Ukraine's anarcho-syndicalist Autonomous Workers' Union has issued a "Statement on the Odessa Tragedy," calling the horrific May 2 violence there a "clash of right-wing combatants," with "football hooligans and Euromaidan self-defence on the one side; Stalinists, pro-Russian paramilitaries and local police force on the other." The clash climaxed when the pro-Russian ("Antimaidan") protesters fled into the city's Trade Union house, and barricaded the doors. The pro-Ukrainian forces besieged it; Molotov cocktails were thrown "both to and fro the roof of the building," which eventually went up in flames. Some 40 of those inside were killed, either burned or sufficating in the smoke.
Reuters reported May 5 that Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft stopped diesel shipments to Ukraine and Hungary last month "due to uncertainties over the pipe's ownership," with the Ukrainian prosecutor's office filing a claim of ownership over the Soviet-era duct. We are actually asked to believe that the stoppage is "unrelated to the Ukraine crisis." Meawnhile, Voice of Russia reports that Hungary is stepping in as the protector of minorities in the Zakarpatie region of western Ukraine (also rendered Transcarpathia). These are principally the ethnic Hungarians and the Rusyns (also rendered Ruthenians). The regional parliament, the Hungarian-Rusyn National Congress, is now seeking autonomous legislative powers under a proposed "Transcarpathian Regional Confederation of the Hungarian and Rusyn People." While ethnic Hungarians are considered a "national minority" in Ukraine, the Rusyns do not have such status, according to Denis Kiryukhin of the Kiev Center for Political Studies and Conflictology. "Problems with the Rusyns have come up for several years already," Kiryukhin said. "That is the only ethnic minority in Ukraine, which Kiev has always refused to acknowledge. The relations between Rusyns and Ukrainians have been complicated and remain such to date." Despite the fact that Ukraine does not recognize dual citizenship, Budapest has started issuing passports to residents of Zakarpatie—an open affront to Kiev.
Foreign Policy reports that the newly declared "People's Republics" of Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa in eastern Ukraine have announced the return of "Novorossiya" (New Russia)—and are arguing among themselves as to who shall lead it. In the running is one Valery Kaurov, the Moscow-exiled leader of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine—and a former businessman who is wanted in Ukraine for his calls for separatism. The Washington Post adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the "Novorossiya" concept, recently saying: "I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days—Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa—were [sic] not part of Ukraine back then. The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained."
Russia's upper house of parliament on April 29 approved a set of bills that apply new restrictions on the Internet and blogging, a move widely criticized by both pro-democracy activists and Russia's technology sector alike. Critics of the draft laws affecting the Internet, which are expected to be signed by President Vladimir Putin soon and enforced in August, have expressed fear that the legislation is an attempt by Putin to silence opponents on the Internet. The bill causing the most concern leaves bloggers subject to greater regulation and legal liability, equating them to media outlets. This bill, which would require bloggers with 3,000 or more page visits per day to reveal their identities and abide by many of the same requirements as the mass media, is one of three bills in the package that impose control over the dissemination of information on the Internet and online payments and inflicts harsher punishment for terrorism and extremism. The legislation also requires that social networking sites and blog hosts store data on site users for at least six months in case the authorities need access for investigations. Supporters of the bill, including the United Russia party, have stated that the restrictions are needed to fight online extremism.
CNN reports April 26 of a "perilous face-off" as Russian state news complained that Ukraine has mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slavyansk in the country's east "in order to wipe out the city and its residents." A Defense Ministry source said the number of Ukrainian troops put the pro-Russian militants who control the city at a disadvantage, as the latter are "armed only with small amount of pistols and shotguns." Of course, Russia's military massively outweighs Ukraine's and the Defense Ministry's statement is a barely veiled threat of intervention. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that Russian warplanes have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours, according to the Pentagon. The violation of Ukraine's airspace follows war games that have moblized some 40,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Earlier this week, the Pentagon deployed 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltic states "to reassure NATO allies in the region about the US commitment to their defense." Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged that Moscow "wants to start World War III" by seeking to take over Ukraine.
More ominous headlines from Ukraine that only leave us wondering what to believe. Winning the prize for combining sensationalism with sloppy vagueness is (surprise) the New York Post, which warns: "Jews in east Ukraine forced to register with authorities." There are two serious problems with this headline. First, if you actually read the story, nobody has been "forced" to do anything—yet, at least. The demand was made in threatening leaflets, with no attempt at enforcement. Second, given the confused situation in east Ukraine, it is completely ambiguous who is indicated by the word "authorities." The "official" Urkainian government, or the Russian-backed separatists who claim to be in control? This is a rather critical point, given all the Russian propaganda about how the Kiev government is "fascist" and "anti-Semitic."
On April 13, some 10,000 people turned out in Moscow for an anti-Kremlin rally to denounce Russian state television's coverage of the Ukraine crisis—which portrays the new government in Kiev as a "fascist junta" under the control of the US. Some of those who took part in the "March of Truth" carried blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags. One woman, wearing a traditional Ukrainian wreath of flowers on her head, held a sign with President Vladimir Putin's picture and the words: "Stop lying." Among those who spoke to the crowd was Andrei Zubov, a history professor who was fired from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations last month after criticizing Russia's military intervention in the Crimea, comparing it with Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria on the eve of World War II. Zubov told the crowd that by lying to the Russian people on television, the government is leading the country toward "an abyss." (AP, April 13; Global Voices Online, March 27; Reuters, March 24)
Pro-Russian protests broke out in Ukraine's east April 6, climaxing in the seizure of government buildings in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk. (See map.) Protesters in Donetsk declared their own "constituent assembly," and proclaimed the Donbas region to be a "people's republic." After clashing with riot police and breaking through their lines to enter the regional parliament chamber, the protesters raised the Russian flag from the building. Supporters outside cheered and chanted: "Russia, Russia!" A report by Russia's Interfax agency said the Donetsk protesters will push for a regional referendum by May 11 on unification with Russia. Protest camps have been established outside the government buildings in all three cities, with banners bearing messages such as "Putin, help!"