Staunton, June 17 – In the course of an interview conducted by Ani Ayvazyan, Aleksandr Genis, who has become prominent as a Russian émigré writer and commentator for some Moscow outlets, makes five observations which cast a bright light on some of the darker developments in Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
· Genis says his “favorite president was Vaclav Havel,” adding that he “dreamed that [Academician Andrei] Sakharov would head a Russia freed from communism and [Yegor] Gaidar would be his prime minister. Instead of this, the secret services are running the country. This is equivalent to having entrusted the Gestapo to carry about the de-Nazification of Germany.”
· The essayist admits being mistake in his “assessment of the changes in post-Soviet society,” but he says that he “did not believe that 83 percent” of Russians “could support [Vladimir Putin’s] aggression in Ukraine.”
· He says that “Russia is the motherland of [his] language. And the motherland of the majority of [his] readers. [That] Russia is an indisputable part of Europe; it is the one which interests [him].”
· Under today’s conditions, the writer continues, “free Russian culture will be able to survive in the near abroad beginning with a reformed Ukraine. Right now, independent Russian television exists only in Kyiv.”
· Moreover, Genis says, “television journalists as such do not exist in Russia. Those who present themselves as such will be condemned as the heirs of Goebbels.” What they do is “crude propaganda. Such a situation is impossible in America because competition does not allow presenting only one point of view. Unfortunately, few in Russia understand this elementary truth.”
In Dnipropetrovsk, just 150 miles from the Donetsk People’s Republic, the regional governor is a very rich man with very big plans to stop pro-Russian separatists in their tracks.
The Russian-speaking eastern industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk is just 150 miles from the separatist capital of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Yet, in strong contrast to war-torn Donetsk, it is quiet and peaceful, “calm as a cemetery,” says a taxi driver on the ride into town from the train station. Dubbed the “Lviv of the East” by the Ukrainian press, the city has instead seen a resurgence of patriotism in the last months. Ukrainian flags fly from balconies, some residents have painted their cars in national colors, and a supersize blue-and-yellow Ukrainian trident graces the entire side of a multi-story building on the Dnieper river.
The pro-Ukrainian revanche in this key swing city in eastern Ukraine has been made possible by the brash tactics of the region’s new governor, Igor Kolomoisky, an oligarch who also owns PrivatBank, the nation’s largest bank. Since being appointed governor by the transitional Kiev government in March, Kolomoisky moved swiftly to snip separatist sentiments in the bud. The leaders of the 1,500-strong pro-Russian demonstrations in the city center were quickly appeased with offers of more patriotic education, protection of Communist-era monuments, and promises of more power sharing with Kiev.
Meanwhile, Kolomoisky’s bank also offered a highly publicized reward of $10,000 for the capture of pro-Russian separatists. The pro-Russian demonstrations swiftly dwindled in number, until none were being organized. Hard-core Moscow supporters like Oleg Tsarev, a local parliament member, were chased out of town with bounties their heads. With a $500,000 reward being offered by PrivatBank for Tsarev’s capture, he has decided to cool his heels in Moscow. His palatial residence in the center of the city has been taken over by the government and turned into a refugee center for displaced citizens from the East.
“Dnipropetrovsk will become a Second Stalingrad for those who want war here. And the Ukrainians will win,” threatened Deputy Governor Gennady Korban on local television.
“Dnipropetrovsk will become a Second Stalingrad for those who want war here. And the Ukrainians will win,” threatened Deputy Governor Gennady Korban on local television.
While these bold initiatives have stanched the separatist threat for now, Kolomoisky is not taking any chances. He has also spent over $10 million creating his own citizen militia, the Dnipro Battalion, which has been supplied with SUVs, semi-automatics, and new uniforms. The governor’s private army has set up armed checkpoints around the city, and now controls traffic into and out of the city. It also makes forays into separatist territory, and was reportedly behind the separatist massacre in nearby Mariupol after pro-Russians took control of a police station. The entire station was burned down, along with those inside.
