Putin Quietly Detaches Ukraine's Rebel Zones as U.S. Waffles

By Ilya Arkhipovs, Yuliya Fedorinova and Stepan Kravchenko, BLOOMBERG

  • Russia building trade links after Kiev imposes blockade
  • White House seems ‘uninterested,’ Russian diplomat says

Vladimir Putin is seizing on mixed signals from the U.S. to quietly tighten Russia’s grip on two rebel regions of Ukraine, burying hopes for a European-brokered peace deal and relief from sanctions anytime soon.

While the Kremlin continues to publicly back the accord that Germany and France oversaw in 2015, Putin’s real strategy in Ukraine is to fully separate the two border areas known as the Donbas through incremental integration with Russia, three people close to the leadership in Moscow said. He has no plans to recognize or annex the territories, they said.

Russia has been moving gradually, using a blockade by Ukrainian activists as political cover to take over key economic links with the separatist zones. Last week, Russian Railways slashed rates for shipping coal and iron ore to points near the rebel areas, where the metals industry provides most jobs. That will allow Russia to replace Ukrainian supplies halted by Kiev and ensure that steel plants continue to function, according to two people in the industry.

“A step has been taken toward detaching Donbas — there’s no doubt about that,” a senior lawmaker in the ruling United Russia party, Konstantin Zatulin, said by phone from Moscow. Like other officials, Zatulin blamed Ukraine for forcing Moscow’s hand through the blockade, an allegation Kiev rejects.

Zatulin’s assessment of the Kremlin’s plans was confirmed by Alexei Chesnakov, a former Kremlin staffer who now advises Putin’s administration on Ukraine policy, and a senior government official who asked not to be identified.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov Thursday dismissed the idea that Russia is integrating the regions, calling it “absurd” and “naive” on a conference call with reporters.

Russian Citizenship

Earlier this year, Putin angered his Ukrainian counterpart, Petro Poroshenko, by signing a decree recognizing passports and other documents issued by the separatist governments in Luhansk and Donetsk, which have already declared the ruble their official currency. The Kremlin is also considering making it easier for the 2 million residents of the regions to become Russian citizens, which would dramatically complicate any attempt by Kiev to reassert control.

Moscow is implementing the so-called “Transnistria scenario,” according to the deputy head of Poroshenko’s administration, Kostiantyn Yelisieiev, referring to the breakaway region in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, which hosts Russian troops but has no citizenship agreements with Russia.

Russia supports a string of separatist regions in former Soviet republics, using them as leverage over pro-Western governments in what it considers to be its sphere of influence. In 2008, Russia sent troops into Georgia to secure two such areas that are now essentially Kremlin protectorates. Last month, Russia absorbed some of the militias there into its regular army.

“We don’t have peace for one reason: Russians are not interested in reaching peace,” Poroshenko said in a speech in London on Tuesday. “They are interested in exerting control.”

Putin’s moves in Ukraine pose a challenge to the U.S. and the European Union, which publicly support the 2015 Minsk accord that calls for Ukraine to regain control of the Donbas. A collapse of the deal would be a major blow to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who’s spent a lot of political capital trying to end the worst violence Europe’s seen since the the Balkan wars of the 1990s. The three-year conflict has killed 10,000 people and displaced 2 million more.

President Donald Trump’s administration, on the other hand, has sent mixed signals on its stance and even appears to be “totally uninterested” in the conflict, as one senior Russian diplomat put it. Trump has taken a tough line rhetorically, though he hasn’t made his position clear and the White House seems focused on issues it considers more pressing like Syria and North Korea.

While Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has questioned Ukraine’s importance for U.S. taxpayers, he’s also insisted that sanctions be maintained on Russia until the Kremlin respects its commitments to restore peace. Previously, the new U.S. administration had only pledged to keep the less onerous penalties that were imposed in response to Putin’s annexation of Crimea.

‘Always Ready’

Putin’s strategy involves developing levers that can be used to strengthen the Kremlin’s control over the Donbas on short notice, two Western diplomats in Moscow said, an assessment confirmed by former Russian officials.

Retaliatory measures “are always ready,” said Chesnakov, the Kremlin adviser on Ukraine. “Every time Ukraine gives us an excuse they are implemented.”

In January, Ukrainian nationalist war veterans blocked off cargo links with the rebel-held east. Two months later, Poroshenko formalized the blockade even though it’s costing his country’s economy about 1 percent of output because of the cut-off of key raw material supplies including coal.

Poroshenko has said the ban on trade will be lifted once separatist authorities reverse their seizure of Ukrainian enterprises. Donetsk and Luhansk in March took control of about 40 Ukrainian companies, including billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s steel-making and electricity assets.

