The continued refusal of the Kiev junta to honour the undertakings it made at the Minsk peace accords, which included a genuine ceasefire, early elections in the Donbass and engagement in negotiation over autonomous status, is plunging Ukraine ever deeper into crisis. The latest expression of this crisis came in the form of a self-defeating blockade of coal supplies from the people’s republics of Donetsk (DPR) and Lugansk (LPR) to western Ukraine.
The war veterans who are carrying out the rail blockade, supported by the ultra nationalist Self-Reliance Party, say they object to the junta paying “blood money” to the “pro-Russian separatists” by buying coal from the Donbass “terrorists”. Whilst these Russophobic sentiments are entirely in line with the junta’s own propaganda, the practical consequences of the blockade amount to a disastrous own goal for a Ukraine that, even before this latest twist, was being saved from bankruptcy only by periodic cash payments from the IMF.
Prime Minister Groysman accused the blockaders of carrying out “sabotage against our nation”, pointing out that, without cheap coal from the Donbass to fuel Ukraine’s power stations and steel plants, the country could lose $3.5bn and 75,000 jobs.
According to the Financial Times: “With the blockade cutting three of the four working railway junctions, the implications are serious. Seven of Ukraine’s 15 thermoelectric power stations can burn only anthracite coal, mined exclusively in the east, without expensive retooling.” Meanwhile, power cuts loom. (Rail blockade by Ukraine patriots creates headache for Kiev by Neil Buckley and Roman Olearchyk, Financial Times, 8 March 2017)
While the junta dithered, terrified of the economic implications of the blockade but fearful of alienating precisely those ultra-nationalist sentiments on which the Poroshenko gang have staked their political survival, the 1 March deadline set by the people’s republics for an end to the blockade came and went. As they had warned would happen, the Donbass authorities then initiated their own blockade in self-defence, bringing under “external control” 40 Ukraine-registered firms operating within the DPR/LPR territory, effectively bringing them into a form of nationalisation.
DPR leader Zakharchenko announced: “We cut all ties with Ukraine, with which we fight. Yes, we were selling them the coal to get money to pay the salaries here, but due to the fact that we have learned how to live in the blockade, we are announcing our own blockade to Ukraine.” (DNR declares its own blockade to Kiev, 112 Ukraine, 3 March 2017)
Should this situation persist, and the people’s republics are denied normal trade relations with Ukraine, they will of necessity further orient their industry towards Russia, a reorientation that will be made easier thanks to the February decree from President Vladimir Putin giving a form of passport rights to citizens of the Donbass.
As Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov explained: “The decree stated clearly this was made out of humanitarian concerns … until the Minsk agreements have been fulfilled. The presidential decree validated IDs of Donbass residents so that they could enter Russia legally and use Russian rail transport and air carriers.” The benefits in terms of mutual trade are self-evident. (Is Putin’s decision on Donbass residents’ passports a ‘message to the West’?, Sputnik, 19 February 2017)
One of the oligarchs most affected by the nationalisation measures is the obscenely wealthy and corrupt Rinat Akhmetov, who owns many mines and industrial plants throughout Ukraine and the Donbass. Among his numerous possessions is the Donbass Arena, which in 2012 hosted the European football championships. More recently it has served as a string to the oligarch’s ‘philanthropic’ bow, offering food handouts to the poor.
However, these much-touted charitable endeavours reportedly came to an abrupt halt when the nationalisation decree came through. Seemingly, the penny in the pot of the poor was offered only in exchange for the boundless right to amass a fortune in profits and backhanders without let or hindrance. The one ended with the other.
When the Arena shut up shop as a food distribution centre, the DNR sent in the militia to bring it under ‘external control’ along with all Akhmetov’s other glittering prizes. Zakharchenko suggested that the Arena be restored to its original purpose, the holding of football matches: “I want to offer that the first match on Donbass Arena would be held between Somalia and Sparta in honour of their deceased commanders Motorola and Givi.” (Militants are to hold football match on occupied Donbass Arena, 112 Ukraine, 3 March 2017)
‘Somalia’ and ‘Sparta’ are two battalions of the people’s militia that have distinguished themselves fighting in defence of the Donbass. So long as the junta continues to stall on implementation of the Minsk accords, the courageous militias of Donetsk and Lugansk continue to resist the criminal aggression of the junta. In so doing, they deserve the warmest support of all progressive humanity.
Down with the Kiev junta; victory to the Donbass resistance!