Sunday, 18 May 2014

Running Out of Steam?

For several weeks after the Donbas separatism movement erupted in early April, (seemingly out of nowhere, but as we all know actually out of Russia), the insurgency in eastern Ukraine seemed like a runaway steam locomotive hurtling inevitably towards the maiden of Ukrainian unity lying bound helplessly on the tracks.

We buried our faces in our palms as building after government building in Donetsk and Luhansk was occupied by a few dozen armed men, while the police either waved the occupiers in with a welcoming wink or shrugged and shuffled off with an impotent “my job’s not worth this” expression.

We tore our hair out as we watched Ukrainian troops being surrounded, disarmed, and dis-armored-personnel-carriered by small crowds of civilians covering for tiny bands of well-armed men. It seemed like a few dozen insurgents and a motley rent-a-mob of disaffected Russian-propaganda-brainwashed easterners could hold the country to ransom while setting about its dismemberment.

But what a change a month can make. In the two weeks or so since the government’s crassly named “Anti-Terrorist Operation” finally got into gear, the runaway train of separatism seems to have lost much of its steam. From their public pronouncements, it seems the rebels are getting desperate: Just a few days ago, the rebel second-in-command issued a rambling statement, with Hitlerian overtones, threatening to carry out a scorched-earth policy within 24 hours if the government’s forces didn’t withdraw from Donetsk and Luhansk. The day-long deadline came and went, and the government responded only by beefing up its forces and pressing forward, capturing back more ground, and killing perhaps dozens of rebels.

The threatened response from the rebels failed to materialize, and a recent video rant by the rebels’ commander-in-chief, Igor Girkin (a.ka. “Strelok”) shows us why: The armed separatists simply don’t have much support from Ukrainians living in the east.

The rest of us have long known about that from the polls, of course, which have regularly shown that only a small minority of the Ukrainians in the eastern regions support these lands’ secession from Ukraine, and that fewer still want to feel the clawing, freedom-suffocating bear hug of union with Mother Russia.

However, this well-known fact seems to be only just dawning on the leader of the eastern rebels. In his video address, Girkin lamented that only a few of the men of Donbas were willing to take up arms for the cause, and those that did were mainly over 40. Seemingly in despair at the deficit of virility in young Donbas Man, Girkin instead appealed to the women of the east to join him, noting gallantly that although they were obviously not officer class, at least they were better than nothing.

I have no reason to disparage the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian female (having been married to one and seen her in action at close quarters), but Girkin’s appeal seems to have missed the point: It’s clear that easterners, both male and female, are quite prepared to fight for the things they believe in - it’s just that not many of them believe in separatism. Rather than questioning manhood in Ukraine’s east, Girkin should be questioning the wisdom of the Kremlin-inspired adventurism into which he, and a few other Russian nationalist mercenaries, have been conscripted.
P.S. This week’s Russian Propaganda Snigger comes from the British so-called journalist, blogger and RT correspondent Graham Phillips. Our intrepid reporter stumbled into a tripwire flare, but immediately filed a report that he had been shot at by Ukrainian troops. It is a rare occasion indeed that one can make an idiot of oneself and then immediately sell the story to the Russian state media. You can watch the bumbling fool here: Check out the “Oi! Oi! Oi!” cries Phillips gives for the benefit of the great Russian public at the end of the clip. Such histrionics might not advance his journalistic career outside of Russia, but he at least has a slim chance of a BAFTA award.

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