Anti-Coup Rebellion In Eastern Ukraine Completes 10 Years

by Dmitri Kovalevich, published on Popular Resistance, May 8, 2024

As Russian Forces Continue Advancing In Donetsk.

April 2014 was a pivotal month for the people of the Donbass region in what was then still part of Ukraine. It was then that the governing regime was newly installed in Kiev by a coup d’état on February 20/21embarked on military hostilities against the people of the region. The coup overthrew Ukraine’s elected president and legislature. It sparked rebellion in Crimea, Donbass (Lugansk and Donetsk), and in towns and cities in other regions of eastern and southern Ukraine.

The coup installed a pro-Western, anti-Russia government. Police actions by the new regime to suppress opposition to the coup only deepened the rebellions, whose consequences are still felt today.

On April 10, 2014, a group of communists in the city of Lugansk seized the local headquarters of the Security Service of Ukraine  (SBU), the national police agency of Ukraine. They issued demands for the release of opponents of the U.S.-supported coup who had been jailed for upholding Ukraine’s shaky constitutional foundation and opposing the coup, whose epicenter was Maidan Square in central Kiev.

Uprisings against the coup government quickly spread throughout southern and eastern Ukraine, including in Crimea, the two Donbass oblasts (provinces) of Lugansk and Donetsk, and, to a lesser degree, in Odessa and other cities and towns.

No one could have imagined in Lugansk in early April 2014 that hostilities could end in full-scale warfare by Kiev with essential political and military backing by the United States and the NATO military alliance it leads. But that is exactly what unfolded. The attempt by Kiev to suppress opposition to the coup in Donbass soon escalated into an eight-year war by Kiev. In early 2022, that war escalated into today’s large-scale conflict with Russia.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, the people of Crimea avoided war by voting on March 16 to secede from the coup Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The people of Odessa city were not so lucky. On May 2, a day of anti-coup protest in the city ended in tragedy when right-wing paramilitaries who had traveled to the city from elsewhere in Ukraine for the purpose of violent provocations set fire to the large building in the center of the city where protesters had taken refuge from paramilitary violence. More than 45 protesters died.

The hypocrisy of democracy: some are allowed to have it, others not so

On April 10 in Lugansk, hundreds of local residents took up the call of the local Communist Party activists. One of the main arguments for storming the SBU building was the example set by coup fomenters in late 2013 and early 2014 in seizing police stations (and their arsenals of weapons) in western Ukraine, for example in the city of Lviv, the sixth largest city in Ukraine at the time, with a population of some 750,000. The communists in Lugansk argued that opponents of the coup should take similar actions to those of the coup makers months earlier.

The Western powers were watching events very closely. For them, violence and the seizure of weapons by some groups (right-wing paramilitaries) was justified, while for others (anti-coup protesters) it was totally “illegal.” This policy of double standards was on full display as the violent assault by Kiev against the population of Donbass began in earnest in April 2014. Locals became all the more convinced that all the talk coming from Western leaders and institutions about “equality” and “democracy” for Ukraine was nothing more than empty words.

Goal was autonomy, accusations of “separatism” were false

As rebellion quickly grew in Donbass, far-right paramilitary formations which were already formed in the west of the country to carry out the coup, or which rapidly developed following it, threatened violent, armed actions to suppress the developing protests in Kharkov, Donetsk, Lugansk, and Zaporizhzhya oblasts and in other locations in the south and east. But the paramilitaries were only partly “successful” (for example, one month later in Odessa).

In Lugansk and Donetsk cities, the local police offered little or no resistance to the anti-coup rebellions. This was parallel to how police in the western regions of Ukraine had largely stood by as the coming coup gained momentum in late 2013. As it turned out, much of the existing police and army personnel in Lugansk and Donetsk crossed over to the side of anti-coup protests, bringing their weapons with them. This was a major blow to Kiev and the West. Additionally, the soldiers of the Ukraine army as a whole were proving to be reluctant to follow orders to fire on anti-coup protesters. The paramilitaries responded to this by forming their own, military battalions, while the coup regime in Kiev embarked on a transformation of army personnel as a whole. In the coming years, the paramilitary formations would receive official status as autonomous constituents of the army and national police.

