In eastern Ukraine Donetsk province is where most of the separatist activity is and appears to be the target of a deliberate Russian effort to annex another part of Ukraine. With Crimea now part of Russia, after a three month long operation, Russian GRU (Military Intelligence) spetsnaz (special operations) troops are now more active in Donetsk and are generally repeating what worked in Crimea. But Donetsk has twice the population of Crimea and a smaller proportion of Russians. Thus the separatist effort is encountering more resistance. But the ancient tactics of deceive, disrupt and displace are still working, just more slowly. Unless Ukraine calls Russia’s bluff and disregards Russian threats to invade if Ukraine unleashes troops against armed separatists, Donetsk will eventually fall. The Russians are using bribes, intimidation, assassination and threats of invasion to force local officials to back off and to keep Ukraine from sending in enough troops to shut down the armed separatists. Some 40,000 Russian troops are still concentrated on the Ukrainian border.
Russian tactics in Ukraine and the Crimea largely relied on ancient semi-military techniques that were used by the tsars and perfected by the communists who created the Soviet Union in the early 1920s. This involves using lots of blatant lies backed up by some muscle on the street, rather than the more conventional declarations of war and mobilizing armies. What the Russian government is doing is creating a series of outright but constantly repeated lies about what is going on in Ukraine to justify Russian paramilitary moves to annex Donetsk province. They used the technique successfully in 2008 when they went after the tiny Caucasus state of Georgia and annexed six percent of Georgian territory. This is called the “Big Lie” technique and while often attributed to the Nazi founder Adolf Hitler (who boasted in print of using it) it’s actually thousands of years old. We have written evidence of the ancient Pharaoh’s using it as did Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar and Napoleon.
Donetsk is one of the most populous provinces in Ukraine and borders Russia. Donetsk contains about nine percent of Ukraine’s population and 4.4 percent (26,500 square kilometers) of the territory. In Soviet days Donetsk was an economic powerhouse, but since the 1990s economic activity has declined and the province only accounts for about 12 percent of the Ukrainian GDP now. Population has been declining for over a decade and the 38 percent of the population who are ethnic Russians believe that if Russia controlled Donetsk things would be better. That may be because Russia has natural gas and oil which Ukraine lacks. These Russians originally moved to Ukraine because of the jobs and since the 1990s many younger ones have returned to Russia.
Russia has long been quite open about wanting to rebuild the old Tsarist Empire that the communists managed to lose in 1991 when the Soviet Union came apart and half the population of that empire went off and formed 14 new countries or reconstituted old ones the Russians had conquered. Russia is proposing things like customs unions, military cooperation and rebuilding the old Soviet air defense system that used to defend everyone in the empire. There’s been some progress, but many of these 14 nations, especially Ukraine, want nothing to do with Russia. Meanwhile Russia has to face that fact that when the Soviet Union broke up half the population willingly went to the 14 new countries and most of those people were quite enthusiastic about ending the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was basically the Russian Empire cobbled together by the old czarist monarchy over more than two centuries of conquest and expansion. Thus in the Soviet Union half the population felt like conquered people, not part of any union. The Soviet Union dissolved quickly in 1990-91 because over half the population really wanted it to happen and had wanted it for a long time. Moreover many ethnic Russians were tired of supporting a lot of the less affluent conquered people and were fed up with the economic failures of communism. The former Soviet Union citizens who regret the breakup tend to be older people who were disillusioned at how corruption and bad leadership made post-Soviet life less wonderful than was expected. The younger people are more realistic, never having lived as adults in the Soviet Union and intimately familiar with the fact that freedom isn’t free and democracy is hard. For younger Russians there are more economic opportunities than under communism. While Russia lost half its population when the Soviet Union broke up, it hung on to most of the valuable natural resources (like oil and natural gas) and that meant more prosperity for post-Soviet Union Russians. While the post-Soviet government was initially reluctant to increase state supplied pensions (which were low during the Soviet period because there was little to spend it on and the state supplied housing and some health care), the pensions did eventually go up. But not as much as the economy grew and the working Russians were obviously doing better than the pensioners who had grown up under communism. In Soviet times that meant there was little economic opportunity and most everyone was equally poor. The old-timers never got used to the changes and most would prefer the communists to come back. That won’t happen and as the generations that grew up under communism die off so will any desire to return to the bad (but familiar) old days. Nevertheless enough Russians favor rebuilding the empire to make the idea a popular talking point among major politicians and that may continue for decades.
The U.S. has sanctioned seven senior Russian government officials and 19 companies associated with Russian them. Russia has responded with vague threats of retaliation. Russia accuses the United States of an armed buildup in Eastern Europe. Recently 600 American troops arrived in Poland and 150 in Lithuania. Europe and Japan are also imposing sanctions and the Russian economy is suffering. Over a hundred billion dollars of investment capital has been moved out of Russia. A lot of that was money owned by Russians, who find the continuing corruption and lack of a working legal system a major impediment to making profitable investments in Russia. The government disagrees, but foreign investors have been increasingly avoiding Russia, no matter what the government there says. Economic growth in Russia continues to decline and the blowback from this Ukrainian adventure is apparently going to create even more economic damage.
