Sunday, September 14, 2014

Transcarpathia and Transnistria SitRep 06 Sep - 13 Sep

by "Y"



The local police units are still training for ATO service and small groups of police officers still volunteer to fight in the ATO. Fifteen such officers have volunteered during the period covered by this report.

Soldiers from the 128th Transcarpathian unit are returning from the front to Transcarpathia. They arrive in irregularly sized batches; 10 on September 6, a further 30 on the 7th,, then 3 large buses (so possibly 100+ troops) on the 13th. This unit is reported as serving 50 days at the front line, based at Schasta 20 km north of Lugansk. This is the unit that left the front without permission for the Ukraine military command. A commanding officer stated that all the men had served honourably. The battalion commander, named as Vitaliy Komar, was recently released on bail after being arrested in Odessa. He faces a possible 10 year prison sentence. He claims that he is has been made a scapegoat for the poor quality of the upper levels of the Ukrainian military command.

Militia members from the Transcarpathian 'Sich' group complain about poor weapons, limited ammunition that has to be acquired at their own expense or through donations, and absurd orders from above resulting in the militia being left to its own fate.

Four prisoners held by the NAF came from Transcarpathia.Three were members of the 51st Brigade and one from the Donbass battalion, with call sign 'Chrome'. These have been released. The bereaved families of 12 Transcarpathia military members have received a total of 7.3 million UAH in cash assistance (the UAH trades at about 14 to the US dollar).

In an attempt to reassure volunteers, the Transcarpathian regional commission has confirmed that reservists and conscripts defending the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine in the ATO will be recognized as combatants. The intent is to clearly make them eligible for treatment as PoWs if captured and perhaps more importantly, immunity from prosecution within Ukraine.

Finally, more refugees have arrived from the east and Crimea, bringing the total to 1485 (1039) from Donetsk and Lugansk regions, and 227 (222) from Crimea. The figures in brackets represent the totals residing within Transcarpathia at the end of August. There clearly has been a dramatic increase in the number of people fleeing from the fighting in the east. It is not clear whether these individuals are Transcarpathians who have returned or Ukrainians seeking to get as far away from the conflict as possible.

The economy is in dire straits. Local media report inflation reached 14.2% for August. Utility costs (telephone, water) are increasing whilst income remains stagnant. The limited amount of money available to organise the upcoming election is reported as a big issue for Transcarpathia.

In a wider context relating to the pending EU Agreement, a working group has been established to restore rail connections from Uzhgorod to Prague, Budapest and Romania. Another working group is look at increasing the number of border crossing points between Hungary and Transcarpathia, possibly reducing the spacing from ~35 km to about ~15 km. These changes would facilitate increased trade and tourist traffic.

Miroslav Lajcak, the Deputy Prime Minister of Slovakia spent two days in Transcarpathia discussing energy issues. Slovakia claims to be able to provide a reverse flow gas supply to Ukraine. However, Gazprom has reacted to this and other attempts at providing reverse supplies. It has reduced supply to Slovakia by 10%, it will reduce gas volumes supplied to Poland and Germany, and has increased the price of gas supplied to Hungary. This latter move should make gas transit from Hungary economically unprofitable. The difference in treatment by Russia of Hungary versus Poland, Slovakia and Germany probably reflects the different positions of the respective countries: Hungary a potential ally and trading partner at one end and Poland an implacable foe at the other. If this is the case, it is interesting that Germany falls on the side of Poland rather than Hungary.

In a further move, Lukoil has announced it is interested in buying the Transneft pipeline running through Transcarpathia. Transneft has lost $62.5 million over the last five years through theft of oil. The cost for acquiring Transneft is likely to be less than $150 million.

The third phase of mobilization is very problematic country wide. The age limits for exemption are desperately high - 65 years for officers. Only 145 individuals were recruited from the Transcarpathian regions. People are simply ignoring the notices to report or fleeing the region. The authorities are trying to control this situation; the SBU is creating a database of every Ukrainian who has been captured in the east or who has gone missing. They are also monitoring internally displaced persons from the east and Crimea. The wives and mothers of conscripted soldiers are still continuing their protests, demanding that their men not be sent to the front. These protests are much smaller than earlier, booth in number and size of individual demonstrations.

