Ukraine splintering as government 'crackdown' fizzles
It appears that things have taken a turn for the worse for the Ukrainian government, as their announced "counteroffensive" has run into fierce resistance from pro-Russian militias while there have been defections to the separatists by crack airborn troops.
Meanwhile, the Russian government slammed the government in Kiev for "waging war" against it's own people.
The opening phase of what the Ukrainian government has called a military operation to confront pro-Russian militants suffered a setback Wednesday morning when six armored personnel carriers flying a Russian flag drove into town here and parked in the central square.
Ukrainian news media reported that pro-Russian militias commandeered the vehicles from the Ukrainian Army. They parked in the central square of the town, where a crowd gathered to gape at the squat, tracked vehicles and at a red, white and blue flag flapping in the breeze.
About a hundred soldiers in unmarked green uniforms and bearing the equipment of professional infantry guarded the vehicles, but other than the single Russian flag, they showed no signs of allegiance. Some of the soldiers had grenade launchers slung over their shoulders.
If the vehicles were indeed seized from the Ukrainian Army, it was not immediately clear whether they had been taken by force or with the collusion of defecting Ukrainian troops. Either possibility, however, would signal an escalation by Russian-backed militants in eastern Ukraine.
Underscoring the humiliation for the Ukrainian Army, Tsenzor.net, a Ukrainian news portal, reported that militants seized the vehicles in a neighboring town, Kramatorsk, where the Ukrainians landed paratroopers Tuesday to secure an airfield, in what was intended to be a show of force.
The Ukrainian general who commanded the military operation, Vasily Krutov, stood near armored personnel carriers outside the town and warned loudly that gunmen who did not surrender their weapons would be “destroyed.”
It was unclear whether the vehicles that were used Wednesday were from this same contingent.
They were, says the Washington Post:
Tensions escalated in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, with pro-Russian gunmen storming City Hall in the sprawling city of Donetsk and a cluster of Ukrainian troops meant to be restoring order in the region apparently defecting to the side of separatists.
The events suggested the challenge ahead for the pro-Western Ukrainian government on the second day of a campaign to quell the restive east, and came as Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that Ukraine was on the verge “of a civil war.”
A line of combat vehicles flying Russian flags rolled Wednesday morning into Slovyansk, a city of 120,000 where separatists have set up roadblocks since Saturday. One soldier named Andrei, speaking to the Associated Press, identified the men as part of the 25th Brigade of Ukraine’s airborne forces that had switched to the side of pro-Russian forces. The troops in green camouflage and packing automatic weapons and grenade launchers received a warm welcome from local separatists, AP said. The report could not be immediately verified.
Around 10 a.m. local time, a squad of separatists backed by seven masked gunmen in camouflage stormed the seat of Donetsk’s mayor and local council. On Wednesday morning, they appeared to be allowing employees in this city of nearly 1 million people to exit the building freely, and suited bureaucrats were running back and forth to vehicles in an attempt to save files and computers. A barricade of old tires blocked the rear entrance while men in unmarked camouflage patrolled the front of the building.
A city spokesman said Mayor Alexander Lukyanchenko was inside the building and negotiating with the separatists, who were demanding that the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev allow regions to hold their own referendums on their futures.
The Ukrainian governmnet is trying to suppress a rebellion with one hand tied behind its back. They dare not employ the full measure of a military response for fear it would trigger an invasion by Russia. But these half measures are only exposing their weakness, which will no doubt embolden the separatists, as it has in Donetsk.
Vladimir Putin may not be giving direct orders to the separatists, but their escalating pressure on the Ukrainian government is weakening the ties between the Kiev government and their southern and eastern provinces. There will probably be referendums in several parts of eastern Ukraine in the coming months to determine how much territory Putin gets to gobble up. Whatever rump Ukrainian state is left over after that will be picked clean by the oligarchs.