April 15, 2018 – Fort Russ News –
By Eduard Popov, translated by Jafe Arnold –
For good or for worse, the situation in Donbass over the past few days has not seen any revolutionary changes. However, some very important trends have been noted which might lead to a fundamentally new situation.
1. Kiev preparing new terrorist attacks on Donbass
On April 13th, the press service of the Lugansk People’s Republic’s Ministry of State Security (MGB) published a report exposing preparations by Kiev saboteurs to assassinate the heads of the LPR and DPR. According to the ministry, near the village of Novopetrovka in the Berdyansky district of the Zaporozhye region, an exclusive base for training saboteur-terrorist squads has been established. Saboteurs are being trained in explosives and sniper operations under the command of, according to the report, “a citizen of Georgia, Maruashvili, who took part in combat in South Ossetia in 2008.” The report continues: “The tasks of these sabotage-terrorist groups is the carrying out of terrorist attacks on the territory of the DPR and LPR and the elimination of representatives of their leadership.”
Kiev has long since been pursuing a policy of mass terror against the population of the Donbass republics in addition to targeted terror against the military leaders of the DPR and LPR. Of course, all of this violates the Minsk Agreements which guarantee amnesty to participants in socio-political processes in Donbass.
Over the past few weeks, Kiev’s terrorist operations have increased in activity dramatically. For example, Ukrainian border guards took two Russian civilian vessels hostage. These and other incidents are attempts at provoking Russia. Poroshenko is taking advantage of Russia’s immersion in the Syrian conflict to solve his own domestic problems. And he has succeeded insofar as Moscow is still only reacting to Kiev’s provocations on the level of declarations. Moscow’s tactic is to not succumb to provocations, but this has crucial flaws and leads only to increased aggressiveness in rhetoric and actions on the part of Kiev, which is covered by Western support.
In a recent interview with Russian media, I expressed my opinion that the Donbass republics and Russia need to react to clear violations of the Minsk Agreements by threatening Kiev with “political consequences” when the lives and health of DPR and LPR leaders are threatened. Just what such “political consequences” could be is an open question.
2. Kiev alleges Russia is preparing to invade Ukraine
The notorious Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has accused Moscow of intending to deploy troops to Donbass. The deputy head of the SBU, Viktor Kononenko, has claimed that Russia will send in troops in autumn, alleging that Russian authorities will order army units into Ukraine following some kind of provocations against the Russian-speaking population of Eastern Ukraine. “Patriotic” Ukrainian media are spreading rumors that Moscow will use “aunts” (titushki – a new Ukrainian euphemism referring to sportsmen hired to disperse rallies, a synonym for unscrupulous mercenary hooligans) to attack mass actions in defense of the Russian language in Ukraine.
The newspaper Korrespondent has reported that such mass protest actions against infringements on the Russian language in the Ukrainian education system and mass communication will indeed be held. In multiple articles for Fort Russ, we have deeply analyzed the law in question adopted by the Verkhovna Rada on September 5th, 2017, which basically prohibits the use of any languages against Ukrainian. This law has already provoked fierce diplomatic rows with Hungary, Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, and Greece. While these countries have shown their outrage over the violation of the rights of their national minorities in Ukraine, the Russian foreign ministry has demonstrated its usual passivity. The reality of contemporary Ukraine is such that Russia has absolutely no chance for involvement in social affairs, which are rigidly controlled by the SBU. The hiring of “aunts” is most likely being arranged by the SBU itself to frame and then accuse Russia. This algorithm is well known, as Ukrainian Nazi attacks on Hungarian and Polish diplomatic missions (as well as on Polish memorials) have been habitually portrayed as FSB operations, just like how all of Ukraine’s conflicts with its European neighbors are presented as Russian machinations. This is an effective tactic, but a destructive one which will eventually come back around to bite Ukraine itself, which is not even trying to seek compromise with Hungary, Poland, and Romania, which all have some historical rights to “Ukrainian” territories, not to mention Russia.
The Russian foreign ministry’s passivity guarantees that Russia will never start a war with Ukraine over the violation of the rights of Russians. Such does, however, serve as a convenient propaganda tool for the Kiev authorities, who then have a free hand in the humanitarian sphere and for preparing diplomatic bridgeheads in advance of any “eventual” offensive by the Russian army. Somewhat ironically, thus, Ukraine is using both allegations of active Russian aggression and the reality of Russian passivity as a tool for establishing better diplomatic preconditions for war.
3. Ukraine’s propagandistic and military preparations for war with Russia
At the same time, Ukrainian media are unleashing claims that Russia has concentrated troops along Ukraine’s borders (along DPR and LPR borders). The secretary of Ukraine’s National Security Council, Turchynov (who started the war in Donbass), claims that 260,000 Russian troops and a thousand military vehicles have been amassed on Ukraine’s border. How the Baptist pastor Turchynov imagines such an amassed army is impossible to comprehend, since the concentration of even a much more modest military group (say, one or two divisions) on the border would immediately be visible across social networks as anyone with a camera could film such huge army columns. Moreover, they would be in the neighboring Rostov region, in whose capital, Rostov-on-Don, in which I live, there is not the slightest sense of preparations for war – by Russia, that is.
Why are these fakes being circulated? Probably in order to once again evoke the mythical “Russian threat” line to cover up Ukraine’s own military preparations. According to reports from the Telegram channel WarGonzo, the Ukrainian army has recently been moving troops across the Seversky Donets River on pontoons, not far from the border of the Lugansk People’s Republic. There are more than a few theories suggesting that Ukraine is preparing to launch an offensive in this region following the official lifting of the Anti-Terrorist Operation.
In both the DPR, LPR, and Russia’s State Duma, warnings have been heard about a Ukrainian blitzkrieg on Donbass to happen this spring. According to Sergei Zheleznyak, a member of the State Duma’s Committee on International Affairs, Ukrainian authorities will launch full-scale military operations against Donbass in May. At the moment, I find it difficult to comment on such forecasts, and I am expecting up-to-date reports from Donbass which, as usual, I will share with readers of Fort Russ. In any case, these trends of recent weeks are cause for growing alarm.
A number of other significant developments, such as Poroshenko’s shocking message to Vladimir Putin and Russians, and ongoing socio-economic processes in the Lugansk People’s Republic, will be considered in forthcoming articles.
Eduard Popov is a Rostov State University graduate with a PhD in history and philosophy. In 2008, he founded the Center for Ukrainian Studies of the Southern Federal University of Russia, and from 2009-2013, he was the founding head of the Black Sea-Caspian Center of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, an analytical institute of the Presidential Administration of Russia. In June 2014, Popov headed the establishment of the Representative Office of the Donetsk People’s Republic in Rostov-on-Don and actively participated in humanitarian aid efforts in Donbass. In addition to being Fort Russ’ guest analyst since June, 2016, Popov is currently the leading research fellow of the Institute of the Russian Abroad and the founding director of the Europe Center for Public and Information Cooperation.