The increased taxation supposedly to support the military in the east has generated 5 million UAH per month in Transcarpathia alone. This tax is based on a 1.5% levy on income and lottery winning, and excludes capital and property assets, so it affects the poorer levels of society in greater proportion, whilst the extremely wealth are relatively immune to its effects.


The main explicit political news relates to the forthcoming election. A number of local politicians are standing: Viktor Baloha District 69 around Mukachevo, Basil Petiovka District 72 around Tyachiv and Nicoletta Subs District 68 around Uzhgorod. Another politician, Istvan Gajdos, considers Ukraine to be at war making the holding of elections inappropriate. Consequently he is not standing for a major position.

Only Baloha appears prominently in news reports so far. He strongly supports the war in the east, and states that martial law should be declared if necessary. He also says this should be done for the benefit of the country, not to preserve the positions of people already in power. He has declared that money spent on political advertising would be better spent fighting the war. Consequently he has stated that he will donate all such money he receives to the military. More recently he has stated that the 'peace plan' is failing as the Ukrainian positions are being constantly shelled by the Russian-supported 'terrorists'. Consequently there can be no deals with Putin. His view is that there are two options i) full take over the east and wipe out all opposition, or ii) leave it totally, stop financing it and transfer the problem to Russia by defining new borders.

The sudden presence of Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian oligarch with pro-Russian views, in Uzhgorod raised some alarm in the local pro-regime camp, fearing he may be attempting to destabilise the region of behalf of Putin.

The usual propaganda activities are still operational. Collections, concerts and other similar events are used to raise funds for the actions in the east. The amounts involved are dwarfed by the amounts raised by the tax mentioned earlier, so the acts serve to provide a 'feel good' factor and possibly supply specific items to unofficial militias with local members. Local NGOs have been formed supposedly to further support and aid the troops. One group 'Movement to Support Transcarpathian Soldiers' was formed by a small group of local artists, media people and journalists. Their major activity seems to have been a press conference. Another group "Native Mukachevo" aims to support fighters from Mukachevo. Details are lacking so far, but they have the air of being entities used to raise the profile of those behind them.

More insidious events reflect the underlying promotion of a pure Ukrainian nation. Firstly a short report in a local online new outlet reports that 'contrary to stereotypes, some Roma soldiers will fight loyally for Ukraine'.

Secondly a local villager, Vladimir Golovchak, had the idea of creating the first children's battalion 'Falcon'. The membership includes children aged 2-10 years. The intent is to raise a patriotic spirit in these children. The associated YouTube video shows the children holding a Pravi Sektor flag central stage, with a Ukrainian flag off to one side.

Despite an agreement between Poroshenko and the Hungarian Ethnic Alliance (KMKSZ), there will not be an autonomous Hungarian region in Transcarpathia. This precludes the formation of a Hungarian voting block. The Hungarian government supports the Transcarpathian Hungarian minority in their quest for autonomy. The Hungarian minority in the region have warned that separatism might become a real problem if things get worse in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian response has taken two forms. Firstly an NGO has been created to promote the idea that Hungarian life should move closer to the Ukrainian style. This will probably be as effective as a chocolate teapot.

Secondly, and more effectively, the Transcarpathian authorities are clamping down on all forms of activity that could be seen as supporting or proposing separatism. Local pro-Ukraine media report that once potential separatists have met investigators, the 'promptly fall in love with Ukraine'. The investigators do face problems, as those interviewed frequently claim their social media pages have been hacked or vandalised. There are four reported criminal cases of Rusyn separatism, one prominent person is named as Ivan Petrovtsiy. A second case is only identified by the surname - Sidor. One local resident from Uzhgorod has been sentenced to a 3 year jail term, followed by 1 year probation. The offense cited was 'calling for violent overthrow of constitutional order, formation of illegal paramilitaries in region'. This obviously could be applied to anyone proposing or taking part in another Maidan against the current regime.

The Transcarpathian local government has not disbanded the local Berkut, contrary to the Ukrainian law passed on 25 February. Members of the Pravi Sektor object to this, probably because it weakens their strategy of using violence to silence opposition.