The BBC’s Ukraine service reported on the seizure of the SBU headquarters in Lugansk on April 10, 2014, writing, “The police did not interfere with the takeover and left the building to the applause of pro-Russian [sic] activists who had gathered in the square. The crowd chanted ‘Russia’ and ‘referendum.’”

The BBC report went on to cite the broadcast of a leader of the anti-coup protests in Lugansk, Vyacheslav Petrov, who appealed to the population. “I ask you not to panic. Everything will be fine. We are preparing for a referendum, which will take place on May 11. For that, everyone must think and make a choice.” The BBC continued, “The demands [of the anti-coup protest in Lugansk included an amnesty for all political prisoners, a referendum [on autonomy], the abolition of price and tariff increases, and giving the Russian language an official status of state language” [1].

“Pro-Russian” or anti-coup?

Anti-coup protesters in Donbass wanted a referendum to decide the future of the territory. They were inspired by the events taking place in Crimea. There, the government of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea (ARC) responded promptly to the threats by Ukraine authorities and paramilitaries to invade the territory and suppress opposition to the coup. With the cooperation of Russian leaders in Moscow and Russian armed forces long established in Crimea by a 1997 “treaty of friendship” (Wikipedia) between Russia and Ukraine, the ARC government held a referendum on March 16, 2014, on the future status of the territory. An overwhelming majority voted to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. Polling showed that even a majority of ethnic Ukrainians residing in the peninsula voted in favor.

Thus ended Ukraine’s unpopular and unconstitutional governance of Crimea, “bestowed” upon Ukraine by the leaders of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1954, albeit with no vote offered to the local population. Crimea was the only region of Ukraine to have a regional, autonomous government. This meant that the very strong anti-coup sentiment in early 2014 had an immediate solution in the form of a referendum organized by the ARC, which was a fully constitutional entity of Ukraine.

Unfortunately, no such quick and democratic option was available to the other anti-coup regions of Ukraine, notably in Donbass. That is because these regions lacked any strong forms of local or regional government that could step into the breach once the elected and constitutional government in Kiev was overthrown. It was also because the existing political parties in the anti-coup regions, as in the rest of Ukraine, largely represented only the economic elites.[2]

Separatism” or political autonomy?

Western governments and media responded to the anti-coup protests in central and eastern Ukraine with epithets, calling them “separatist.” This was utterly false. The republics of Lugansk and Donetsk are, indeed, today constituents of the Russian Federation. The reason for this is the obstinance of Ukraine’s coup leaders. Following its military defeat in Donbass in early 2015, the Kiev regime signed the Minsk II peace agreement of February 12, 2015 (text here). It contained sweeping autonomy measures for Lugansk and Donetsk. The UN Security Council endorsed the agreement unanimously a short five days later. But as subsequent events proved, Kiev and its foreign backers, notably France and Germany who, like Russia, co-signed Minsk 2 as “guarantors.” But unlike Russia, the two EU powers never intended to implement it. As subsequent revelations showed, Kiev and its EU “co-signers” never intended to implement Minsk II; they signed it in order to “buy time” for Ukraine’s army and paramilitaries to regroup and re-arm.

The claim that the pro-autonomy movement in Donbass, to give it its proper name, was “pro-Russian” was another of the Ukrainian and Western epithets. Of course, there was widespread pro-Russian sentiment in Donbass. Historically, the region had always been Russian in its ethnic composition. It always had positive economic relations with the Russian Federation and the Russian Soviet Republic before that. Where was the crime in that? But for the rulers of Ukraine and the West, this was, indeed, a crime because they were embarked on a course to weaken Russia and to displace it entirely from Donbass and other regions of Ukraine. They wanted Ukraine to totally uproot its economic relations with Russia and become an economic subordinate to the EU and the United States.

Battle for Chasov Yar

After 10 years, the territory of Lugansk is fully under the control of the Lugansk People’s Republic and it is a constituent of the Russian Federation. Next door in Donetsk, a battle is taking place in and around the town of Chasov Yar, approximately 100 kilometers north of Donetsk city. This follows the capture by Russian forces of the city of Avdeyevka several weeks ago, barely 20 km north of Donetsk, and the capture of the larger city of Artemovsk (called Bakhmut in Ukraine, also approximately 100 km north of Donetsk) in May 2023.