While these strong-arm tactics have been criticized by some, the governor enjoys strong support from the local population. “I don’t care if he’s like Hitler, as long as he prevents war coming here,” says a local restaurateur. With more refugees from the troubled East arriving every day, and ominous reports of war dominating the news, residents are counting their blessings and hoping that their city stays unscathed.
“Julia Timoshenko [former prime minister and presidential candidate] was our local hero. Now it’s Kolomoisky, no question about it,” says Tsenia Tokaruik, a journalist with the Evening Dnipropetrovsk, which won an award last week for the country’s best regional paper.
It’s interesting that Kolomoisky himself is Jewish, putting the lie to the Kremlin’s propaganda about the “fascists and neo-Nazis” behind the revolution in Kiev. Although not openly religious, he was instrumental in building Menorah, a seven-towered Jewish community center in Dnipropetrovsk, said to be the largest in the world. The city is home to Ukraine’s largest Jewish community, which has spawned many of the country’s prominent oligarchs, including Victor Pinchuk. Residents are quick to point out the city’s multi-cultural nature to visiting journalists like myself, counting Georgians, Armenians, Turks, and others among its citizens.
It’s possibly this culture of tolerance—along with Kolomoisky’s gung-ho tactics—that has saved this city from the fate of its eastern neighbors. However, the spraying of an incoming train from Donetsk with machine gun fire last week, and the fatal stabbing of a pro-Ukrainian in the center of the city, have jangled nerves. Many fear that Kolomoisky, who has boldly called Putin a “schizophrenic of short stature,” might suffer the same fate as Kharkiv’s former mayor, Gennady Kernes, who was shot in the back while out for a swim.
“He has to tread very carefully,” says Tokaruik. “There are still many pro-Russians amongst us. The situation could change for the worse in the blink of an eye.”
I cant speak for the truth about this…..but even if it is voluntary, i don’t like militants stay with civilians…..
Terrorists are forcing the local residents of Donbas to lodge the militants in their houses
In Slovyansk, Kramatorsk and a few other places, that are being controlled by the Donetsk separatists, the local residents are forced to accommodate the militants of the so-called “DPR army” in their houses, as is stated by the 62.ua website.
Reports say that announcements have appeared on a few residential houses last Saturday, which were signed by the “Headquarters of Armed Forces of the Donetsk People’s Republic”. In the announcement, people are asked to “voluntarily make room for militants and commanders and to provide them with all the necessities, including office equipment and telephone communication”.
One of the residents of Kramatorsk, Iryna, told about how the militants are already starting to move into the houses. “Almost all of them are foreigners, non-Ukrainians. The number of the militants we are forced to accommodate varies depending on the size of the housing and how many people are already living there. Some people are forced to lodge only one militant, some people, four of them. As they say, we are fighting for you while you’re sitting at home, so you should help” – said the woman.
The announcement emphasizes that “any attempted resistance will be dealt with according to the wartime laws”.
During the past few weeks I have relaxed somewhat. The Ukrainian Presidential election ran smoothly; President Poroshenko spoke brilliantly at the Rada on the occasion of his inauguration; news of the anti-terrorist operation in the eastern regions of Ukraine seemed to show that the ring around the Russian mercenaries was closing. So, I decided (like many in Kyiv), to return to my daily routine for a while. But Saturday’s downing of a military transport aircraft near Luhansk airport with 49 servicemen onboard, followed by today’s gas supply shut off (predictable, but nevertheless unpleasant), and news of renewed Russian troop movements on Ukraine’s eastern borders have got me worried again.
Trying to predict the future is a bad idea. I have been ribbed by several of my readers for having wrongly predicted imminent Russian invasion before. I am not a psychologist, nor a psychotherapist – I don’t know what Putin is planning to do during the next couple of days/weeks. And it would seem that much depends on the decisions of this one man. Speculation as to his true motives abounds: amassing economic power (including personal wealth), expressing Russian nationalism (which could mean anything from Dugin-style Eurasianism to a more modest concern for Russian-speakers in the “near-abroad”), maintaining authoritarianism (i.e. fear of losing power due to a revolutionary demonstration effect). Putin’s motives are likely a combination of some or all of the above. Whatever the real state of affairs inside his head, the aggressive nature of the policies and actions of the Kremlin is becoming increasingly worrying: a local war in the Donbas has already started, and its spread seems increasingly inevitable.
