The Comic Wars of Rinat Akhmetov

19 August 2014, 18:47

There were street fights in the centre of Donetsk on July 1. Armed rebels in camouflage and the local police shot at one another. Innocent bystanders and several members of the Ministry of Internal Affairs were injured as a result. Bullets hit the trams and cars that drove by, as well as the windows of business centres and shops. Such a sudden eruption of violence in the city, where at the time there was no anti-terrorist operation and no member of any special force was resisting terrorist groups, surprised the locals. The “republicans” had previously not bothered the police because of its loyalty and candid collaboration with separatists.

People immediately began to buzz about the reasons behind what happened. Several scenarios appeared. Initially, the supporters of the Donetsk People’s Republic spoke, as usual, about the Right Sector that was probably hiding tight in the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The rebels were supposedly trying to remove them from there. But since even the most die-hard sympathisers of Russia in Donetsk no longer believe such nonsense, people quickly proposed a different, more plausible explanation. Two different "DNR" groups fought each other, they suggested.

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Even separatists themselves appear to be puzzled by the intricate interaction of terrorist bands in Donetsk. And for law-abiding citizens, who have absolutely nothing to do with looting and kidnapping, this is far too much to detangle. What is clear, though, is that the occupied Donbas is gradually turning into an African country torn apart by tribal conflicts. In the breaks between scuffles with the Ukrainian military, bogeymen, demons and other evil spirits squabble for power in captured cities, while the whole world is watching this unexpected European Somalia puzzled and amused.

Those who prophesied a Yugoslavian scenario for Ukraine were wrong. An African one is being implemented on part of Ukraine’s territory. More blood, more dead bodies, more chaos. A Horlivka tribe against a Donetsk one. Muscovite mercenaries against local gangs. One leader against another. It is now impossible to tell the terrorists from the militants. The only sources knowledgeable in terrorist matters are Russian media. That comes as no surprise. Who other than Russians would understand Russian terrorists?

Russia Today, en English-language mouthpiece of the Kremlin, described the armed skirmish in Donetsk as a conflict between the “militants” and “terrorists”, the terrorists being the group led by Igor Bezler, aka Bes (Demon), the field commander of separatists. The “militants” were allegedly the group loyal to the Moscow-born Aleksander Boroday, the official leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic. The Russian media failed to explain the difference between “militants” and “terrorists”.

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It is common knowledge that the terrorist groups of separatists are very diverse, each with an own story of creation.  They were formed under the leadership of different people in different cities and now serve different interests. Oplot (Stronghold), Vostok (East), Rosiyskaya Pravoslavnaya Armiya (Russian Orthodox Army) – there is a history behind each of these names.

Oplot which was created with the direct participation of Kharkiv authorities, acts virtually hand-in-hand  with the local police and leadership in Donetsk. During the attack on the Donetsk police headquarters by Bezler’s rebels, Oplot helped the police to defend themselves. In addition, the rebels are “guarding” the Donetsk City Council building. Yes, they are actually guarding it. As a result, separatists failed to seize the City Council and no “people’s mayor” popped up. Oplot members with rifles have stood in the vestibule since April instead of the police, but the staff work in the building, led by the legitimate Donetsk Mayor, Oleksandr Lukyanchenko.

He is an extremely lucky person. His peer in Horlivka, Yevhen Klep, was beaten and tortured for disobedience. The Mayor of another town in Donetsk Oblast, Makiyivka, Oleksandr Maltsev, was forced to resign. The notorious Head of Slovyansk, Nelya Shtepa, was held in captivity for three months. Meanwhile, Lukyanchenko continues to serve in his position as Mayor, even though he has publically refused to cooperate with terrorists. Rumour has it this is because he has been oligarch Rinat Akhmetov’s man for many years. The same applies to the head of the Donetsk police, Kostiantyn Pozhydayev, who was protected by Oplot against the uncontrolled Bes.

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It goes without saying that Oplot also diligently guards Akhmetov. In spite of all the threatening statements made by "DNR" representatives, not one of the facilities in Donetsk that belong to the oligarch has been seized of destroyed. Oplot even protected the office of the Lux company from an enraged crowd. The offices of SKM and Metinvest, two of Akhmetov’s companies, also continue to operate in the centre of Donetsk. However much Akhmetov tries to convince Ukrainians that he too is a victim of the separatists, it is hard to believe. Plus, Akhmetov is in no hurry to move his business to Mariupol, which has already been cleaned up of terrorists.

As to Mariupol, it was liberated with virtually no bloodshed or destruction despite gloomy expectations. Could this be because Metinvest’s two largest steel plants are located there? Another important fact is that the commander of Oplot and the Vostok battalion is also controlled by Akhmetov. This person is Oleksandr Khodakovsky, who for many years headed the Alpha special division of the SBU, Ukraine’s Security Service, in Donetsk. He, just like Pozhydayev, is connected with the oligarch and is referred to as his creature. He openly pledged allegiance to the "DNR" in March. At that time, the police was already playing along with gangs of bandits, not getting in their way when they were seizing buildings and consolidating in the city.

The longer the conflict in the Donbas continues, the clearer the interest in it of the main Donetsk oligarch, who, it appears, controls the two largest groups of rebels, and with whose help he controls Donetsk. The shootout in Donetsk only proved that Akhmetov did not allow anyone to come into his stomping ground. As soon as the Horlivka bandits made their move towards the city, they were labelled “terrorists”, not “militants”.  The Vostok battalion beat back the Donetsk police from the rebels.

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However, Akhmetov’s plans were suddenly shattered by the most brutal and insane terrorist, Igor Girkin (Strelkov), who suddenly left Slovyansk and conducted a successful march on Donetsk. While he was on his way, residents discussed with fear whether there would be a battle between the Akhmetov and Strelkov groups, but it did not come to pass, supposedly because there is no official information about it, but shooting and explosions were heard all the time. Who was shooting whom? No one knows whether it is the anti-terrorist operation in action, or the terrorists are settling a score.

Since the Russian mass media unanimously voiced in their reports the interpretation of the July 1 shootout as laid out by Aleksander Borodai, a spin doctor in Moscow and a self-appointed prime minister of the self-proclaimed "DNR", the Kremlin must view him as the only legitimate speaker of the "DNR". At the same time, he serves as a connecting link between Russia and Akhmetov. But Borodai is no longer in Donetsk. He, together with Denis Pushilin, a self-appointed speaker of the "DNR", is in Moscow. In all likelihood, he escaped from the hostile armies of Girkin, who openly scorned Akhmetov’s amusing guard. Girkin has already declared himself the leader in the city, which he announced in a video on his entry into the city.

Judging by his other statements, Donetsk has had bad luck. The administration of the new occupants is far more ruthless than the previous one. It is more than likely that the city can expect a blockade, irregular water, blackouts and food supplies. The terrorists themselves have already promised a new Slovyansk in the city of a million people.

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The sad thing is that the average residents of Donetsk have fallen hostage to all this. Only a few months ago, they light-heartedly participated in street skirmishes and demonstrations, when appealed to by the criminals. Unfortunately, the majority of them still do not understand that they have become the pawns in the amusing battles of influential people. Akhmetov, Putin and Yanukovych continue to weave plots that make those wearing black-and-orange ribbons think that they are dying for a Novorossiya, New Russia, not for oligarchic interests.

Apparently, the traditions of Russian leadership and its satellites have hardly changed since Peter the Great’s time. The slaves are still willing to obediently be involved in them, as they were 300 years ago.

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