The tactics being used by the Russian Armed Forces at Chasov Yar (pre-war population 12,000) are similar to those at Avdeyevka (barely 20 km north of Donetsk) and Artemovsk. Ukrainian troop positions are hit with heavy aerial bombs that destroy underground fortifications. Assault groups then surround the city from three sides, leaving only one way out: retreat westward toward Ukraine.

The Kholodnyi Yar telegram channel of the 93rd Brigade of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is circulating a video in which a resident of Chasov Yar says he is waiting hopefully for the Russians to come. “He says that he is waiting for Russia and that he has relatives who live there. He says he cannot leave the town because our soldiers shoot all those wanting to cross over to territory held by the Russians,” it is said on the video.

The liberation of Chasov Yar by the Russian army may become a turning point in the Russian Special Military Operation (SMO) overall. It certainly opens highly unpredictable scenarios in the entire conflict. Russian military correspondent Alexander Sladkov believes that from Chasov Yar, the Russian offensive will advance in a straight line to the major industrial cities of Kramatorsk, a key railway junction 45 kilometers further east with a pre-war population of 160,000, and nearby Sloviansk. “Kramatorsk is the next city of Donbass that we will liberate,” he predicts.

Forcing Ukrainians to fight for NATO

In this context, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Kiev regime to conduct its forced military conscription. The most common practice by Ukrainian men of military age [3] to avoid military recruiters is to hide in their homes or in ruins and wait for a chance to surrender to Russian forces. The Strana online news outlet in Ukraine published a report on April 2 by an officer of the AFU under the nickname Night Stalker describing common methods used by the Ukraine army to pressure its soldiers who are reluctant to fight (and quite possibly die). It wrote, “How to motivate a recruit to fight who would otherwise choose to lie down in the trench on his belly and wait to surrender? The officer replied that ‘a conversation is enough for some. For others, a beating by the company officer or shooting over the soldier’s head may be needed.’”

The officer noted that there are also harsher methods of influence, but the report did not elaborate.

As more and more AFU soldiers are forcibly conscripted (abducted) from their homes or from streets or shops, the number of “refuseniks”—soldiers who refuse to go into combat—is growing in Ukrainian units. As a rule, refuseniks are arrested and then held in cramped, damp cages. The Ukrainian Telegram channel Legitimny writes that according to its sources, rising numbers of Ukrainian soldiers are refusing to fight because that “no one wants to fight for the governing regime in Kiev and its leaders since it treats its people as slaves.”

In early April, the German state news outlet Deutsche Welle published a video report from Luzanivka in the Cherkasy region (central Ukraine), explaining there are no men left of military service age in the village. “If someone happens to die, there is no one left here to dig their grave,” says village council chairman Serhiy Nikolaenko. DW reports that about 50 men have been conscripted from the village of 400 people.

Strana cites Deutsche Welle in reporting from the village of Valentina. A resident explains, “In our small village, there are already so many missing and dead. Imagine for the whole of Ukraine!” The resident says both of his sons have been conscripted into the army.

Despite all this, President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government continue to try and “sell” to Western media and politicians that a new counteroffensive by the AFU may be launched. This is at a time when the human resources to replace the soldiers being lost to death, injury, or desertion are all but exhausted. “Yes, we have a plan for a counteroffensive. We will definitely win; we have no other alternative. But I can’t promise it and I can’t name a date,” Zelensky stressed in an interview with Germany’s BILD daily newspaper on April 9.

Oleksandr Dubinsky, a former MP from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, adds that as long as the Ukrainian army is in retreat, it will be difficult to negotiate financial aid. In other words, the Ukraine regime plans to throw yet more Ukrainians into the slaughter so that the Ukrainian elite can maintain its economic ties with the West and continue to receive funding from it.

How neoliberalism has undermined Western hegemony

Another reason for the impossibility of an AFU counteroffensive is the shortage of ammunition, which neither the West nor Ukraine are able to replenish. In Ukraine and the West, deindustrialization processes have undermined the ability to quickly organize production facilities.

