Saturday, September 6, 2014

Transcarpathia and Transnistria SitRep 30 Aug - 05 Sep

by "Y"

The situation in both areas is relatively stable. The sitrep is presented in a thematic order, maintaining chronological sequence within each theme. This should help the reader understand what is happening in these regions



The military units in the region continue to rely on public assistance to acquire non-lethal equipment. A small group of six or so pro-Ukrainian fighters known as the 'Carpathian Sich' currently active in the ATO region has requested thermal imagers and thermal underwear. The 128th Mukachevo mountain infantry brigade is also short of such equipment including protective clothing, radios, first aid supplies, fire extinguishers, power supplies and mattresses.

Multiple public events are held locally attempting to raise funds for the local military units. These include local collections, musical concerts, Ice Bucket challenges and the auction of dates with celebrities. The state has made such charitable aid exempted from tax. It is difficult to know whether these acts reflect a real local shortage of funds, an attempt to foster a patriotic spirit, or a combination of the two. Given the state of the Ukrainian economy, the former is certainly an important factor.

The local battalion is supposedly manned on the understanding that it is purely for local defense. A small group of about 27 individuals have volunteered to go to the front to support the ATO. This contingent was purely others ranks, as not a single officer volunteered for this duty.

The most recent official death count for Transcarpathia is only fifteen. Another 40 injured troops are receiving treatment at the Mukachevo military hospital. This unit has beds for 50 patients, so it is near capacity. Several of the wounded have very severe leg injuries, possibly requiring amputation. There are no public reports for casualties being treated elsewhere in the region. It is difficult to assess how realistic the official figures are given the number of troops sent to the front is unknown. There is certainly a shortage of commanders, APC gun operators and APC drivers.

Towards the end of August, the 5th battalion of the Prykarpattya brigade left the front. The 400 soldiers had been fighting for a long period without rest under very difficult conditions. The unit was stopped by Ukrainian security and police after travelling for 5 days from the south-east. The soldiers made their case and were granted 10 days leave. The commander has been detained for 2 months pending trial, with bail of 300,000 UAH. The troops protested his arrest as they did not consider him or themselves deserters, merely in need of rotation. This action has influenced the behavior of other units on the front who do not want to be treated as deserters.

The region is supporting a small number of refugees. The number amounted to a total of 1261 by the end of August 2014. Of these, 222 originated from Crimea, and the remainder are from the south-east of Ukraine. The refugees from Crimea obviously have not migrated as a result of the ATO operations. On 5 September, six fighters returned from the ATO with an unknown number of refugees including children.


There is low level discontent with the economy, which is probably not confined to this region. Prices are rising whilst wages staying the same. There is a Ukrainian joke - the local currency does not jump. There have also been tax increases on tobacco. Given the high prevalence of smoking in Ukraine, this is certainly not popular.

In a demonstration of Ukrainian humor (or their lack of a sense of irony), laws have been established allowing for the imposition of fines to be levied for overdue payments for public services.


The big news, fully played up in the press and on TV is the opening of a reverse flow gas pipeline from Slovakia. This runs from Vojny in Slovakia to Uzghorod in Transcarpathia. The Ukrainians claim this will carry 21.5 million cubic metres (cu m) of gas per day, three times the existing reverse flow from Poland and Hungary. The pipeline capacity would be 10 billion cu m / year. Other analysts dispute this figure, saying technical limits will reduce the capacity to 2 billion cu m / year. The main problem is the lack of spare capacity in Slovakia. A great deal was also made of the lower price charged by Slovakia - $360 per thousand cu m as opposed to the $385 commonly quoted as the Gazprom price.

Yatsenyuk claims that Ukraine can import a total of 15 billion cu m / year of gas via these reverse flow pipelines, amounting to 60% of Ukraine's needs. It remains to be seen how realistic these figures are. If the alternative figures quoted are more realistic, the total would be ~ 7 billion cu m / year or about 28% of the demand. Either way, Ukraine is going to need to deal with Gazprom. Yatsenyuk also met with the Slovakian Prime Minister Fico who opposes sanctions against Russia. The outcome of that meeting was not reported.

A more immediately significant change representing the reality is illustrated by the reinstatement of daily electricity supply restrictions. Residential users face daily loss of power for the period 19:00-21:00. Some news sites report that cuts will occur from 08:00 to 10:00 as well.


Following the initial high levels of opposition to mobilisation, the organizers of the current third phase stress that Transcarpathian units will be for local service only. The authorities will not stop anyone volunteering to go to the front. The current recruitment is for males aged 18-60 years who are medically fit for military service. The pay is supposedly 2000 UAH per month, rising with experience and duration of service.


The 1150,000 Hungarian minority has attempted to increase the effectiveness of its vote. The Hungarian block is split over 3 local constituencies which severely reduces the possibility of pro-Hungarian representation. The Society of Hungarian Culture asked the Regional State Administration representative Valeriy Luchenko to appeal to Poroshenko and Central Election Commission to establish single mandate constituencies for the Beregovo and Vynogradiv districts. Such constituencies exist in Kiev and elsewhere. This request was made on the basis of EU regulations on rights of minorities. This appeal was not accepted so the block is still split.

Commentators expect the forthcoming elections to be complicated by the war in the east. There is an expectation of political clashes, arson against deputies cars, and accusations of bribery. It is clear that the government wants to redistribute votes in order to pass laws required to implement IMF austerity and loan payback conditions.

