Adrian Karatnycky writes: In waging a clandestine war in eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has made a bargain with the devil. He has farmed out much of the fighting to warlords, mercenaries and criminals, partly in an attempt to simulate a broad-based indigenous resistance to Ukrainian rule. But Mr. Putin’s strategy of using such proxies has resulted in the establishment of a warlord kleptocracy in eastern Ukraine that threatens even Moscow’s control of events.
Surrogate fighters were recruited from four sources: local criminal gangs; jobless males who live on the fringes of eastern Ukraine’s society; political extremists from Russia’s far right, including Cossacks; and itinerant Russian mercenaries who fought in Chechnya, North Ossetia, Transnistria and other regional conflicts in the post-Soviet Union. They have been trained and equipped with modern weapons, and are often supported by Russian regular and special troops.
These irregular forces now form the backbone of the armies of Donetsk and Luhansk, two mostly Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine along the border with Russia. Those separatist enclaves are dominated by well-armed criminal networks whose leaders play key roles in local politics, both formally, as government leaders, and informally, as chieftains of gangs with their own turf. These men and women have supplanted the pro-Russian elite that had held sway in the area since Ukraine’s independence in 1991. [Continue reading…]