The Dead of Odessa

Pro- and anti-Kiev protesters clashed in Odessa late last week, a confrontation which ended with numerous of the separatists being burned to death in the trade union building which they had fled into.

 

 

 

It kicked off after marchers calling for Ukrainian national unity, which the Kyiv Post claims was largely comprised of supporters of the local soccer team, encountered a rival pro-Russian group. Barricades were set up and buildings set aflame. Initial reports suggest that dozens were wounded, with at least three people shot dead,according to police. Then, police said at least 31 people were dead after pro-Kiev demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails into a building where a pro-Russia contingent was holding out.

 

This is according to the Washington Post, which was partly relying on live tweets by Journalist Howard Amos. Amos inter alia noted the strange passivity of the Odessa police force when it came to extending protection to the pro-Russian faction (at one point he tweeted 'pro-Russian guys appear surrounded from three sides, riot police nowhere to be seen').

That's all OK though, since the people demanding more autonomy for the predominantly Russian-speaking regions are all 'terrorists'. Here is a video our democratic friends united under the 'Euromaidan' banner posted on you-tube, seemingly reveling in the death of at least 39 people by fire  (the number of dead has been revised upward to 39, while some local news organizations even speak of 43 dead people):

 

 

'Euromaidan' evidently happy over roasted 'terrorists'

 

President Turchynov (who just like former president Yanukovich looks a bit like a bouncer who stumbled into power by some terrible mistake) promptly accused Moscow of  being responsible for the deaths in Odessa, since Russia is 'at war' with the Ukraine. However, as Amos pointed out: 'the Right Sector guys were leading the way'. They can be recognized by their green helmets:

 

Police in Odessa prove not very effective in holding soccer hooligans and 'Right Sector' troopers at bay.

 

Police once again not very effective.

 

Burning tents of anti-Kiev protesters and the torching of the trade union building

 

Both sides accuse each other of provoking the incident, and rumors have been circulating that a few activists on the 'pro-Russian' side were shooting from the roof. However, there is also a video of a government supporter shooting into the building in which the separatists were hiding, and later rather hypocritically claiming that he was 'unarmed and confronting armed anti-government protesters'.

It is impossible to know every detail of what happened in the chaos and obviously neither side was treating the other with kid gloves. The fact remains though that the 'Ultras' (soccer hooligans) and 'Right Sector' guys were in the majority and that the dead were all anti-government protesters. A number of anti-government protesters were arrested as well. The next day, an enraged group of separatists stormed the Odessa police headquarters and forced the police to release 67 people. According to some sources, they cleaned out the armory in the process as well, but this is an unconfirmed rumor at this stage.

Prime minister Yatsenyuk also didn't have the heart to accuse the perpetrators of, well, having done what they actually did, but instead blamed only the Odessa police force for what happened. To be sure, the police did deserve to be criticized, but he didn't criticize them for failing to stop the bloodshed. He criticized them for “not having foiled these terrorist organizations”, which is Kiev government-speak commonly employed in describing eastern Ukrainian separatists.

The incident once again highlights the abject hypocrisy that is prevailing in the West regarding events in the Ukraine. There is none of the outrage that would no doubt be voiced if the roles of the killers and the dead had been reversed, as Justin Raimondo points out.  Instead the tone of reports in the media is either one of ambiguity, or complete neutrality. It all reads a bit like a weather report. German TV stations for instance spoke of a “fire that broke out”, as if it weren't 100% certain what caused it. Politicians are either completely silent, or employing the same ambiguous/neutral tone. As Raimondo puts it: “Here we have a group of people – pro-Russian Ukrainians – who have been so demonized in the Western media that this mass murder is being framed as if the victims deserved it.”

The incident is potentially an important watershed, as it is likely to greatly increase tensions. We can be pretty sure that most Ukrainians just want to live in peace, but radicals on both sides seem to be hell-bent on dragging the country ever closer toward outright civil war.

The 'pro-Russian' factions are definitely going to see the dead of Odessa as martyrs for their cause and passions are reportedly already inflamed further by the incident. Demonstrators storming the local office of the Ukrainian Security Service in Donetsk on Sunday were e.g. heard shouting “we will not forgive Odessa”.

 

PotemkinstairsThe famous Potemkin Stairs in Odessa

(Photo via Wikimedia Commons, Author unknown)

 

The Army Offensive and a Potentially Worrisome Development in Lugansk

The Ukrainian army is reportedly 'retaking' territory and buildings from the separatists in the East, but as this rather odd report by CNN from Kramatorsk shows, it is not quite certain what, if anything, it is actually retaking:

 

Strange news from the army's assault on Kramatorsk.

