As we try to work out who downed that Malaysian Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine, and attention is focused on the possible involvement of ‘pro-Russian’ secessionists (many of whom are, of course, Russians from Russia proper), here’s some good background (via Jamestown) on how things stand in the principal secessionist enclave, the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DPR). The writer adopts a pro-Ukrainian slant, but not unreasonably so.
Here are some key extracts:
The “DPR’s” core area has receded to the city of Donetsk, hemmed in by Ukrainian-controlled or contested environs. Secessionist troops (augmented with those that withdrew from other areas) are now concentrated in that city of one million people. There, the “DPR” leaders are now embarking on a state-building project on a city-state scale. It is, alongside the LPR [Lugansk Peoples’ Republic], a building block of the Kremlin’s Novorossiya geopolitical and ideological design. Were it to take root (by Russian commission and Western omission, both patent), the “DPR” would become de facto a city-state inside Ukraine, with a short direct supply line to Russia.
…[This is] more than a local “pro-Russian” project, this is a Russian project actually. Weapons, instructors, financing, geopolitical agenda, and (for the leadership group at least) ideological motivation are all Russian. And given the “DPR” commander’s repeated complaints that the locals are generally unwilling to join his forces (including most recently in Donetsk…), it follows that the pro-Russia forces probably include an even higher proportion of fighters from Russia than hitherto assumed.
On July 10, three top “DPR” leaders appeared at a press conference in Donetsk: “prime minister” Aleksandr Boroday, “defense minister” and commander-in-chief Igor Girkin/Strelkov, and newly appointed “deputy prime minister for security matters” Vladimir Antyufeyev (Interfax-Ukraine, July 10; Russkaya Vesna, July 10). These leaders have nothing in common with Donetsk or the Donbas. They are citizens of Russia with their origins in Moscow, the Pskov region, and Novosibirsk, respectively. They have arrived in Ukraine on special mission in April 2014, February 2014, and July 2014, respectively.
Fairly or unfairly, Strelkov’s name has been all over the Internet in connection with the shooting down of the flight (did he in fact effectively admit to the fact that the separatists had shot the plane down?). He had already become something of a hero to Russian nationalists. But for those trying to understand what may lie ahead for Donetsk, Antyufeyev is also well worth watching. The man has form.
Here’s the Baltic Times from July 11:
A former major of the Soviet OMON police unit in Riga and former chief of security in the unrecognized territory of Transnistria in Moldova, Vladimir Antyufeev and is also wanted by authorities in Moldova.
In a press conference in Donetsk, Antyufeyev stated that ”he has fought against fascism” all his life.
Describing his active participation in attempting to suppress Latvia’s independence efforts in the early 1990’s, Antyufeev described his actions as ”an active fight against the resurrection of neo-fascism in Latvia”.
On January 20, 1991, OMON troops, loyal to the Soviet regime, attacked Latvia’s Interior Ministry, killing six people during the January 1991 events in a failed pro-Moscow coup attempt following the Latvian SSR’s declaration of independence. Seven OMON officers, including Antyufeyev, were subsequently found guilty by the Riga District Court and were given sentences in absentia. Antyufeyev subsequently fled Latvia to Russia after the country regained independence and has since been wanted by Latvian authorities for his crimes. As a major of the Riga OMON forces, Antyufeyev and his troops carried out various attacks against pro-independence supporters during the January 1991 events in Latvia.
So, after Latvia, Antyufeyev eventually ends up in Transnistria, which is a sliver of territory (and long-term host to a large Red Army (and then Russian Army) base) that declared its independence from Moldova at about the same time as Moldova left the USSR. The history of Transnistria is complicated (I wrote a bit about it here in March), but the key thing to note is that its ethnic composition (divided roughly evenly between Moldovans, Russians and Ukrainians) is different from the rest of Moldova. Donetsk, of course, is in some senses (this is not a straightforward question) a ‘Russian’ city in Ukraine.
Working in security in one unrecognized ‘Greater Russian’ statelet would be excellent preparation for doing the same in another, if that indeed is what Moscow (and it would be Moscow, not the locals) is planning for Donetsk.