Today we’ve heard that the Eastern Ukrainian Oblast of Donetsk have announced that their people have voted for their Oblasts to
Today we’ve heard that the Eastern Ukrainian Oblast of Donetsk have announced that their people have voted for their Oblasts to самостоятельность , meaning to “stand by oneself”. The question can be interpreted to mean either independence or broad autonomy, the intentional ambiguity has been a source of contention between officials in Donetsk and Kiev.
A similar vote was taken in the neighbouring Luhansk region with an almost identical response; 96 percent of those who turned out supported “federalisation”, again intentionally ambiguous both questions are being used as justification for seeking a union with Russia.
The result is nothing surprising really, the new authorities in Donetsk and Luhansk have conducted an extensive campaign of intimidation against the opposition.
The ubiquitous “little green men” or the strangely well-equipped pro-Russian gunmen have interred the small number of those who support the administration in Kiev and were brave enough to take to the streets and intimidating those who dared to vote in the referendum.
Journalists are not immune from such measures, the international Business times has compiled a list of seven journalists known to have been taken captive in Eastern Ukraine and there have been unconfirmed reports of two journalists having been found dead.
Among the captured was the Vice Journalist Simon Ostrovsky who was held for three days for “spreading the lies of the Kiev Junta” in his reports.
“Ukraine is being kidnapped”
I don’t think any statement could summarise the situation better here, the separatists are kidnapping the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. Pavel Gubarev, the self proclaimed People’s Governor has a curtain of disinformation and lies keeping the people of Donetsk from realising the crime being committed in front of their eyes.
Orchestrating disappearances and intimidation ensure that no-one wakes up and smells the ashes, notice that their nationality, their homes and their way of life are being stolen.
“Bought and sold for Russian gold”
To paraphrase Robert Burns The East of Ukraine has indeed been “Bought and sold for Russian gold”. While the Russian Premier Mr Putin has publicly warned the Pro-Russians against holding the controversial referendum it cannot be said that Russia doesn’t have vested interests here.
Much of the east and south of Ukraine is part of what was once Novorossiya, or New Russia, notably the Crimean peninsula as well as the Donetsk Oblast and a large section of the Luhansk Oblast. Mr Putin claims this land as “essentially Russian” based on it’s high percentage of ethnic Russians inhabitants and it being part of Russia until the formation of the Soviet Union.
Territorial claims are something of a speciality of Putin’s, one of his first acts in office was the invasion and capture of Chechnya in 1999 and the suppression of the insurgency there, while his protégé Dimitry Mendev spearheaded the Russo-Georgian war of 2008. With such a keen interest in expansionism it is no surprise that Russia is not passing up this opportunity to gain territory.
But maybe I’m being unfair to the Pro-Russian factions here, there are many who have legitimate reasons to dislike the government in Kiev. Many in the East have suffered from the corruption and the greed of previous Ukrainian governments.
In the Donetsk Oblast many towns have crumbled since the fall of the Soviet Union, once thriving communities turned to ghost towns overnight with many trapped in the crumbling monotone of decay, abandoned by governments more interested in lining their own pockets than helping them.
There certainly are some double standards here, the Euromaidan protesters like the Pro-Russians took control of government buildings in Kiev. Instead of almost universal condemnation however the Euromaidan protestors were praised by European and American officials, for doing essentially the same thing, as such it is easy to feel some sympathy for them.
Regardless, such ordinary people are mere pawns here, while the men on the streets may seem to be in control the future of the East is – again – in the hands of the elite, the oligarchs and tycoons who can be safely relied upon to put themselves first.
What they will decide on is however unclear, while Putin is interested in having Novorossiya he fears a western backlash should he do so. While it is generally agreed that Russian and Nato troops cannot operate in close proximity to avoid a Pristina Airport style incident the possibility of economic sanctions remains.
Putin is showing measured restraint with regards to the referendum, while he supported a similar vote in Crimea he urged the revolutionary authorities of Donetsk and Luhansk to postpone the referendum.
On hearing it’s results his only statement was that he hoped that it was implemented in a “civilised manner.” His concern is justified, the Russian economy is still weak after it’s recovery from the deep recession after the fall of the Soviet Union and- more importantly for Putin – recovering it’s position as a world power. Economic sanctions could bugger that all up in rather short order.
So if Putin doesn’t accept Eastern Ukraine into Russian then what? The Ukrainian military is already deployed in Eastern Ukraine pushing back the rebels. Videos are already circulating of Ukrainian armoured vehicles smashing through rebel checkpoints near Donetsk, It is possible that the Ukrainian army may simply sieze the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts and peacefully resolve the situation.
But history suggests that things will not be that simple, ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe has a history of permeating and dividing the generations. I fear that the region may be consigned to the fate of Transnistria.
Considered the last bastion of the Soviet Union Transnistria is in a limbo as an unrecognised state. With an economy based on smuggling and gunrunning the super-presidentialist state could be described as the most backward in Europe.
But no matter what allegiances they hold these next few weeks will be a tense time for all Ukrainians. The chain of events will define all of their lives.
What do you think? Have your say in the comments section below.
Image: Viktor Dashkiyeff (CC)