April 28, 2014: In east Ukraine (Kharkiv) the mayor was shot in the back and is in critical condition. The victim had long been pro-separatist but since Russia has made a determined effort to seize control of east Ukraine he changed his position and backed the Ukraine government. In part because of his leadership Kharkiv is one of the few large cities where the separatists have been expelled. Elsewhere in the east (Donetsk) a pro-Ukraine rally was attacked by masked men in military uniforms. Over a dozen demonstrators were injured before police drove off the attackers. But that discouraged the protestors and most left. There have been a growing number of pro-Ukraine demonstrations in Donetsk during the last week and the armed separatists don’t like that sort of thing.
Russia told the United States that it would not invade Ukraine, but has not pulled troops away from the border.
April 25, 2014: In eastern Ukraine (Donetsk) eight OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation) observers were taken prisoner as they tried to enter Slovyansk. One (a Swede) was soon released for medical reasons. Elsewhere in Slovyansk separatists detected and captured three Ukrainian intelligence agents who were apparently collecting information on what exactly was going on there. Back in early March the OSCE observers were invited by Ukraine to verify what was going on in eastern Ukraine. The separatists accused the captured OSCE team of being NATO spies. The U.S. accused Russian aircraft of violating Ukrainian air space.
April 24, 2014: Ukrainian troops advanced on the town of Slovyansk in Donetsk province. At least five armed separatists were killed when they resisted the advance. In southern Donetsk (Mariupol) Ukrainian troops drove armed separatists from several government buildings. Russia threatened to invade if Ukraine did not stop using troops against the separatists. This was what Russia did in 2008 against Georgia, and then they actually did invade. Russian troops were seen moving closer to the Ukrainian border and Russia said this was part of training exercises.
April 23, 2014: Ukraine resumed military operations in Donetsk. This ended an Easter truce Ukraine had declared a week earlier.
April 22, 2014: In eastern Ukraine (Donetsk) a Ukrainian reconnaissance aircraft was hit by several bullets fired from the ground near Slovyansk.
April 21, 2014: In eastern Ukraine (Donetsk) three separatists were shot dead. Russia blamed pro-government irregulars while Ukraine blamed Russian spetsnaz. Ukraine believes the Russians are having their commandoes kill armed separatists in order to justify a Russian invasion.
Japanese Air Force officials revealed that there has been an unusually high number of Russian warplanes spotted near Japan for the last week.
Russia has agreed to forgive 90 percent of the $10 billion it is owned by North Korea. This is apparently part of a deal to get North Korea to allow Russia to build a natural gas pipeline to South Korea. This project will bring North Korea a lot of money during construction and when in use. Clearing out old debts is also important because North Korea reneged on billions of dollars of foreign debts in the 1990s and ruined its ability to borrow from foreign banks.
April 18, 2014: Ukraine is trying to keep adult Russian males out. That is difficult, but it shows Ukraine knows how the Russian commandos and secret police operatives are getting into eastern Ukraine.
April 17, 2014: In Ukraine (Donetsk) an organized mob of 300 separatists armed with stun grenades and fire bombs tried to seize a military base outside the Black Sea coast town of Mariupol. Ukrainian troops fought back, killing three of the attackers, wounding over a dozen and taking 63 prisoner. None of the defenders were hurt.
In Switzerland representatives from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and the EU (European Union) signed off on an agreement whereby Ukraine would not use force against separatists in eastern Ukraine and in turn the separatists would disarm and leave government facilities they had occupied. Separatists did not abide by the agreement and Ukraine resumed military operations in Donetsk after their Easter Truce ended on the 23rd.
April 15, 2014: In eastern Ukraine (Donetsk) armed separatists ambushed a convoy of Ukrainian Army armored vehicles near Slovyansk and seized the six armored vehicles and took them into Slovyansk.
Algeria ordered 42 Mi-28N helicopter gunships and four Mi-26T2 heavy transports from Russia for $2.7 billion. This includes training, spare parts and assistance in setting up a maintenance and repair system. That partly explains why Algeria is paying more than $55 million for each gunship. That is apparently to make allowance for the bribes and payoffs Algeria is so infamous for and the Russians are so understanding about. What probably clinched this sale was the fact that in 2013 Russia began replacing its 250 Mi-24 helicopter gunships with 300 Mi-28s. Russia plans to replace all its Mi-24s with the more modern Mi-28s by 2015.
April 14, 2014: In Ukraine the government ordered 14,000 troops to move into Donetsk and restore order.
April 13, 2014: In Ukraine masked and armed men seized control of the town of Slovyansk in Donetsk province. Many of the armed men were believed to be Russian spetsnaz commandos as they behaved the same way spetsnaz did recently in Crimea. After two weeks the separatists had complete control of Slovyansk, the only town in Donetsk where they had done that. But the armed separatists are present in at least ten other Donetsk towns and all these are at risk of total takeover.
A national opinion poll in Russia, conducted in late March, found that over half of the population believed Russian activities in Ukraine had restored Russian status as that of a major power.