Do separatists in Ukraine turn terrorists?
Yet another explosion quaked the center of Kharkiv, after those of December. Not only the eastern city has been targeted, as other cities at risk of separatism like Odessa and Mariupol have seen blasts in recent weeks. Beyond the war, a strategy of terror seems to destabilize the country. Who is behind the bombs? Do separatists in Ukraine turn terrorists?
- Tuesday, 20 January 2015
When I decided the topic of this post, it was just after another bomb exploded in Odessa. I didn’t even start writing, that yet another quaked the cold evening in Kharkiv. In the last couple of months, dozens of attacks across the southeast of Ukraine make the authorities raise their guard against a new terrorist threat. Attacks have spread amid the ceasefire in Donbass: in Odessa alone there were seven attacks last month. Among the cities affected there are also Kherson and Mariupol. They are not war zones, but the map drawn by bomb blasts coincides with that part of Ukraine still at risk of separatism, albeit under the control of the government in Kiev. Can we start to talk about a separatist’s change of strategy?
Targets of terror
Judging from the targets, it would seem so. The last attack in Kharkiv, the most serious so far with 14 wounded, hit a local court where there was an ongoing hearing of a member of the far-right party Svoboda, accused of illegal possession of weapons. Among the wounded, there are many Euromaidan activists attending the hearing. It seems reasonable to think that they were the target. The other bombs exploded in recent weeks seem to hit directly Ukrainian institutions or organizations that support the army. This was the case of the other serious attack of November, when 11 were wounded. The bomb was detonated in the Stena pub, whose owner Myhailo Ozerov had distinguished himself as a fundraiser on behalf of refugees from the Donbass. While the latest explosion of Odessa has damaged a subsidiary of Diamantbank, property of the MP and businessman David Zhvania, close to the oligarch Ihor Kholomoisky, one of the leading figures in the fight against the separatists. The same building also housed an organization that collected funds for the army. Even the previous attacks and the ones in other cities targeted pro-Ukrainian organizations or infrastructure, along with the headquarters of the security forces and political parties.
A self-fulfilling prophecy
In the war of words being waged together with real one, the eastern militiamen have been labeled from the very beginning as "terrorists" by the government of Kiev. The military operation itself has the official name of Antiterroristicheskaja operatsija, anti-terrorist operation, Ato. The wave of attacks across the country seems to open a new front. It is misleading and incorrect to refer to separatist rebels as "terrorists". But if there was evidence of a real link between the series of attacks in the rest of Ukraine and the militias of the self-proclaimed republics of Europe, things would change.
Meanwhile, after the last bomb exploded last night in Kharkiv, the authorities announced an anti-terrorist operation in the city. The nth one. Olexiy Melnyk, a security expert at the Razumkov Centre in Kiev, told Mashable that "pro-Russian rebels have snuck through Ukrainian military lines, and are operating from south to north to west Ukraine."
Already in recent months, the Ukrainian secret service had cleared a cell of Kharkovskye partizany, the Partisans of Kharkiv, an organization that plans to establish the Kharkovskaja Narodnaya Respublika, after the separatist republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. The group, however, reappeared last Christmas with a series of leaflets scattered around the city.
What we have seen so far could be just the beginning of a long destabilization of the country. According to Melnyk, "this is the kind of reality that Ukrainians will live with during the next few years."