 

What is interesting is that the people the army is fighting in the East seem to be quite well trained and well-armed. However, this is apparently no reason to suspect them of being Russian troops.  The New York Times, which helped propagate the notion that Russian troops were manning the barricades in the eastern Ukraine, belatedly sent a team of reporters to Slovyansk to have a look-see. They found many ex-Soviet and ex-Ukrainian army veterans, but so far neither Russian soldiers nor Russian arms. A few quotes from their report:

 

“Throughout the week, as Ukrainian soldiers sometimes pressed closer, he [a fighter named Yuri, ed.] chuckled at the claims by officials in Kiev and the West that his operations had been guided by Russian military intelligence officers. There is no Russian master, he said. “We have no Muscovites here,” he said. “I have experience enough.”

That experience, he and his fighters say, includes four years as a Soviet small-unit commander in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the 1980s. The 119 fighters he said he leads, who appear to range in age from their 20s to their 50s, all speak of prior service in Soviet or Ukrainian infantry, airborne, special forces or air-defense units.

[…]

During the fighting on Friday, two of the fighters carried hunting shotguns, and the heaviest visible weapon was a sole rocket-propelled grenade.

Much of their stock was identical to the weapons seen in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers and Interior Ministry special forces troops at government positions outside the city. These included 9-millimeter Makarov pistols, Kalashnikov assault rifles and a few Dragunov sniper rifles, RPK light machine guns and portable antitank rockets, including some with production stamps from the 1980s and early 1990s. Many of the weapons show signs of long service. One, an RPG-7 launcher, looked clean and fresh. The fighters said it had been purchased from Ukrainian soldiers for $2,000, along with 12 high-explosive projectiles.

Militia members said their weapons had either been taken from seized police buildings and a column of captured Ukrainian armored vehicles, or bought from corrupt Ukrainian soldiers.

There was no clear Russian link in the 12th Company’s arsenal, but it was not possible to confirm the rebels’ descriptions of the sources of their money and equipment. There were, however, indicators of local support. One afternoon, a crowd labored to build a barricade and a bunker beside a bridge over a canal to the city’s west.

At the 12th Company’s main base, the home of Tanya and her husband, Lev, residents visited to donate food: homemade pastries, slabs of salted pork fat, a vat of borscht, bags of fresh green onions, jars of pickled vegetables and fruits.

“To the guys in Kiev, we are separatists and terrorists,” Yuri said. “But to the people here, we are defenders and protectors.”

 

(emphasis added)

As Robert Parry writes in this context, “other Western journalists who have bothered to report from eastern Ukraine rather than just accept handouts from the U.S. Embassy in Kiev or the State Department in Washington, discovered a similar reality” (not surprisingly, the Kremlin continues to insist that it cannot 'control' the separatists.  We don't doubt that it wields some influence, as evidenced by the successful freeing of the OSCE observers, but the details of that intercession also show that its influence has limits). 

There is a certain danger that this 'reality' may be about to change. According to German TV reports this morning, separatists have taken over a border post with Russia in Lugansk.  They reportedly plan to 'import' fighters from both the Crimea and Chechnya. The Chechen fighters, called 'Kadyrovtsy' after Moscow's Chechen proconsul Ramzan Kadyrov, are said to be battle-hardened and well-equipped (Kadyrov heads a Chechen clan that switched sides in 1999, defecting to Moscow. He was involved in a  fierce power struggle with the other clans). If the separatist militants in the Eastern Ukraine (who already seem quite capable on their own) get such reinforcements, the fighting is likely to become a great deal more intense. Today there have been several officially confirmed deaths in the course of fighting in Slovyansk again, so things continue to get more serious.

 

Addendum:

There is growing criticism in Germany over sending German military observers to the eastern Ukraine on the basis of a bilateral deal with Kiev. It appears that the OSCE observers that were captured by separatists in Slovyansk and recently freed, were technically actually not part of an official OSCE mission. Instead they were just 'using OSCE papers', as the chief of the OSCE crisis prevention unit, Claus Neukirch put it in a recent TV interview. He pointed out that this was also the reason why the OSCE did not undertake a risk assessment for this particular mission. German opposition politicians argue that the German officers were put unnecessarily at risk. The news about the murky status of these observers obviously also throws their hitherto assumed neutrality into doubt.

 

 

 

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