I understand from my informal contacts with western diplomats in Kyiv (including military attaches) that western governments are baffled by Russia. Given that Ukraine’s National Security Council met for over 5 hours today, I am relatively confident that the same goes for the Poroshenko administration. The Ukrainian and EU political establishments simply don’t know how to respond to the Kremlin; their mode of thought is primarily reactive rather than proactive; they fear the consequences of making a wrong move as much as those resulting from doing nothing. All three of these observations indicate danger – grave danger not only to Ukraine, but to the world.
So what to do? I will deliberately avoid prediction, but as someone who has some background in social sciences, I’ll venture to provide some policy advice.
I have called for this previously, and I am convinced that this continues to be the correct move by western countries with respect to ongoing Russian aggression, and persistent expansionist policies of the Kremlin: NATO (or a several countries belonging to the alliance) should declare the territory of Ukraine to be a “no-fly zone”. American, Canadian, British, Polish, and German aircraft should be patrolling the skies over Ukraine on a regular basis. Any and all surface-to-air weapons usage (e.g. the shooting down of transport aircraft by mobile “Stinger-style” missiles, as occurred early Saturday morning in the vicinity of Luhansk airport) is to be deemed an act of aggression worthy of a military response from the air. No NATO boots on the ground, but plenty of air support – this is what Ukraine really needs right now.
As for domestic action (i.e. by the Poroshenko administration), clearly the eastern border needs to be closed (the idea proposed by Dnipropetrovsk governor Ihor Kolomoyskyy – to build a chain-link fence and defensive ditches all along the land border between Ukraine and Russia was approved today by the National Security Council), the forces engaged in the anti-terrorist operation in the eastern regions need to be better equipped (e.g. with flak jackets and Kevlar helmets), and suspected moles within the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Internal Affairs Ministry, Security Service, and Border Guard Service need to be rooted out, prosecuted, and publicly punished. But Ukraine’s authorities know all of this. What they seem not to know is that in parallel with all of the above, they are obliged to regularly inform the public of their actions. President Poroshenko should be addressing the nation on a daily basis! This need not be more than a 3 minute short speech, but it needs to be done…
Furthermore, the President need not fear making a mistake during these broadcasts. The Ukrainian public has given Mr. Poroshenko the benefit of a great deal of doubt, and people trust their leader – for the moment. If silence continues, that trust will wane. In today’s Ukraine people understand that the President is human, and will make mistakes. If he is honest in having made them, he will maintain his support. If not, he will lose the battle for hearts and minds very soon. And then the country will truly descend into anarchy…
Russian propaganda is working intensely both in Ukraine and abroad. I was shocked on Sunday, when I turned on Al Jazeera: instead of reporting on the downing of the military transport near Luhansk (the story that has dominated Ukraine’s news broadcast for the past 3 days), the report on Ukraine focused on Russian foreign minister Lavrov’s “outrage” at the Russian embassy in Kyiv having been pelted with eggs the previous day, and his disappointment with his Ukrainian counterpart having called Russia’s President an insulting name during the demonstration. The fact that Acting Foreign Minister Deshchytsia’s comments (he called Putin a “dickhead” – to paraphrase the extremely popular phrase currently circulating throughout Ukraine: “Putin – khuylo!”) were aimed at defusing the emotions of the demonstrators, and in fact may have contributed to the Russian embassy NOT being stormed by the angry mob on Saturday evening, was not mentioned during the Al Jazeera broadcast. Thankfully, this fact was publicly noted by US Ambassador Pyatt today, who called Mr. Deshchytsia a “skilled diplomat” in his Twitter.
