DPR and LPR is a brilliant strategy in the spirit of the Chinese general and philosopher of war, Sun Tzu. The republics have managed to pit two enemies against each other. Thus, the Poroshenko regime in one way or another will be forced to disperse the blockaders by force. But now any attempt at dispersal would look like a fulfillment of the DPR and LPR’s ultimatum.

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Perhaps for this reason the government is in no hurry to opt for the forceful lifting of the blockade. The Poroshenko regime is now left with two bad options: allowing the blockade to continue, or breaking it up – or attempting to break it up by proxy, but this was already attempted. On February 28th, people allegedly hired by Akhmetov (the oligarch possesses not only dozens of enterprises, but also a private army of hooligans and fighters). The attempt proved unsuccessful. Plus, new forces, including UAF units from the ATO zone, came to the aid of  the blockade. Further confrontation could increase the chances of the use of firearms, which could in turn lead to the beginning of a civil war and armed rebellion against the Kiev junta.

The Ukrainian government is thus stuck in a Zugzwang position. Any move will have negative consequences. 

On the other hand, the Donbass republics have very successfully taken advantage of the enemy’s weakness. In another situation, it would have been difficult to expect such a quick and positive decision to introduce control over enterprises belonging to Ukrainian oligarchs. And now this problem (half of the republics’ economy belongs to the Ukrainian oligarchs, so DPR and LPR citizens are paying taxes to Kiev, funding the war against themselves!) is known far beyond Donbass’ borders. Although my sources in the DPR and LPR doubt a full nationalization of oligarch property, a redistribution of property is now in the very least inevitable. And all of this is thanks to the actions of the enemy himself!

What is the Ukrainian government left with? Besides two extremes (accepting the neo-Nazis’ ultimatum or breaking up the blockade), there is a number of compromises that could be made, including bribing the blockade’s organizers or partially recognizing their demands. But these options seem to be very unlikely.

There is yet another option which is very radical: the Kiev government could unleash war in Donbass in the form of at least a local conflict similar to the fighting from January 29th to February 3rd. In this case, the presence of armed men would prevent the waging of combat operations. Then Commander-in-Chief Poroshenko would try to send the blockade participants into the thick of the fighting never to return – in other words, try to destroy one enemy at the hands of another enemy.

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Meanwhile, the news has just come in from the chief of staff of the economic blockade, Sergey Akimovich, that a second phase has commenced: roads are now being blockaded too. The blockaders are on the offensive, and the government is quickly running out of time and space for maneuver. 

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