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28.06.2016 | Halya Coynash

Kremlin’s Donbas proxies congratulate UK for ’doing what they did’ & voting for Brexit

   

The Kremlin-backed militants of the so-called ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ [DNR] have congratulated Britons on voting to leave the European Union, and compared Brexit to their ‘referendum’ in 2014. 

“This is a very big thing because Britain has done what we did two years ago. We also held a referendum, voted and also left Ukraine”,  DNR leader Alexander Zakharchenko asserted at the ‘Spring Session of the People’s Council of the DNR’ which is well worth watching.   

Citizens of the DNR had also supposedly taken a decision towards freedom and independence, and expressed their will through referendum, both Zakharchenko and Denis Pushilin asserted.

Zakharchenko, a Ukrainian national, was in fact installed as leader of DNR soon after the May 11 event that the militants are terming a referendum.  This followed the downing by the Kremlin-armed and financed militants of the Malaysian MH17 airliner with a Russian-made BUK missile and swift removal from their leading posts of Russian nationals Alexander Borodai and Igor Girkin [nom de guerre Strelkov].  Girkin was already on EU and US sanction lists for his prominent role in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and following the downing of MH17 the Kremlin had every reason to try to cover their tracks.

The seizure of control of areas of Donbas in eastern Ukraine began soon after Russia staged a ‘referendum’ in Crimea to try to justify its annexation of the peninsula.  That event was ‘observed’ and praised by members of the same far right and Eurosceptic parties from various European countries who have also been swift to congratulate Briton on the 51.9% vote to leave. 

Despite warnings from the West about a ‘red line’ that must not be crossed, and about the consequences of Russian military aggression in eastern Ukraine, large areas were seized in April-May 2014 by heavily armed men, a large number of whom were from the Russian Federation. 

Although the Kremlin officially distanced itself, there were certainly attempts to pass off the May 11 event as a ‘referendum’.  Russian pro-Kremlin media called it fair and legitimate, the Kyiv government murderous and the west was (again) said to be collaborating with fascists.  Russians (and Ukrainians in eastern Ukraine) were told, for example, that “according to the CEC 89.7% of the voters voted for the independence of the Donetsk region”, and that the turnout was over 74%.   There was no mention of the fact that this so-called ‘Central Election Commission’ was that of the DNR.  Since the ‘referendum’ was on whether there should be such an ‘independent republic’, the CEC could hardly be called an independent body.

The event was pure farce. In Rubezhnoye the lack of a passport was no problem at all, with a fictitious address and passport number being added to the supplementary list.  Nor did being from Lviv prevent a person from voting. In Kremennaya the observer asked for an extra ‘ballot paper’ for her sister.  It was issued, again with the address and passport number simply invented.   The process on Russian television was, of course, quite different. 

The differences from the UK referendum are huge, of course.  There were no men in Britain with automatic rifles standing guard, nor were school directors who refused to allow their schools to be used as ‘polling stations’ simply abducted by armed men.   If many of us believe that the UK voters were misinformed and did not clearly understand what the vote in either direction would lead to, this was not in principle for want of available information.

There has already, however, been one ominous similarity.  There has been a disturbing increase in attacks and hate-speech against immigrants in the UK, with the targeting in some cases showing the same level of ignorance that led many voters to believe that all their woes lay only in the number immigrants. 

Levels of xenophobia in areas under Russian or Kremlin-backed militant control have also risen markedly over the last two years, unlike in areas of Ukraine under government control.

While parroting the Kremlin line of ‘Ukrainian fascism’, the militant leaders, including Zakharchenko have been heard making horrendous anti-Semitic comments, such as referring dismissively to Ukraine’s leaders as “pathetic Jews”).  According to Tetyana Bezruk from the Minority Rights Monitoring Group, anti-Semitism has become one of the key propaganda messages in DNR and the equally self-proclaimed ‘Luhansk people’s republics’. 

One of the reasons is likely to be the major role played by the Russian far-right on the side of the militants.  Russian soldiers were probably only deployed in about August 2014.  Before then, there were huge numbers of Russian mercenaries and Russian volunteers, many from neo-Nazi parties, such as the notorious sadist Alexei Milchakov.

None of this is particularly original.  Most of the far-right parties in Europe who immediately hailed the vote in the UK as a ‘victory’ are notoriously intolerant and xenophobic.   They also support the current Russian regime under President Vladimir Putin generally, and its annexation of Crimea in particular.  It was therefore of great concern that this was also a line heard from the Brexit camp.  Boris Johnson, for example, in May blamed the EU for “what has happened in Ukraine”.  Other Brexit lobbyists put it differently, saying that they “believe that the EU’s eastwards expansion into former Warsaw Pact countries, as well as its attempts to reach economic deals with former Soviet states like Ukraine and Georgia, has provoked Russia into adopting a more aggressive military stance in areas like Crimea.”

The camp asserting that Russia had simply been forced to invade and annex Crimea won.  No wonder that the Kremlin and its proxies in Donbas should be smiling. 

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