This reflects the financial component of Putin’s policy, according to Andrey Margolin, an economist at the Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. “Now we see that integration with the Russian economy is growing,” creating benefits that help offset the expense of subsidizing the separatist regions, he said.

“The less this economy is integrated with Russia’s, the higher the costs,” Margolin said.

Frozen Conflict

With the Minsk accord now basically at a dead end, the Donbas is drifting into a frozen conflict that may last decades.

As for Poroshenko, his hands are tied, just as Putin likes it, according to Volodymyr Fesenko at the Penta research institute in Kiev.

Domestic opponents are preventing Poroshenko from granting wide autonomy to the rebel regions, as required under the peace agreement, while two other contentious issues mandated by the accord — a full cease-fire and a return of border areas to Ukrainian control — are also no closer to being fulfilled.

“This lets Russia strengthen its hold on the two republics,” Fesenko said.

April 21, 2017 | Comments Off on Putin Quietly Detaches Ukraine's Rebel Zones as U.S. Waffles | 78 views

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13 Comments / 0 Comments

  1. You won’t read anything I ever have written bemoaning Russia taking back her ancient Russian lands all across the eastern reaches of Europe.

    I never have forgotten the Jew-hatred that sprang up so often and so readily in various parts of Ukraine. And not to be forgotten are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, whose turn will come.

    Putin is a masterful player of the game of nations, and, all things considered, ranks with the great Stalin for the leadership of the Russian empire.

    Stalin knew, and Putin knows, how to wait until his actual or potential adversaries tie their own hands with warlike movements elsewhere, before making his own strategic moves.

    As for the Germans, they no longer compete in the major leagues of the game of nations. It will be a very long time before Hitler’s true legacy is undone. And by then, Germany will have been weakened even more by their population shift toward Moslems.

    I dream of a time when Israel and the Jewish nation will empower the leadership of a Jewish version of Putin.

    Arnold Harris, Outspeaker

  2. ArnoldHarris Said:

    I never have forgotten the Jew-hatred that sprang up so often and so readily in various parts of Ukraine. And not to be forgotten are Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, whose turn will come.

    You think it was better for Jews in Russia??? You are nuts!! Your fucking hero Stalin died 2 days before he was to sign the order to ship all the Jews to Gulags in the coldest parts of Siberia to die from elements work and starvation… Hitler copied the whole concept of final solution and concentration camps from Stalin’s Russia.

    General Stalin purged his military of it’s best officers and divided Poland thereby eliminating the essential buffer zone Russia needed and was routed by the invading Germans. Some leader he was?? 😛

  3. @ honeybee:
    HB, my wife and I watch no television at all, other than Fox News which is one of the channels we can access on the machines upon which we typically walk two miles per day, 365 days per year. And even then, when the talking heads start arguing with one another, and with two or three of them talking at the same time, we shut them down, and at least on my machine, I turn to the classic rock & roll music station. Bob Seger wraps himself around my consciousness infinitely more than arguing TV news commenters, most of whom know shit and not much else.

    Actually, we feed our minds and satisfy our curiosity from one of the largest home libraries I ever have encountered. Stefi, who handles about five modern languages, including Russian and Hebrew, spends much of her time writing and reading Sanskrit and treatises on historical linguistics. My reading cover the whole of world history, US constitutional law, chess, and everything I need to know in order to keep up with technical aspects of large-scale data processing, which is what we do around here to feed ourselves. When I say home library, that means we are in the process of converting what used to be our living and dining room into a full-scale library. What had been our built-in garage is in the process of being converted to a 20′ x 24′ kitchen and living/dining room.

    Among the books I am currently reading are “Russia’s Heroes 1941-1945”, by Albert Axell, high-quality researcher noted for historical research regarding Japan, China, Mongolia and Russia.

    If Yamit82 and BK had taken the time to read Axell’s book, they would have encountered a chapter entitled “A Hundred Jewish Generals”. Axell relates that:

    The military rosters of the war years contain such names as Dovator, Goldberger, Rubinchik, Rabinovich, Cutlar, Dragunsky, Sapozhnikov, Khasin, Kreizer, Skvirsky, Vainrub, Weitsman. Colonel General David Dragunsky, twice awarded the gold hero medal (the highest cobat decoration), told the author that there were at least 100 Jewish generals in the Red Army during the Second World War. This figure is also mentioned in an official booklet, published in Moscow, on minorities in Russia.

    Axell went on to relate at length the spectacular military combat career of Major General Lev Mikhailovich Dovator, who not only an outstanding cavalry commander, but was also a man of peasant Jewish stock whose horsemen were all from the Cossack-dominated parts of Russia. In one of the many great raids this Jewish general commanded — up front and in person — started out at dawn on 28 August 1941 near Smolensk and about 200 miles west of Moscow. His cavalry group consisted of 3000 sabres hidden in the forests, then took the 430th and 450th Infantry Regiments by complete surprise. The staff of the neighboring German Sixth Army, whose staff fled as rumors about the penetration of “one hundred thousand Red Cossacks” spread through the German rear.

