Despite promising to defend the town to the last man and the last drop of blood, pro-Russian separatists pulled out of Slaviansk the weekend of 5-6 July. Kramatorsk and some smaller population centres were also abandoned. The separatists regrouped in Donetsk.
In an article entitled “We Left Slaviansk in Order to Return to Kiev”, Igor Druz (adviser to the self-styled “Minister of Defence of the Donetsk People’s Republic”) explained:
“What would have happened if the Russian army had decided to defend Moscow to the end in 1812, or Kiev in 1941? Paris would not have been captured. And nor would have been Berlin. The army — the ‘only ally of Russia’ — would have perished. I am convinced of our victory, and that we will liberate Kiev as well.”
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, the unelected Prime Minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), Aleksandr Borodai, was equally supportive of the withdrawal:
“Slaviansk was a sad case. It was a symbol of resistance. Its heroic defence has already gone down in history. But from a purely military point of view, keeping hold of Slaviansk made no sense.”
“Now we will establish rigid vertical lines of command of all military units. We are not preparing for a siege. We are preparing for military actions, for the launch of a counter-attack. And our concentration of forces allows us to look forward to success.”
But not all cheerleaders of the Russian separatists were equally enthusiastic.
In a widely circulated interview-recording, Sergei Kurginyan, leader of the Russian-nationalist and semi-mystic movement “Essence of Time”, savagely denounced Pavel Gubarev (self-proclaimed “People’s Governor of Donetsk”) for agreeing to the withdrawal.
The separatists marked their arrival in Donetsk by staging a city-centre rally. Out of a population of just under a million, fewer than two thousand turned up to show their support. As usual, Gubarev, who spoke at the rally, denounced the Kiev authorities as committing genocide.
A pro-separatist musical rally last Saturday (12 July) in Lenin Square in Donetsk — with the rock band Novorossiya topping the bill — attracted an audience of just a few dozen.
Another rally held in the same venue the following day, commemorating the 250th anniversary of the proclamation of the province of Novorossiya by the Empress Elizabeth II, attracted fewer than 500.
Speakers at the rally included Gubarev (who compared the Ukrainian military offensive with the Nazi invasion of Russia in 1941, and promised to conquer Kiev and Lviv) and Nina Popova of the Ukrainian Communist Party (who called for an end to the horrors of the fighting, but closed with the words: “Our war is a just war, victory will be ours!”)
Donetsk’s inhabitants are no keener to join the ranks of the separatists’ militia than they are to attend their rallies.
In mid-June Borodai announced that a 10,000 strong military unit recruited from local miners was to be created: “The entire people of the Donbas is rising up to fight against the punitive Ukrainian forces of occupation. For us, this war is a truly patriotic one.”
By early July, however, Strelkov-Girkin (the Russian commander-in-chief of the separatist forces) was striking a very different note:
“Every man must choose for himself. If someone regards himself to be a man, then he must defend his motherland. But for the past three months we have had very few volunteers for a mining region, where a lot of people are used to dangerous work.”
“Commencing in the immediate future we will therefore begin to pay members of the militia around eight thousand hrivnya (a month).”
Under the headline “Trusted Fighters of the Russian World Gather in the DPR: New Head of State Security Appointed”, Borodai and Strelkov-Girkin announced that security in the new separatist stronghold of Donetsk would be the responsibility of Vladimir Antyufeyev.
A Russian national (like Borodai and Strelkov-Girkin), Antyufeyev was in charge of the KGB for 20 years in the breakway Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic (TMR) before his return to Russia in 2012.
In the late 1980s Antyufeyev supported Russian militants in Latvia. He then moved to Moldova where (like Borodai and Strelkov-Girkin) he fought in the war which resulted in the breakway TMR. He has been on Latvia’s “wanted” list since 1991, and on the EU’s “persona non grata” list since 2004.
Coinciding with the appointment of Antyufeyev, the self-styled leaders of the DPR (Prime Minister Borodai; President of the Supreme Soviet Denis Pushilin; and First Vice-Prime-Minister Andrei Purgin) appealed to the governments of the TMR and Abkhazia for diplomatic recognition of the DPR:
“In February 2014 a state coup, inspired by western secret services, took place in Ukraine. A military junta came to power and formed an illegitimate government consisting of representatives of ultra-nationalist forces which preach a fascist ideology.”
“The new Ukrainian authorities have declared a war aimed at the destruction of the Russian-speaking population of the country.”
(In the real world, diplomatic recognition by the TMR and Abkhazia would count for nothing. They themselves are devoid of international recognition.)
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring fiction of the “Lugansk People’s Republic” (LPR) Valery Bolotov (whose official title is simply: “head of the LPR”) announced that he had sacked the entire LPR government and appointed Marat Bashirov as “President of the Council of Ministers”, tasked with creating a new government.
Like Borodai, Strelkov-Girkin, Antyufeyev and Pushilin, Bashirov is a Russian national. He is the former vice-president of a Russian private energy company and a former lobbyist for the private sector. In his first public statement after his appointment he announced that the LPR would be switching to the Russian ruble.
The separatists’ withdrawal from Slaviansk a fortnight ago does not signal the beginning of the end of the military conflict.