Tonight however, while watching CNN’s interpretation of the current gas dispute between Kyiv and Moscow, it became clear to me that the western press responds more favorably to Kremlin spin doctors than to diplomats on the ground. Business page headlines in the English-language newspapers on Tuesday will echo the top story of the Financial times: “Russia cuts off the gas to Ukraine”. This is FALSE!!! A full 55% of Russia’s gas exports flow through a pipleline network that crosses Ukrainian territory. This gas continues to flow. Do the Europeans trust that the Ukrainians will not siphon off some of the EU-bound gas for their own use? Clearly the Kremlin will accuse Kyiv of doing just that during the coming days, but I’m confident the EU will (quietly?) support Ukraine when official denials are issued by Kyiv. Which side will the western press believe?
Few now doubt the intensity of Russian efforts in the global information war. And the domestic Ukrainian front is not immune either. Several stories appeared on Ukrainian websites today claiming that the IL-76 disaster in Luhansk on Saturday was actually caused by inept Ukrainian troops. Similarly, Russian websites have reported artillery barrages (supposedly launched by Ukrainian forces) being aimed at residential buildings in Kramatorsk (Donetsk region). Apparently, the fact that pro-Russian militants have actually admitted to shooting down the Ukrainian military transport plane on Saturday with Russian-supplied missiles, and that several pro-Russian fighters have posted photos of their Russian-supplied mobile “Grad” missile launchers on their social media pages, is no obstacle for Kremlin spin doctors. In fact, they’ve dreamed up a quasi-credible conspiracy theory: apparently (according to this fairytale), Ukraine’s post-revolutionary government is in such deep economic crisis that its only chance of political survival is to provoke a full-scale Russian invasion of the east. According to this fantasy, PM Yatseniuk and President Poroshenko have decided that the only way that they will be able to survive an “imminent” repeat of the Maidan revolution (sparked by rising unemployment, a plummeting currency, unrest in the eastern regions, a stagnating economy, and rising energy prices) is to “artificially” blame the country’s woes on Russia. For this reason, it is (apparently) in the interests of Kyiv to provoke the Kremlin…
To some (like me) this kind of rhetoric is cause for grave concern. Today, the self-proclaimed “defense minister” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, Igor Girkin (aka Strelkov) issued a televised statement during which he openly called for Russian invasion. Apparently the pro-Russian insurgency is just too weak to counter the onslaught of Ukraine’s Armed Forces and Interior Ministry troops. Ominously (or perhaps as an encouragement to Strelkov – himself a former Russian intelligence officer) large scale troop movements on the Russian side of the border were reported today by Ukrainian media. If these reports are confirmed by NATO spy satellite imagery, I’ll be extremely nervous…
Mr. Putin seems to enjoy following Stalin’s example: he appears to believe in the significance of historical events. Hitler attacked Ukraine (at that time the western USSR) on 22 June 1941. I don’t mean to be superstitious, but coincidence seems to be vociferous:
20 January – violence suddenly erupts in Kyiv on Hrushevskoho St. (many believe this was provoked artificially)
22 February – Yanukovych fleas Ukraine
21 March – Putin officially annexes Crimea to the Russian Federation
23 April – Lavrov publicly admits for the first time that Russian troops are massing on the Ukrainian border in preparation for a possible invasion
22 May – the anti-terrorist operation in Ukraine’s Donbas results in its first large-scale casualties – 8 servicemen killed in battle with pro-Russian fighters near Volnovakha (Donetsk oblast).
Lately, each time the date on the calendar approaches the “20” mark, my wife and I start getting nervous. And the fact that this month, the date coincides with an anniversary of invasion does nothing to alleviate our superstitions.
Several days ago I reported that three Russian T-90 tanks (modernized T-72’s) had crossed the Ukrainian border from Russia on their way to Slavyansk. It has now become clear that these were actually old T-64 tanks that had (apparently) been stolen from an arms dump in Russian-occupied Crimea, and then transported by ship to Rostov-on-Don oblast before crossing the land border back into Ukraine. I apologize for reporting incorrect information.
