Can Russia's Idea of Separatism Succeed in the Ukrainian Donbas?
12:23 / 05.03.2014 — Vitaly Sizov
Today 2 demonstrations took place in Donets. At 11:00 activists from pro-Russian parties and organizations started gathering on the Lenin Square. The demonstration had been announced a week in advance. The announcement about its preparation were taped in many districts of the city and the region and the information was also actively distributed through appropriate groups in the social networks.
Earlier it seemed that these groups are working in the interests of the former President Yanukovych, but after his escape, it became clear that the political fugitive was only an instrument of Kremlin's policy.
For several months with the help of these groups in such social network as Vkontakte and Odnoklasniki (Classmates), government-controlled newspapers and speakers of the Party of Regions, the people were riled up against the Maidan protesters. They were labeled as 'fascists', 'nazis', 'extremists', 'Banderovtsi'. People were intimidated with stories about mythical groups of nationalists, who are moving to the east of the country in order to seize administrative buildings.
The first major event of the pro-Russian forces took place on the last Sunday, when about 500 people with ribbons of St. George were trying to attack the participants of the Euromaidan rally in Donetsk.
This incident was not given any significance because it was considered that this event was organized by the local government. However, it was made clear already then that the pro-Russian crowd is not subordinate to the government orders and it nearly broke through the police barrier.
There were insults shouted at the former President Viktor Yanukovych, Party of Regions and the Governor Andriy Shyshatsky.
Despite this, the press corps of the head of the oblast tried to make it look like a demonstration in favor of the local government.
In the course of last week people spontaneously gathered by the Lenin monument, calling themselves "guard of Donbas", who wanted to protect their city from "Banderovtsi" (Bandera followers).
These events made the city authorities nervous because the guards scared city residents more than the mythical "Bandera followers". Armed with clubs, sometimes drunk, aggressive people were looking for enemies on the streets of the city. Anyone, whose behavior didn't please the "guards", could become an "enemy".
The Party of Regions tried to take contra of the spontaneous protest with the help of subordinate public activists and such small favors as providing tents for the demonstrators.
On Friday, the Party of Regions assisted with the installation of the stage on the Lenin Square. ON the even of the Saturday gathering its participants were handed out free copies of the official publication of the Donets city council's "Municipal newspaper" and its back cover had a printed statement of the city council to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine with the headline that read "For Donbas!". It was about the demands to the Parliament to protect the rights of the Russian-speaking population and the budgetary federalization.
The demonstration began with the speeches by the representatives of the Party of Regions, who tried to talk about the united of the country and victims on both sides as a result of the political conflict.
The crowd of 5-6 thousand people started shouting "Berkut!", "Donbas is Russia!", "Russia". The members of the Party of Regions were insulted.
Around 11:40 a demonstration started at the Donetsk Regional State Administration in support of the Governor. At about the same time some people with flags of prohibited organizations in Ukraine called "Eurasian Union of Youth" and "Donets Republic" separated from the group of the protesters on Lenin Square. They started moving in the direction of the Donetsk Regional State Administration, where they messed up the meeting in support of the Governor, blocked the building of the Administration and took down the State Flag of Ukraine, replacing it the flag of the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile the demonstration on Lenin Square continued. The former deputy Pavel Gubarev of the Kuybyshevky regional council in Donetsk from the Natalia Vitrenko's Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine stepped out onto the state. The day before, February 28, 2014, he had put forward an ultimatum for the deputies of the Donetsk City Council, demanding to declare the central government in Kyiv as illegitimate and extend take control into his hands.
The ultimatum fell on deaf ears in the city council. "Regionals" tried to prevent him from speaking on Saturday on Lenin Square, as a result a scuffle broke out on stage. The Pro-Russian activists pushed back the "regionals" and let Gubarev make his address. He called for the referendum to be held regarding the further destine of Donbas. In his opinion, this land had never been Ukraine and can accede to the Russian Federation. Also proposed to ask Russia for economic and military aid.
He called Governor Andrey Shyshatsky and mayor of Donets Aleksandr Lukyanchenko illegitimate and asked the law enforcement personnel to come to the square and "pledge allegiance" to the people's rule. At the demonstration it was decided to announce the election of a people's governor. One candidate was proposed - Gubarev. It is unclear whether the vote took place because after this there were mild cries of approval and nobody announced the decision.
Afterwards a member of Parliament from the Party of Regions, Nikolay Levchenko, tried to speak on the stage, but Guberev did not give the floor to him. He declared that the day before Levchenko, supposedly, threatened him with a machine gun, demanding not to organize the demonstration. In the ensuing melee the MP was shoved off the stage.