Ukraine has been unable to shut down its border with Russia. The separatists are still able to receive reinforcements from Russia: tanks, Grad missile launchers, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, munitions, money and combatants.
By regrouping in Donetsk and Lugansk the separatists are able to use the civilian population as “protection”: bombardments by air or land by the Ukrainian forces would inevitably cause major civilian casualties.
But there already have been civilian casualties and damage to homes and businesses. And there will doubtless be more in future. This allows the separatists to portray themselves as “defenders” against Ukrainian aggression.
In the week following their withdrawal to Donetsk the separatists themselves blew up seven road and rail bridges around the city. Yet more bridges were blown up last weekend.
Many of the separatists have much more military experience than the Ukrainian military: they have fought in South Ossetia, in two wars in Chechnya, and, in some cases, in Bosnia (in support of Milosovic), and in the war in Moldova.
From their bases in Donetsk and Lugansk the separatists can also pick and choose the timing and targets of attacks on the surrounding Ukrainian forces, sometimes causing substantial numbers of casualties.
Novorossiya's useful idiots
An “international conference” entitled “The World Crisis and the Confrontation in Ukraine” was held in Yalta (Crimea, formerly Ukraine, now Russia) on 6-7 July.
The background to the conference was provided in an article published on the website of the Russian academic magazine, Politicheskoye Obrazovaniye1. An identical report of the conference’s proceedings was subsequently published on the website of Rabkor2 and Russian Spring3.
(The former is a left-wing website, edited by Boris Kagarlitsky. The latter is a right-wing website which is one of the electronic media mouthpieces of the Donetsk/Lugansk “People’s Republics”.)
According to its organisers, who included the “Centre of Co-ordination and Support for Novaya Rus’ (Novorossiya)”4, the purpose of the conference was threefold:
“To create an international network of support for the movement for the creation of Novorossiya… To provide additional arguments and emotional materials for western activists and intellectuals who support us.”1
“By inviting a number of western experts to Crimea, to demonstrate to the domestic (i.e. Russian) public the existence in western public opinion of a strong current hostile to the current anti-Russian campaign.”1
“Publications by conference participants in the western press and in the English-language section of the web (which) must facilitate the dissemination of information which is positive for Russia about the processes now underway.”1
The organisers also stressed the importance of the fact that the conference was being held in Crimea:
“The mere fact of the arrival in Crimea of an entire delegation of western intellectuals in and of itself is already a form of support for the changes which have taken place (i.e. the annexation of Crimea) and a blow to the various initiatives for a boycott of Russia.”1
The conference agreed that the overthrow of Yanukovich and the uprising in the south-east of Ukraine were both the product of the European social-economic crisis. As one of the participants, Vasily Koltashov, put it:
“The struggle against the new Kiev authorities is really a struggle against the European Union, only not just in the form of a rejection of the politics of the destruction of the family and heterosexual relationships but in the form of a rejection of the entire anti-social neo-liberal policies of the western elites.”2, 3
“Banderite fascism,” the same speaker continued, was “needed by Washington and Brussels as an instrument to beat down social opposition.”2, 3
Representatives of the Donetsk and Lugansk so-called People’s Republics informed the conference:
“A fifth column in Donetsk dreamed of surrendering the city to the punitive expeditionaries [the name used by the separatists to describe Ukrainian troops]. They blocked initiatives to organize the rear and the defence of the city. But now order is being imposed.”2, 3
“We will not be raising the white flag, as desired by the oligarchs and the Banderite politicians and their American chiefs. We are very much in need of international support. We want people in Europe and beyond to know: we are fighting against the new fascism, we are fighting for freedom, we are fighting for our land.”2, 3
Described as “the co-ordinator of the campaign in defence of Novorossiya”, Richard Brenner [we assume Richard Brenner of Workers’ Power] is quoted as saying:
“For us it is very important to know what is happening in Donetsk and Lugansk, what is happening in the entire territory controlled by the junta. We perfectly understand that we are not helping some faraway incomprehensible rebels but are making common cause with the workers of Novorossiya.”2, 3
Other speakers stressed:
“The struggle of the people against fascism in former Ukraine has an international character. The Banderite-liberal-fascist regime in Kiev does not accord us any rights. And this is the doctrine of the USA and the EU, who are running the show on our land. The liberation struggle of Novorossiya not only has a Russian character but also a Eurasian one.”2, 3
An unnamed “European expert” present at the conference described the socio-economic havoc currently being wreaked by the “Euro-bureaucrats” and concluded:
“That is why we are in solidarity with you! Because we recognise that the enemy of Novorossiya is our common enemy — those neo-liberal forces who deprive us of our future.”2, 3
The conference concluded with agreement on an appeal to be published in English and Russian.
Apart from Richard Brenner, attendees at the conferences included Boris Kagarlitsky and Vasily Koltashov (Director and Deputy Director of the Institute for Global Research and Social Movements), the American economist Jeff Sommers, and Roger Ennis (“co-ordinator of the Canadian Campaign in Support of the Donetsk People’s Republic”).
4. This organisation defines its role as: “The struggle against the fascist junta which has seized power in Kiev. The struggle for the freedom of the citizens of Novorossiya. The struggle of the Russian World for the right to live according to its own laws, free of Neanderthal Galician nationalism and oligarchic fascism of the Latin-American variety”.