The region will also be holding a number of small scale international military exercises. The first is Light Avalanche 2014 involving Ukraine, Slovakia, Hungary & Romania. This is exercise relates to the Vynogradiv multinational engineer battalion TISA, involving about 150 soldiers training in flood protection for the Tisza river basin. A larger exercise, Karpaty 2014, is scheduled for the end of September. This is a multinational mountain infantry exercise, with 2500 troops from Ukraine and a similar number from the other participants. This will take place in the local mountains. These exercises were obviously scheduled long before the disastrous losses in the east and the consequent effects on troops levels. At the moment the Karpaty exercise is still scheduled.


The state and business oriented media supports the established convention that those opposing the Kiev regime in the south-east are terrorists. They follow the standard propaganda line that Russia has invaded and there are 10-15,000 Russian troops in east in addition to terrorist organizations. In contrast, the Hungarian language media describe the people in the south-east as dissidents.


Local patriotic initiatives include distinctively marking Russian-supplied products on supermarket shelves and the use of 'No Russian goods' stickers for other businesses. The problem with the supermarket product approach is that, in the few images released, almost everything ends up being labelled. The sticker idea seems to be the bright idea of a local small business person. I suspect these are just symbolic, patriotic feel-good actions rather than effective actions.


Jobbick, the far right Hungarian political party, has expressed concerns for the status of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia. It has established a charity in Transcarpathia aimed at raising awareness and support for these Hungarians. The Transcarpathian authorities consider Jobbik to be subverted by Russia, aiming to intervene in internal affairs of Ukraine and affect its territorial integrity. Legal actions are being taken against the charity, claiming it is acting in violation of Ukrainian law.

The regional business media repeats the usual anti-Russian propaganda. In particular a report states that Russia plans to use a 'Yugoslav scenario' at expense of Transcarpathia. Presumably this relates to the concept of some unspecified form of federalization. This report also mentions that some time ago, a noticeable numbers of people in the region were speaking with a prominent Russian accent. The implication is that these were outsiders sent in to promote the creation of Rusyn-Hungarian autonomy, a form of separatism. One of the leaders, Peter Gecko, is sought by the SBU charged with incitement to infringe on territorial integrity of Ukraine.

Gecko is reported to have been present at the recent meeting in Yalta which focussed on means of expanding so-called "Union of the People's Republics. The local media report includes a tantalising reference to the Kharkiv oblast. It states that a Kharkiv National Republic was proclaimed on 7 April. This Republic lasted only one day, before it was halted following the arrest by the police of six dozen members of this "Republic".

The Transcarpathian prosecutor has opened four cases of separatism, one of which must relate to Gecko. There are no details so far of the targets involved in the other three cases. A working group involving the SBU, law enforcement officers and prosecutors has been established. It is tasked with preventing the emergence of separatism. All of this indicates the regime is scared of further outbreaks of separatism, and is specifically trying to suppress the idea of a Republic of the Subcarpathian Rus.



The pro-regime press and supporters talk of a second front at Odessa, based on presence of about 1500 troops in Transnistria. The troops form part of the post-independence peace keeping mission. They are primarily tasked with guarding the remaining large ammunition and weapon store (reputedly ~ 22,000 tons) at Cobasna. In the face of rising adverse actions from Moldova, the Transnistria authorities have called for a mobilisation within the population. The Transnistria troop strength is estimated to be 4500-7500 including both regular and paramilitary units. The country has a population of about 500,000. Any forces raised by mobilisation will require extensive training and subsequent arming. It should be noted that the ammunition and weapons mentioned above date back to the Soviet period, so the are probably in very poor condition. The idea of this kind of second front is probably not realistic, at least in the short term, as the removal of trained troops would leave Transnistria open to re-invasion by Moldova.

These concerns by the Ukrainian regime had been addressed by placing military units on the coast close to the border with Transnistria. These forces have been moved to the Donbass, in an attempt to reinforce weak points in the front line. This has complicated the plan, probably devised by the US, to use Moldova and Ukraine to totally isolate Transnistria.


The gas pipelines from Russia to Moldova pass through Transnistria. In an attempt to separate Moldova from Russian influence, via perceived control of the pipeline in Transnistria, a reverse flow gas pipeline has been constructed linking Moldova and Romania. The first phase of the pipeline, partly funded by the EU, has been completed. The price of gas in Romania is 40% cheaper than the price charged directly by Gazprom. It is of no surprise that the US has praised this so-called energy diversity. It suffers from the fundamental problems outlined above, namely a lack of excess supply in Romania and the residual dependence of gas passing through Transnistria.


A long-running negotiation process aimed at resolving the legal status of Transnistria has the next meeting in Vienna scheduled for 11-12 September. This is described as a '5+2' process. It involves 5 active entities, Moldova, Transnistria, the OSCE, Russia and Ukraine, along with two observer states, the EU and US. These talks broke down in 2006 only to be reinstated following insistence by Russia. The position of the EU, a supposed observer, is illustrated by their support of Moldova, praising it for choosing the path of moving toward the west whilst 'simultaneously keeping good relations with the east'.

The Transnistria representatives have called into question the forthcoming round. They claim that a number of issues raised as a result of actions by Moldova are not covered by the existing framework. These actions are described as forms of economic, information and diplomatic war. The specific actions include criminal proceedings being initiated against Transnistrian officials, the reuse in Moldova of frequencies allocated for the Transnistrian telephone service and adverse economic consequences arising from Moldova signing an EU Association Agreement.

Transnistria states it is not is refusing to continue the 5+2 talks, rather it has legitimate concerns that need to be addressed. Moldova states that Transnistria is putting forward artificial pre-conditions, which only undermines trust and complicates the process of resolving the legal status of Transnistria.


The actions of Moldova against Transnistria have been balanced by blow-back from reverse sanctions imposed by Russia. These have severely affected the Moldovan agricultural economy. In consequence, Moldova has asked the EU for financial support for its farmers. The robust EU economy will surely have no problems accommodating these additional costs.