An interesting interpretation of this event was circulated over the weekend, in the form of a livejournal post authored by Andrey Ilarionov – a former Putin advisor, who has been a militant supporter of Ukraine during/since the Maidan. According to his analysis of the press reports emanating from the Kremlin on 12 June, after it became public that Russian tanks had rolled across the Ukrainian border, President Putin called President Poroshenko (not vice versa!). Official reaction to this incident was subdued on all sides: the Kyiv government issued a statement expressing its concern as to “the unacceptable situation when the state border between Russia and Ukraine had been crossed by tanks”. No effort was made to destroy the tanks enroute – in fact, they seem to have simply run out of gas before reaching Slavyansk (incidentally, they seem to also have taken a wrong turn towards Makiyivka and Donetsk rather than driving along the more direct, though less populated route). All of this seems very strange…
Ilarionov interprets this event as a signal of Putin having lost at least some measure of his formerly total control over the militants in eastern Ukraine and western Rostov oblast (Russia). According to this version, the purpose of the phone call from the Kremlin was to allay any possible fears on the Ukrainian side as to the tanks representing a real Russian invasion force. However, the fighters in the Donbas continue to receive arms and equipment from Russia – not to mention mercenary reinforcements (primarily battle-scarred fighters from the northern Caucasus). Could it be possible that these men and materiel are being paid for by Yanukovych (with cash stolen from Ukraine)? Today, the “Levey Bereg” news site posted a recording of an apparently tapped telephone conversation between Viktor Yanukovych Jr. and the President of Belarus during which a voice very similar to the former President’s son’s is identified as asking Lukashenko whether he would agree to “accept his father as a guest for a time if this should become necessary.” Could Yanukovych be outstaying his welcome in Russia?
Certainly, many in Ukraine would like to believe that Putin’s actions in eastern Ukraine represent the beginning of the end of his regime. At the same time, most analysts believe Putin’s authoritarianism in Russia to be much stronger and more effective than the power once exercised by Yanukovych in Ukraine. However, there is little doubt that Russia has massive corruption problems, and Ukraine’s former President certainly knows how to buy off low-level officials (including police, border guards, tax officials, etc.). The economic situation and the political culture of Rostov-on-Don is practically identical to Yanukovych’s native Donbas…
If I were Putin, and I had unleashed (sponsored and fomented) an insurgency that I was gradually losing control over, what would I do? Firstly, I would probably have Yanukovych killed. Secondly, I would divert attention from the local skirmishes in the Donbas by inciting a more substantial, continental conflict (i.e. apply the “gas weapon”). Thirdly, I would quietly move loyal troops into an area near the Ukrainian border in order to be able to control any cross-border skirmishes or unrestrained violence caused by mercenaries retreating to Russia. If the Ukrainian army is unable to destroy the mercenary forces in the Donbas, Russian forces will be close by, and could be inserted as “peace-keepers” at a moment’s notice. June 22 seems like a good date, but July 20 could be just as suitable…
On the other hand Mr. Putin, the above steps need to be taken quickly, for your authoritarian regime may not survive delay! Regardless of your supposedly full control over Russia’s media, dissent and protest against the Kremlin’s policies in Ukraine is spreading through the Russian internet. On Sunday, after the downing of the transport aircraft in Luhansk by Russian-supplied missiles, a makeshift memorial was set up by Muscovites in front of the Ukrainian embassy in the Russian capital. Ukrainian social media and news broadcasts have shown video clips of ordinary Muscovites laying flowers to the fallen and begging Ukrainians for forgiveness for the atrocity obviously financed by their national leadership. Other brave Russians unfurled a banner in Moscow on Sunday calling for “Death to Kremlinite occupiers” (Smert kremlyovskim okupantam”). The video clip of their demonstration shows the time span between the banner first being unfurled, and arrests commencing lasting less than 3 minutes. Nevertheless, these brave souls are standing up to Mr. Putin, and that must seem threatening (at least a little)…
However, local protests in Moscow are nowhere near as threatening as tens of thousands of Russian troops massing along a border less than 500 km away.
God help us!
Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD