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Vol. 78/No. 31      September 1, 2014

(front page)
Ukraine: Separatists retreat
from strongholds in the east
Militant/Sara Lobman
Supporters of Ukrainian sovereignty protested across U.S. Aug. 16. Above, New York City.

As separatist paramilitaries continue their retreat in eastern Ukraine, thousands took to the streets Aug. 16 in cities across the U.S. and elsewhere to support the fight of Ukrainian people to defend their national sovereignty.

Hundreds marched in New York and Chicago in response to the call for actions by well-known Ukrainian singer Ruslana Lyzhychko, who took to the stage in Kiev’s Independence Square in February as demonstrators battled the hated Berkut riot police, leading up to the overthrow of pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych.

In response, Russian troops invaded and seized Crimea and sent arms and combatants to join pro-Moscow separatists to seize government buildings and announce the formation of the so-called People’s Republics in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

In the last week three top Russian commanders in Ukraine have resigned and left the country, including Igor Strelkov, the self-proclaimed head of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

“Interviews across eastern Ukraine portray a rapid breakdown in discipline in the rebel ranks,” the New York Times reported Aug. 17.

Workers who remain in Donetsk report that paramilitary forces have started drinking openly and abandoned their uniforms in favor of civilian clothes, so they can toss away their weapons and try to blend in with local people as their situation worsens.

In response, Donetsk People’s Republic authorities announced Aug. 18 they were setting up military tribunals and enacting the death penalty for a series of offenses, including treason, desertion, espionage, sabotage and attempts on the lives of senior officials.

Ukrainian troops entered Luhansk Aug. 17 and are advancing toward Donetsk, the last major cities where separatists occupy government buildings.

“I don’t understand the local population’s mentality,” a Russian paramilitary who calls himself Koba, a nickname of Joseph Stalin, told the Financial Times, saying it was different in 2007 when he fought in South Ossetia and the Russian military was able to get backing from the local population. The separatists have had a hard time recruiting and retaining recruits in Ukraine.

At the same time, Alexander Zakharchenko, who announced he was the new prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic after the previous Russian commando holding that title quit last week, said Aug. 16 that they were receiving 150 armored vehicles, 30 tanks and 1,200 trained paramilitaries from Russia.

The day before reporters said they saw armored vehicles crossing the Russian border with Ukraine. A little later, Ukrainian authorities announced they had destroyed part of the convoy.

While many in eastern Ukraine are wary of the government in Kiev and initially didn’t oppose the pro-Moscow forces, they welcome the end of the separatists’ provocations. “What was the point of all this bloodshed we’ve had the last three months?” a man named Igor told BBC News in Slovyansk. “Was it worth it just so some people could hang up their separatist flags?”

Both Kiev and Moscow announced they were organizing convoys of humanitarian aid for residents of Luhansk, where water, electricity and telephone service has been out for over two weeks.

Seventy-one trucks filled with 800 tons of food and other necessities were shipped from Kharkiv, Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk to the east Aug. 15.

Moscow announced it had organized some 260 trucks full of relief supplies. The Russian military trucks, painted white and driven by young men in identical beige shorts and shirts, are now parked at the Ukrainian border, awaiting inspection by Ukrainian border agents and the International Red Cross.

In efforts to dispel suspicions that more military equipment or troops might be hidden on the trucks, the Russian drivers have allowed journalists to make random inspections. A number of the trucks have turned out to be mostly empty, possibly intended to carry fighters and weapons out of the country.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose capitalist economy is strongly intertwined with Russian gas and oil exports, said she was coming to Kiev to express her support for the Ukrainian government.

Washington, EU press sanctions

In face of a stagnating economy and sanctions by Washington and the EU, Russian capitalists have been restraining the government of Vladimir Putin from deeper intervention in Ukraine.

Most workers, who have lived through Russian wars in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Georgia, also oppose a spreading war in Ukraine.

Former Finance Minister and close Putin ally Alexei Kudrin voiced rare public criticism of Moscow’s provocations in Ukraine in an interview with the state-run ITAR-TASS news service, saying the government’s course would result in economic crisis.

A new round of U.S. and EU sanctions imposed against Moscow at the end of July have deepened Russia’s economic stagnation. Increases in real wages have sharply declined, leading to a fall in consumer spending. Investment in production has contracted in six of the first seven months of 2014. Inflation is up to 7.5 percent.

In the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk region, cheese is up 10 percent, meat 15 percent and chicken legs up 60 percent.  
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