The situation seemed comical because a few years ago Gubarev actively cooperated with Levchenko. They are closely familiar.
Later Gubarev asked to go to the Donetsk Regional State Administration in order to put up tents there. He realized well enough the illegality of his actions. That's why he requested the demonstrators to protect him, fearing an arrest.
The crows of demonstrators randomly blocked Artema Street and moved towards the Regional State Administration. Some passersby and drivers supported the demonstrators with shouts. Near the Administration building the demonstration continued. It consisted of about 6 thousand people. The demonstrators demanded the mayor of Donetsk and Governor to resign.
The city mayor Lukyanenko came out to the protesters and stated that he was not going to quit nor accept any ultimatums.
The demonstrators have several times tried to access the Administration building. But the metal bars that had been installed few weeks before that in the expectation of an attack by "Bandera followers" prevented them from getting inside.
The most active "instigators" of the protesters were a group of young people - about 40-50 of them. Most likely some of the participants of the demonstration were citizens of the Russian Federation, considering that their watches were not set to the local time. Many of the participants of the demonstration arrived to Donetsk from other town of the region.
The events in the city led the deputies of the city council to assemble for an emergency session. They adopted a series of decision. The main of them were: the decision to demand the Donetsk Regional Council to hold a referendum about the future fate of Donbas, recognize the Russian language as official on the territory of the Donetsk region on par with Ukrainian, consider the Russian Federation as Donbas's strategic partner, create a municipal militia, for the local government to take full responsibility for the sustenance of the territory until the legitimacy of the powers of the Verkhovna Rada and the new Government is determined.
From the sight, they were serious decisions, but every one of them is empty. The deputies of the city council delegated the decision on referendum to the regional council, local government is responsible for the sustenance of the territory in any case, Russian language is used any way as the second official one, Russia - is a strategic partner of Donbas.
Adopting a decision to create a municipal militia is not the same as to create it.
Also it was recommended to the regional council to establish a commission for the preparation of the stabilization fund together with the Luhansk Regional Council. That is to say that the recommendation was not even to create the fund, but simply to create a certain commission. You can recommend anything you want.
To wrap up, the city council adopted an outright populist decision - to introduce a moratorium on the increase of prices and rates for the most needed goods and services and also consider as unacceptable further decrease of the level of social payments and guarantees. It is completely clear that the city council has no powers to fulfill such decisions.
Nevertheless, the these decisions had an effect.
Mayor and the deputies of the city council personally started reading them out load near the Donetsk Regional State Administration. Despite the shoving among the people at shouts to the mayor, the main bulk of the demonstrators rejoiced at the decisions.
The extraordinary session of the regional council will take place on Monday, March 3. It had been announced even before the extraordinary session of the city council.
By 20:00 about 50 people remained near the Donetsk Regional State Administration. The tents were not set up.
What happened on Saturday, March 1, demonstrated that the Party of Regions became a victim of its own propaganda. For several months on all information channels "regionals" were talking about the "animosity of the Bandera followers" in Kyiv. The language of enmity dominated their statements. Yanukovych's escape took them by surprise. They have no alternative to the recognition of the new Government. This is difficult to quickly explain to their electorate that there in fact isn't any threat and never was, and all of us are citizens of one country.
However, it is hard to call it a propaganda by the Party of Regions. These slogans apparently were not written in Ukraine and not in the interest of any of the Ukrainian political power, including the Party of Regions.
The chain of exact events across the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine and Crimea gives evidence of a universal scenario in the interests of the Russian Federation.
The conduit of its implementation, whether consciously or not, from the very beginning was Yanukovych. It seems as if the Russian advisors convinced him that it was being planned for him, but instead this was being done for the neighboring state. The military aggression by Russia predicated upon imaginary causes with regard to Ukraine is a confirmation to that.
It is in the interest to create a picture of "popular support" for Russia in the east of Ukraine, even thought it isn't true. The results of elections in the Donetsk region supports this conclusion.
The advocates of the pro-Russian ideas, most often, become various marginalized individuals with a befitting them rhetoric - they do not represent neither the majority of the Donbas population, not even a tiny part of it.
For example, there is not even one deputy from the pro-Russian parties in the Donetsk regional council, not including a few communists out of the total 180 deputies.
The Saturdays demonstrations became signals for the Party of Regions to change their rhetoric. They need to understand that the St. George's ribbon cannot be their symbol if it is produced in Moscow. This is their symbol. Moscow owns the rights to it and can manipulate it. The rhetoric about "Bandera followers" and "fascists" also has to be reviewed. The confrontation between Ukrainians benefits only the third countries. The citizens of Ukraine have no bone to pick. Nobody will win from the conflict.
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