It is clear that the Ukrainian regime fears more attempts at separatism, and possibly any dissenting voices whatsoever. For example, I have seen images of demonstrations in Mariupol before and after the start of the ATO. From these, it seems plausible that such dissent is suppressed rather having faded away. The 'before' image I have in mind shows a public square fully occupied with anti-regime protestors. The 'after' image shows the same square with a much smaller number of pro-regime supporters, taking up about 1/4 to 1/3 of the square. There are two other distinguishing factors; the dominance of Ukrainian symbols (flags flown or being worn) and a large number of buses parked alongside the square. No such buses were present in the first protest. One possible explanation is that someone (the local oligarch?) has gone to the expense of providing uniform PR material and bussing people in from outside the locality.

On September 10, the Transnistrian Prime Minister Evgeny Shevchuk signed a law requiring all organisations that have bunkers (air raid shelters ?) and other civil security facilities to prepare them for use. It is not clear whether this is in anticipation of a possible attack from Ukraine, Moldova or both. The Ukrainian Ambassador to Moldova has denied Kiev plans to attack Transnistria.

The Transnistrian economy is severely hampered by the blockade from Moldova and Ukraine. Most of the exports were destined for Russia or Europe, using Odessa as an exit port. This is now closed as a result of the actions by Ukraine. The Gagauzian region of Moldova also has substantial trade Russia and Turkey. It is alarmed by talk of Moldova rejoining ROmania. The Moldovan economy is also very dependent on Russia. It is claimed that ~30% of its GDP arises from money returned by Moldovan migrants to Russia. Russia is currently tightening up its position regarding migrants. Moldova also exports wine and apples to Russia. The viability of this trade will ma be severely affected when Moldova signs the Association Agreement with the UE.

Political groups in Transnistria has repeated their support of the DNR in their quest for liberation from fascism. In a 2006 referendum, more than 93% of Transnistrians wanted to join the Russian federation. The Russian response has been that this is difficult because there is no shared border.

The main political issue is the undefined legal status of Transnistria. The blockade by Moldova and Ukraine severely hampers the Transnistrian economy. Transnistria has deferred the forthcoming '5+2' talks until these issues are dealt with or included within the scope of the negotiations. The Transnistrian Head of Foreign Affairs met with the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rubin and the US Ambassador to Moldova W H Moser. The state US position is it wants to the help OSCE mission to Moldova and the '5+2' group to overcome problems and achieve concrete results. Transnistria's position is the negotiation were stopped by Moldova in 2006, only to be restarted in 2011 after much effort especially by Russia to get the talks restarted. Transnistria's suspension of the talks is in response to the economic blockade imposed by Moldova. This has been made worse because Chisinau and Kiev now only allow Transnistrian exports to pass if they have been documented by Moldova. This imposes additional time and monetary costs on the affected goods. Transnistria's position is that it simply wants to run its foreign trade interdependently of Moldova. More recently, Moldovan customs officers at Tiraspol airport have started imposing overly intrusive examinations of the luggage of Transnistrian politicians.

The US has requested that Russia withdraw its peacekeeping troops from Transnistria. The basis for their demand is that the presence does not comply with the Combat Forces in Europe (CFE) agreement. Lavrov has rejected this blatant attempt to weaken Transnistria by stating that the West has not signed the document, so it has no meaning in this case. The US position is made more obvious by their demand that the OSCE mission needs unrestricted access to Transnistrian region because of rising tensions on Ukraine border. The conveniently skip over the fact that the tensions are the result of Ukraine's actions, not those of Transnistria.

One major strand of propaganda is that Russian troops in Transnistria will be used to attack Odessa as the basis for a unified Novorossian coastal zone. This ignores the reality that the peacekeeping force in Transnistria is a roughly equal mix of Transnistrian, Moldovan and Russian troops. If the Russian troops leave Transnistria, then pro-US forces will have little difficulty in overwhelming the Transnistrian forces.

The most amusing propaganda tale relates to the appearance of 'so-called green men' in Moldova, as reported by Moldovan counter-intelligence. These 'little green men' have managed somehow or other to mysteriously appear on Moldovan territory. They attempt to recruit young people as saboteurs, who are taught methods of disinformation, how to act in emergency situations, and how to handle small arms. These green men are, of course, not visible to the normal human eye, but are 'irrefutable evidence' that Transnistria is preparing for war and Russia is recruiting saboteurs.