Russian political scientist Malek Dudakov writes that it is extremely difficult for European Union countries to now boost their production of armaments. The EU countries today buy 80% of their armaments from outside their borders; 60% of that comes from the United States. “Euro bureaucrats miraculously want to reduce dependence on armaments imports to 50% by 2030. This is in the context of a severe crisis already happening in the European economy, due largely to deindustrialization. Even the production of shells faces problems because of the shortages of nitrocellulose (also known as ‘guncotton’) and other cotton products purchased from China,” he writes.

In early April, police searches were conducted in Ukraine and Poland amidst investigations by the Ukraine Defense Ministry of overpriced arms purchases. In 2022, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry signed several contracts with the Polish-registered firm Alfa for the supply of ammunition worth tens of millions of euros. Despite the fact that the firm failed to fulfill the terms of the first several contracts, the Ministry continued to cooperate with it. As of the beginning of 2023, Alfa owed the Defense Ministry more than 3.5 billion hryvnias (US$89 million) for arms purchases never received.

In late February, Zelensky claimed that global prices for artillery shells have increased five times (500%) since the start of the war with the Russian Federation. “Because of the war in Ukraine, even an ordinary artillery shell which cost $1500 at the beginning of the war can cost $4000 to $8000 today. So much for the war. For some it is a war, while for others it is just big business,” he said.

The Wall Street Journal reported on April 10 that US drones produced in California’s Silicon Valley have not performed well in Ukraine. “US-made UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] tend to be expensive, faulty and complicated to repair, say drone company executives, Ukrainians on the front lines, Ukrainian government officials, and some former US military officials.”

In general, the entire Western world is oriented to produce small numbers of expensive products, with high involvement of private middlemen. This model turns out to be highly ineffective in modern military conflicts, which require cheap and quick production on a mass scale. The only two ways, then, for Western firms to compete is to exploit the countries of the Global South for cheap production or to lower their own production standards.

Russia, meanwhile, has been undergoing processes of de-privatization, that is the return of manufacturing by private enterprises to state ownership. This helps to eliminate middlemen and make production cheaper. Since 2020, the number of cases in which the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has challenged the legalities of privatizations during the privatization wave of the 1990s has grown eight times, according to the Russian TV channel RTVI.

The chief of Sweden’s SAAB arms producer, Micael Johansson, recently told the Financial Times that shortages of nitrocellulose were an example of why companies producing armaments need to build new supply chains in today’s “multipolar world” where “not only the Western rules-based order will be present.” He added, “We have to think about like-minded countries who we can trust and with whom we can work with in the long term.”

Reading between the lines, the SAAB official’s words mean increased pressure by Western countries on the Global South to locate more and more production there on the cheap. Effectively, it means a continuation of colonialist practices against smaller and less developed countries.

It has been fashionable in recent years for capitalist ideologues and commentators in the imperialist countries to criticize and even condemn the “offshoring” of their manufacturing to China and other countries. But the drive to maximize profits takes precedence, and so offshoring remains an attractive practice. The capitalist system of production serves private interests, not public needs. Thus it has always been and will always remain.

Notes:

In post-Soviet Ukraine, there was and remains only one official language: Ukrainian. This was even true in Crimea where ethnic Ukrainians composed only some 15% of the population. In today’s Crimea (Russian Federation), there are three official languages: Russian, Crimean Tatar, and Ukrainian.

  1. Crimea’s autonomous status dates back to the Russian Revolution of 1917, which implemented sweeping forms of political self-determination for the many nationalities that comprised the pre-Revolution Russian Empire. This was and remains the origin of independent Ukraine. Soviet Ukraine was formed during the harsh years of civil war from 1918 to 1920. It went on to become a founding constituent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. Officials of Soviet Ukraine led a secession from the USSR in 1990/1991. The country had already won its independence 70 years earlier.
  2. Military registration is obligatory in Ukraine for all men between the ages of 18 and 65. The age of military service (conscription) is 25 to 60 (recently reduced from 27).

Originally published in the Orinoco Tribune.

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