Latest blog articles
In Ukraine, blockade threatens to force issue at heart of civil war
Something very unusual is happening along the frozen line of contact between the Ukrainian Army and Russian-backed rebels in the Donbass, where almost three years of bitter fighting has killed about 10,000 people. More than 74,000 train cars laden with anthracite coal from the rebel regions and bound for Ukrainian power stations have been halted for the past month by armed men beyond the control of either side.
Backed by a coalition of oligarchs, nationalist militias, and opposition politicians, the aim of the blockade is apparently to compel a beleaguered President Poroshenko to abandon hopes of integrating the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk back into Ukraine, as called for under the Minsk II agreements, and officially declare them "occupied territories" of Russia. By graphically drawing attention to the trade that has for three years seen billions of dollars worth of iron ore, coal, and finished steel products pass easily along the rails in both directions – even as armies were slaughtering each other – they are forcing the most painful issue at the heart of the civil war: Can Ukraine reintegrate itself economically and politically, perhaps on new terms, or is it doomed to break up?
The blockade is fast precipitating a political and economic crisis that could conceivably bring Mr. Poroshenko down, or at least trigger early parliamentary elections that would almost certainly change the complexion of power in Kiev. A pivotal moment has suddenly arrived, without having been introduced through negotiations or any democratic political process, but because radicals have forced the issue.
How much do you know about Ukraine? Take our quiz! [/url]" data-reactid="8">Recommended: How much do you know about Ukraine? Take our quiz!
A DANGEROUS SLIDE
The growing tensions in Ukraine, which has seen a sharp spike in fighting over recent weeks, have so far been mostly ignored in Washington. But Europeans have started to take notice of Ukraine's dangerous slide into fresh crisis. Last week Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman declared a state of emergency in the energy sector, and warned that 300,000 jobs were at risk and that the already weakened Ukrainian currency could nosedive if the blockade continues much longer.
"Ukraine cannot go on without Donbass coal," says Vadim Karasyov, director of the independent Institute of Global Strategies in Kiev. "Poroshenko opposes the blockade, because it's a serious blow against him personally and [his vision of the way forward in] Ukraine."
On Monday the leaders of the two rebel regions issued a statement declaring that if the blockade is not lifted by Wednesday morning, they will take control of the coal mines and steel mills on their territory, and sell their production to Russia instead.
"Effectively, the Donbass is separating itself from Ukraine economically. Now our coal and metal products will be exported to Russia," says Dmitry Posrednikov, deputy dean of Donetsk University, in the rebel region of Donetsk. "Unfortunately, we see that Ukrainian authorities don't want to have any political dialogue with the Donbass.... Psychologically, we are breaking away from Ukraine."
That may be just what the blockaders want. They insist that the ongoing trade between the two Ukraines should be declared treasonous, and that there be a complete break in any relations.
"The goal is to end our dependence [on Donbass coal], because it's impossible to go on with reforms and integrate with Europe when someone can switch off the lights at any moment," says Vladimir Omelchenko, an energy expert at Kiev's Razumkov Center, who says the situation can accelerate Ukraine's efforts to attain energy independence through greater reliance on nuclear power and gas. "They want the financial burden of supporting these territories to be switched to Russia. In fact, these territories are already controlled by Russian troops and their puppets."
NOT IN POWER, BUT EXERCISING A HEAVY HAND
Though no one knows exactly who stands behind the armed men who are blockading the rail lines and highways along the battle front, everyone names the disgruntled oligarch Igor Kolomoisky as the most likely financial backer. Mr. Kolomoisky has lost a lot of ground at the hands of President Poroshenko over the past couple of years, including being stripped of his governorship of Dnipropetrovsk region in a battle over control of state energy properties, and more recently seeing his most lucrative property, PrivatBank, Ukraine's largest bank, nationalized by the government.
A range of opposition forces, most prominently former prime minister and "Orange Revolution" heroine Yulia Tymoshenko and ex-Georgian president-turned-Ukrainian-loose-cannon Mikhael Saakashvili, have come out in support of the blockaders.
The chief target is the multibillion dollar business arrangement that has seen Ukrainian iron ore shipped to steel mills in rebel-held territories, and coal and steel shipped back. Mr. Omelchenko says that Ukrainian power stations last year consumed 9 million tons of Donbass coal, or about 30 percent of the total. At least six of Ukraine's 12 coal-fired power stations were designed in Soviet times to run exclusively on the black anthracite dug out of the Donbass mines that are now almost completely under rebel control. Some sources say that trade across the dividing line has been worth up to $8 billion annually.
