Back to the future – Eastern Ukraine

November 6, 2014

Many times over recent months, the issue of weak political structures within the “People’s Republics” has been mentioned here.

So has that changed since since the “elections” of 2nd November?

For Messrs Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, the newly “elected” leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics”  in the eyes of some of the “constituents”,  their personal positions may well have become stronger – at least for now.  Both will now be deemed personally responsible for fixing the problems, whatever they are, and no matter how great or small, within the territories they control.

And control is going to be a key issue (without considering the actual creation of solid political structures from capable people with the ability to retain some form of societal unity behind the recent “election” results, when circumstances don’t change very much for the better, quickly.  Even with a great deal of Kremlin assistance, the redevelopment of the Donbas is a mighty task).

The immediate issue for Messrs Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky is control.

There is little need to look very far back in Ukrainian history to see what happens when power is gained on the back of employing the underworld, to become part of the overworld.  For example, the Bashmaki and Salem gang wars of Crimea during the 1990’s lasted several years when law and order evaporated after the collapse of the USSR.  Those wars leaving a lot of people – primarily foot soldiers of the rival gangs – dead.  Not to mention killing the economy through “protection” rackets etc.  Donetsk and Luhansk were no different.

There is no mistaking the fact that such gangs still exist and were employed within the “People’s Republic’s” rise.  It does not take a genius to foresee that a return to criminal gang warfare in the new “republics” is quite likely.  This time however, the organised criminality is far better armed – Kalashnikovs, RPGs, bountiful munitions, grenades and perhaps the occasional tank etc., are not difficult to come by in eastern Ukraine.  That, not withstanding those criminal elements that came to fight in eastern Ukraine from within Russia with no other goal than to carve out a criminal niche within The Donbas should they survive the fighting.

These criminal groups are now, of course, battle hardened and have formed a loyalty to their fellow fighters – that loyalty not necessarily toward Messrs  Zakharchenko and Plotnitsky, or to other fighting units.  The Cossack units, for example, would seem to have little time for any other leadership than their own leadership.  They have frequently come into fatal contact with other fighting units on their own side.

Whilst “people’s courts” may occasionally be sentencing their own citizens to death, they are not going to be a deterrent to organised criminality.  Particularly as that organised criminality is also (at least in part) woven into the current “law enforcement”  bodies.

Thus aside from the usual power games of the wannabe politicians and power brokers within the “Republics”, discounting the diverse goals of the fighting units and their often unruly command, and ignoring the fact that even the most basic humanitarian requirements will be Russia dependent due to the internal decisions of the “Republics”, holding on to power when organised crime decides a weak political structure is being less than helpful compared to how helpful it could be under a different leadership, seems to add yet another significant problem.

To then add to the mix the guaranteed arrival of the established Russian organised crime gangs into the “Republics”, with their efforts to assert control and install a “pecking order” for what will undoubtedly lie ahead for the region, and the political structures required look all the more weak.

As and when the fighting stops and something approaching a real ceasefire comes, the “leaders” of the “Republics” are not likely to see much respite – for the internal divisions of fighting groups and/or organised criminality will come to the fore – as is now apparent.

Whilst this is all sadly predictable, it will be interesting to see whose messengers are sent from the Moscow underworld in the near future – and what rules they will set down for the “adventurers”  who fought in The Donbas for a criminal opportunity.   Back to the future for The Donbas, with a return to the wild 90’s?  Quite possibly.


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