Ukraine: siege mentality pushes south-eastern region to precipice of civil war

The Guardian reports: After a week in which dozens of people died in clashes between the separatists and the Ukrainian army, the region is standing at the precipice of full-blown civil war. On Thursday the separatists insisted they would go ahead with a referendum on independence planned for Sunday, despite Russian president Vladimir Putin’s surprise call to postpone it.

Konstantinovka, a town of about 75,000 people 40 miles away from the regional centre of Donetsk, has, like most towns in the area, been engulfed by the uprising that swept the region following the February revolution in Kiev, which led to President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing Ukraine and the formation of an interim government that Moscow has labelled as “neo-fascist”.

The town hall was seized 10 days ago and is now surrounded by several barricades and occupied by a motley assortment of Kalashnikov-wielding rebels. The police have melted away; some of them have even joined the opposition. Roadblocks have been set up around the town, a siege mentality has taken hold, and dissident voices have either been violently silenced or melted away in fear. “A month ago, nobody could ever have imagined this would happen,” says [Mayor Sergei] Chertkov, shaking his head in disbelief. [Continue reading…]

Harriet Salem adds: “If we don’t have a referendum on the 11th then we will lose the trust of the people,” said a spokesman for the fledgling Donetsk People’s Republic at a packed press conference this morning.

“The referendum is not just a referendum. For the people of the southeast and Donbas it is a symbol of victory over fascism which can be compared to placing the flag of the great Soviet army on top of the Reichstag,” he added.

Kiev’s new government and its western allies have accused Moscow of orchestrating the unrest that has rocked eastern Ukraine. With the Kremlin constantly threatening to “intervene” if Russian speakers in the country’s east were under threat, many feared that an invasion was imminent.

Seizures of state administration and security buildings in the Donbas region by armed pro-Russia rebels — which began in earnest last month — followed closely on the heels of a Putin-backed putsch that resulted in the March annexation of Crimea by Russia. The Kremlin vigorously denied the allegations of interference initially, before admitting last week that they had “lost control” of the rebels in the east.

But many analysts believe this is a case of chaos by design.

“Putin has always had a plan A and a plan B,” says Moscow-based analyst Aleksandr Morozov. “The current situation may leave eastern Ukraine beyond Russia’s full control but the established rebel presence leaves the Kremlin with “powerful tools to put pressure on Kiev,” he adds. [Continue reading…]

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