The showdown in Ukraine’s separatist-held Donbass

Soldiers in camouflage with no insignia popped up in the streets of Luhansk and military vehicles patrolled the streets while the "prime minister" of the self-proclaimed popular republic reportedly fled to Russia. What is happening in the Donbass separatist territories seems like a coup. And maybe it is.

If it were a movie, it would be titled "The return of the little green men". But this time soldiers without insignia appeared in the streets of a city under the control of the Russian-backed separatists, and not in Kiev-controlled territory, as happened in 2014 in Crimea.

The questions, still, are the same. Who are they? Who’s orders do they attend? Which army are they representing? The answer, instead, this time is a bit more difficult.

What we know so far is that in during the morning of Tuesday, November 21st, the Luhansk residents woke up in the city guarded by military vehicles and soldiers in uniforms without any distinctive sign, armed with Kalashnikov. In some ways, nothing so overwhelming in a city under the control of irregular militias for more than three years. But this time there was something different.

Soldiers not only didn’t have any insignia, but also refused to tell who they were and why they were there. The city's central streets were blocked. While self-proclaimed prime minister Igor Plotninsky calmed down the population by saying everything was under control, what was happening looked actually like a coup.

A slow motion coup

And in fact there is suspect. The day before, in fact, Plotninsky had fired his "Interior Minister", Igor Kornet. Or rather, he tried to fire him. Because Kornet refused to leave the office and openly challenged the "prime minister". The ministry website then issued a statement supporting the minister, a support also shown by the armed forces.

Plotninsky could only count on the military police and the armed forces controlled by the General Prosecutor's Office.

On Tuesday morning, therefore, while the "little green men" garrisoned the streets of Luhansk, Plotninsky's loyalists kept control of government offices. According to some sources, troops from the neighboring twin republic of Donetsk were also entering the city during the night.

The following day apparently Kornet’s troops attacked the Prosecutor’s office, arresting some twenty people. Rumors of a Plotninsky escape began to circulate, but in the evening the "Prime Minister" read a message in which he condemned, from his office, the coup.

In the meanwhile, Ukrainian troops stationed in the Luhansk region were posed by President Poroshenko in a state of high alert for the fear of a Russian intervention.

Suspicious deaths

While we’re writing, after a seemingly calm third day, more information are confirming that Plotninsky fled to Russia. While information from Luhansk confirms the presence of Dnr troops in the city.

If these two information are true, the coup would no longer be a hypothesis.

Moreover, the two puppet states born in Donbass at the outbreak of the war in Ukraine are not new to bloody power struggles. In January 2015, Batman battalion commander Alexander Bednov was killed in Luhansk. The same fate hit another commander, Alexei Mozgovoi, who fell into an ambush. And so did the Commander of the Cossacks, Pavel Dryomov.

An economy based on money sent from Moscow and smuggling, and fully controlled by warlords, can be a good motive for many disappearances.

In addition, Luhansk's "republic" has always been in the shadow Donetsk: a secondary role in controlling the entire region that today may no longer have reason to exist. The leader of the Dnr, Zakharchenko, has repeatedly expressed the desire to merge the two entities. Maybe that day has arrived.

@daniloeliatweet

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