[Marxism] Conflict Fatigue Deepens in East Ukraine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 21 16:38:12 MDT 2014

NY Times, May 21 2014
Conflict Fatigue Deepens in East Ukraine, Just Days Before Vote

KIEV, Ukraine — Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday 
faced an unaccustomed wave of anger from residents who expressed 
frustration over the violence and instability in the region, 
particularly recent mortar attacks around the embattled city of 
Slovyansk that have damaged several homes and terrorized residents.

The separatist movement has been showing signs of strain since President 
Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said this month that he intended to pull 
back his troops from the Ukraine border, encouraged a national dialogue 
and tentatively backed Ukraine’s coming presidential election. 
Steelworkers easily wrested control of the port city of Mariupol last 
week under the direction of Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who 
owns the mills where they work, and Mr. Akhmetov has continued to 
pressure the separatists.

Thousands of Mr. Akhmetov’s employees took part on Tuesday in highly 
choreographed rallies throughout the region, collectively known as 
Donbass, to show support for Ukrainian unity and to denounce the 
continuing unrest. But the turnout fell far short of the hundreds of 
thousands that Mr. Akhmetov had hoped would attend.

In Slovyansk, a center of rebel activity, the separatist mayor, 
Vyachislav Ponomaryov, was accosted by some of the 200 residents in 
attendance at what resembled an impromptu, open-air town meeting. They 
demanded he put an end to the violence, which continued Tuesday with 
mortar shelling and sporadic gunfire on the outskirts of the city.

Video of the meeting showed a somewhat flustered Mr. Ponomaryov pleading 
with residents “not to panic” and promising that they would be 
compensated for damage to their houses because of fighting between 
rebels and government forces.

The events suggest a deepening conflict fatigue among residents of the 
east, potentially giving an enormous lift to the provisional government 
in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, as the authorities seek to carry out a 
successful presidential election on Sunday.

In Moscow, senior Russian officials had already indicated tentative 
support for the election and for national round-table talks aimed at 
settling the crisis, with representatives of the Donbass region and the 
Kiev government, though leaders of the rebel groups were not allowed to 
attend. The talks are aimed, in part, at drafting an agreement on 
increasing the authority of local governments.

In a sign, however, that the rebel movement is by no means collapsing, 
there were reports that gunmen had stormed at least a dozen polling 
stations in Donetsk and Luhansk on Tuesday, confiscating ballots and 
other election materials and terrifying workers preparing for Sunday’s 
vote. Election officials in Kiev have said there will be contingency 
plans, including alternate polling stations, for voters in disputed 
regions, but the reports of ballots being stolen at gunpoint illustrated 
the challenges facing the provisional Ukrainian government as it tries 
to install a new government with a vote that the world will view as 

One important factor is the increasingly vocal role of Mr. Akhmetov, who 
owns factories throughout the east and holds enormous sway in the 
region. For weeks, Mr. Akhmetov refrained from criticizing the 
separatists, choosing instead to issue statements in support of a 
peaceful, united Ukraine.

But on Monday, after separatists seized control of a railway line, Mr. 
Akhmetov issued a scathing statement accusing them of attempting the 
“genocide of Donbass.”

“I will not let Donbass be destroyed,” he said.

On Tuesday, workers at a steel mill in Mariupol and at a metalwork 
facility in the city of Yenakiyeve, the rough-hewed hometown of the 
ousted president, Viktor F. Yanukovych, left work at noon to listen to 
speeches in support of Ukrainian unity.

In Donetsk, the regional capital, as many as 1,000 of Mr. Akhmetov’s 
employees gathered at the Donbass Arena, the local soccer stadium that 
he owns, to watch Mr. Akhmetov’s statement broadcast on a jumbo video 

Some waved orange flags of the local Shakhtar soccer team. Many of those 
who attended said they had been brought to the arena by bus and did not 
know why they were there. The event ended after about 20 minutes.

The action, and Mr. Akhmetov’s statement, prompted an angry response 
from leaders of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic, including a 
threat by its chairman, Denis Pushilin, to nationalize Mr. Akhmetov’s 
businesses. It is not clear the group has the authority or the ability 
to take such a step.

In Kiev, officials stepped up preparations for the voting on Sunday, 
including a memorandum of peace and understanding adopted by Parliament 
that was intended to reassure the public that substantial government 
changes were being undertaken along with the election of a new president.

The resolution, which was approved with 252 votes in favor, included 
promises of constitutional overhauls and offered assurances about the 
status of the Russian language as well as the ability of local 
governments to grant official approval to other “minority” languages.

The Kremlin on Monday repeated a previous assertion that Mr. Putin had 
ordered a withdrawal of Russian troops from along the Ukrainian border, 
but Western officials said they still saw no indication of a pullback.

While Russia has seemed to back away from the possibility of military 
action in the east, officials continued to demand that Ukraine begin to 
pay an outstanding bill for Russian natural gas that the Kremlin says 
amounts to $3.5 billion.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television broadcast on Tuesday, the 
Russian prime minister, Dmitry A. Medvedev, said that Russia might be 
flexible on the timing of the payments but that the debt must be paid. 
He also noted that Ukraine had recently received billions of dollars in 
loan assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

Officials in Kiev dispute the price that Russia is demanding for the 
gas, and the acting Ukrainian prime minister, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, 
issued a statement on Tuesday suggesting that the matter would be 
brought to arbitration in a Stockholm court.

With the presidential election just days away, a compilation of three 
new polls released on Tuesday showed the billionaire confectioner Petro 
Poroshenko with a big lead over former Prime Minister Yulia V. 
Tymoshenko. Among voters who said they had already made up their minds, 
53.2 percent supported Mr. Poroshenko, the polls found, enough to avoid 
a runoff.

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