The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 26      July 21, 2014

Separatists lose support and
ground in east Ukraine
(front page)
As infighting and desertions spread among armed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, government troops have been retaking cities, including Kramatorsk, Druzhkivka, Artemivsk and Slovyansk — the headquarters of the separatists’ so-called Donetsk People’s Republic.

On July 2, supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty demonstrated in the southeastern city of Mariupol, where workers drove out separatists in May and again in June.

Anti-Ukraine forces are increasingly unpopular and losing their base of support in the east. Noting that “cases of kidnappings, thefts and armed attacks” targeting working people and industry have grown, Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine chair Mikhailo Volynets called June 21 for workers to undertake “the creation of a labor guard, whose militants could protect not only their enterprises and workplaces, but also their lives and those of their families.”

Alexei, a local driver, told Associated Press by phone that he left his house in Slovyansk July 5 and saw that the armed gunmen had fled. There was some damage to previously occupied buildings, but most of the rest of the city was left untouched.

“Everything is different now. Tonight is the first night with no shelling,” Mikhail Martynenko, 58, a security guard at a market near Slovyansk, told Reuters July 7. “People are in a better mood and there are more people on the streets.”

As separatists vacated Slovyansk, Igor Strelkov, Russian military agent and “commander of the Donetsk People’s Republic,” posted a video online saying his men had “lost the will to fight.”

“They want to live in Russia,” he said. “But when they tried to assert this right, Russia doesn’t want to help.

“I do not claim that Russia does not help,” he quickly added. “But that which we desperately need, does not, at this time, arrive.

“Some believe that I am panicking, that I’m not ok,” he concluded. “Yes, I am not ok.”

Some separatists are regrouping in the city of Donetsk, capital of the eastern Donetsk province, where they still control government buildings but have otherwise done little to interfere with the day-to-day administration of the city government. Donetsk Mayor Alexander Lukyanchenko has maintained municipal services; city workers just finished installing bike lanes downtown.

But Lukyanchenko estimates that some 100,000 people have fled Donetsk in recent weeks as the city is beset with fighting among competing gangs of armed separatists and their thuggery against the population.

A separatist faction from nearby Horlivka led by Igor Bezler, another Russian intelligence officer who goes by the name “Demon,” was routed by rival separatists after he attempted to seize the Donetsk city police station for himself.

“There is an exchange of fire among the separatists,” Iryna Verigina, from the eastern city of Luhansk, told a Ukrainian television station July 8. “They are shooting at each other.”

“Since hundreds of rebels flooded into the city [Donetsk] at the weekend,” Reuters reported July 8, “armed men have been out on the streets, setting up new barricades and checkpoints and stopping pedestrians and motorists.”

Russia stands back

The capitalist government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has not acknowledged the paramilitaries’ calls for Russian military intervention. On the Fourth of July Putin sent a message to U.S. President Barack Obama calling for improvement in relations between the two governments.

A state-funded poll released July 7 showed two-thirds of Russians oppose the country sending troops into Ukraine. Most workers are weary of war following decades of Russian military interventions from Afghanistan to Chechnya and Georgia. They face falling wages, 7 percent inflation and seek greater political rights and space to organize. Russian bosses are foremost concerned about maximizing profits and political stability in Russia and the surrounding region.

Moscow also faces growing discontent among workers and farmers in Crimea, annexed and occupied by Russian troops since March. Prices have soared 20 to 50 percent. As Russia cut off trade with Ukraine, store shelves went bare. Tourism, the main industry, plummeted, cutting jobs and pay. Medication prices have soared beyond the reach of working people. Few Russian banks opened up to replace Ukrainian banks closed by the new regime.

Farmers report they expect a good harvest, but everything else — from irrigation to credits to export possibilities — has been disrupted. “On a scale of one to five, we are at negative three,” Sergei Tur, head of the Association of Farmers and Landowners of Crimea told the New York Times July 7.

Oppressive measures against the 300,000-strong Crimean Tatar population, who overwhelmingly oppose Russian rule, have grown. On July 7 Moscow banned Refat Chubarov, the leader of the Tatar ruling Mejlis assembly, from entering Crimea for five years. Mustafa Dzhemilev, the long-standing leader of the Tatars and leader of the Mejlis until last year, was slapped with a similar ban in April.

Support for the Crimean occupation among Russian working people is low. The government’s appeal to give up a day’s pay to help fund costs of the annexation got little traction. “In our department, not one of us made the donation,” hospital worker Tatyana told Reuters July 6.
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