Most of the mines and mills on both sides of the front line are owned by Ukrainian oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, who has managed to maintain good relations in both Kiev and Donetsk, and presumably pays his taxes in both places.
"It certainly looks like the primary victim in this blockade is Akhmetov. And it's definitely good for Kolomoisky, who might obtain some revenge against the Ukrainian government," says Alexander Parashiy, an analyst with Concord Capital, a leading Kiev brokerage.
PROFOUND SPLITS BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
"What looks so strange to all of us is that Poroshenko has declared this blockade to be illegal, which means those carrying it out are criminals, right?" he says. "But he doesn't take any steps to arrest them, perhaps because the idea of the blockade is popular with the public. I think Poroshenko fears a new Maidan [revolution] if he makes any serious effort to end the blockade."
But some analysts fear that fresh political shocks in Kiev could lead to more than just isolating the relatively small Donetsk and Luhansk rebel regions. Three years after the Maidan Revolution, opinion polls continue to show a profound split between the attitudes of western Ukrainians and the more russified populations in Ukraine's south and east.
A December survey by the Kiev Internation Institute of Sociology, Ukraine's top pollster, found that 51 percent of respondents in the country's south, and 57 percent in the Kiev-controlled but restive east continue to regard the revolution that brought the current Kiev authorities to power as an "illegal armed coup." In the more nationalist west of the country, and mixed central regions, from 80 percent to 60 percent regard the Maidan revolt as a "popular revolution."
"What we see with this blockade is that people who are not in power are succeeding in imposing their agenda. They are getting the upper hand," says Sergei Strokan, foreign affairs columnist with the Moscow daily Kommersant. "And they are playing with dynamite. There is growing potential for very serious political crisis to emerge from this."
- How much do you know about Ukraine? Take our quiz!
- How uncertainty over Trump is fueling Ukraine's latest deadly violence
- Museum or church? St. Isaac's becomes bone of contention in Russia
Read this story at csmonitor.com
Become a part of the Monitor community
- Become a Facebook fan!
- Follow us on Twitter!
- Follow us on Google+
- Link up with us!
- Subscribe to our RSS feeds!
Russia foreign ministry says Syria school strike photos 'fake'
Moscow (AFP) - A Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman on Friday said an expert examination of pictures showing a strike on a Syrian school that UNICEF said killed 22 children, had shown they were fake."Today after expert analysis of photographs from the Syrian village of Hass, it turned out that there was no strike on the school and there were no victims either," Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook."The photographs are computer graphics," she said, without giving any details.Air strikes on a… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
Abbas's Fatah set for rare congress as succession talk builds
Ramallah (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah party holds its first congress since 2009 on Tuesday as the 81-year-old leader seeks to close ranks and fend off a key rival.While Abbas's advisers insist the congress is being held because it is overdue, some analysts see it as an opportunity for him to sideline allies of his exiled longtime rival Mohammed Dahlan.Talk of who will eventually succeed Abbas as Palestinian president has intensified, with the… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
Deadly Islamist attacks in Europe since 2014
Islamist militants have caused 10 deadly attacks in Europe in the last two years. May 24, 2014 - Four people are killed in a shooting at the Jewish Museum in central Brussels. The attacker was French national Mehdi Nemmouche, 29, who was subsequently arrested in Marseille, France. Extradited, he is awaiting trial in Belgium. Man inspecting flowers laid before the Jewish Museum following the shooting. Photo by Reuters/Belgian Police January 7-9, 2015 - Two Islamist militants break into an… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
At least 22 dead in clashes in Yemen's Taez
Aden (AFP) - At least 22 people were killed in clashes between government forces and rebels on the outskirts of the flashpoint city of Taez in southwest Yemen, military sources said on Tuesday.The fighting late Monday north of Taez, held by loyalists but partly surrounded by Shiite Huthis and their rebel allies, left at least 14 rebels and eight soldiers dead, they said.Residents said relative calm was restored on Tuesday.In the north, two loyalist officers were killed in clashes around the Red… chat_bubble_outline Read More...
PV Power prepares for August IPO
PetroVietnam Power Corporation (PV Power) will make its initial public offering (IPO) this August, the electricity producer announced. The Ca Mau 1 Power Plant of PV Power. The Ministry of Industry and Trade has approved the business valuation of the company, said a representative of PV Power. It has worked to devise an equitisation plan and seek strategic investors for the IPO.PV Power is a wholly-owned unit of the Vietnam Oil and Gas Group, with current charter capital at 21.7 trillion VND… chat_bubble_outline Read More...