    But there were only Jewish Cossack peasant fighter Dovator and his 3000 Cossack sabers. That day, they killed more than 2500 German soldiers and officers. They destroyed two regimental headquarters, the Topographic Department of the Sixth Army Headquarters. Him and his men captured 200 motor vehicles, 2 tanks, 4 armored vehicles, 4 artillery pieces, 6 mortars, and 130 machine guns. In addition, they took more than 1500 German rifles and automatic weapons, and a large quantity of ammunition, which they turned over to a partisan detachment operating in the German rear.

    The Croatian language is relatively close to that of Russia. Stefi once told me that her people have an appropriate name for men such as Major General Dovator: “Chovjek i po” — man and a half.

    In comparison to Iosif Stalin’s 100+ Jewish generals, how many of our Jewish landsmen achieved any such rank in World War II in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave, or in the military forces of Old Blighty? Most of the ones of whom I have heard converted to Christianity to advance their military careers, and there couldn’t have been more than a handful of them.

    As for Stalin plotting to ship all of Russia’s Jews to the frozen wastelands of Siberia, I am presently reading that there is no evidence of this, along with much else that Nikita Khrushchev accused Stalin of doing, in his speech to the politburo some three years after Stalin’s death, and of Khrushchev’s own summary murder of Stalin’s NKVD chief Lavrenti Beria.

    But all of you are free men and women, capable of thinking for yourselves and drawing your own conclusions.

    Arnold Harris, Outspeaker

  4. When my father first told me of his exploits saving Jews from the real Nazis by posing as one and organizing other Jewish teenagers to do the same during the siege of Budapest, and he.said though.he carried a gun, the only weapon he ever actually used on anybody.was brass knuckles,and I asked him then, “did you ever kill a German?” I was 10, I think I musta’ had the idea they.were all Germans, I’ll never forget his.reply. He said, “I hope so.”

    Stalin had the image of staunch kicker of Nazi ass, ok? Screw Stalin but let’s still kick some anti-semitic ass. ok?

  5. @ Sebastien Zorn:

    I googled: hungarian zionist underground siege of budapest and this came up


    this book just came out in 2017! What luck. But the New York Public Library just got one copy and is processing it so I can´t put a hold on it or do an inter-library loan. It is available for purchase from various sellers but it? college text book prices. That? what college history textbooks cost. I remember paying $1000 a semester for required books. more than $50 a copy. You can even get it as an ebook. Usually ebooks are cheaper. Not tonight charlie!

    Barnes & Noble

    Google Play Books

    Saving One’s Own: Jewish Rescuers During the Holocaust
    By Mordecai Paldiel

  6. @ Sebastien Zorn:
    SZ, thanks for the tip. Paltiel’s book on Jewish fighters in the Balkans in WW2 sounds interesting.

    Not to be ignored were some of the real tough hombres who fought with Tito’s partisans in Jugoslavia in WW2, at least after Hitler began his massive invasion of the USSR. Moishe Pijade, a Jew born and raised among the mountaineers in Crna Gora (Montenegro), was a well-known commander among the communists. In Croatia under the regime of Ante Pavelic, a number of his fascist leadership supporters had wives from Croatia’s Jewish families. The fascisti saw to it that no harm came to them, but many of the others, excepting those who went out to the mountains and forests to fight with the partisans, were turned over to the Germans for transit to this or that death camp.

    Jews located in the Italian-occupied parts of Croatia and along the Dalmatian coast, were protected by Mussolini’s general in command, Mario Roatta, who saved a significant number of Jews and Serbs from being killed by Pavelic’s Ustashe units. Which doesn’t mean, however, that he had his troops execute significant numbers of Tito’s partisans who were captured by the Italians before Mussolini’s government fell and that country left the war.

    As for purchasing a copy of Paltiel’s book on Jews who worked to save other Jews in the Holocaust in the Balkans, that can wait. The price of such books drops enormously after the first 12-18 months.

    Arnold Harris, Outspeaker

  7. @ ArnoldHarris:
    I think you can read the whole thing for free on google books. I started it. Amazing. Just scroll to the beginning. Probably skips a page here and there to adhere to copyright regs.


    I remember a fun novel about Tito’s partisans and triple agents in war-time Yugoslavia called “Partisans” by Alistair Maclean. My favorite of his.

    Also, Stalinist Albania had a lot of fun anti-Nazi wartime adventure novels. Practically all I saw in English from there.

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