Staged Donbas ‘evacuation’ and fake sabotage in Russia’s war against Ukraine. Where are the sanctions?
On 18 February, the puppet leaders of Russia’s proxy ‘Donetsk and Luhansk republics’ [D-LPR] announced that they were ‘evacuating’ women and children to Russia, purportedly because of the threat of attack from Kyiv. Metadata showed that their videoed announcements had, however, been produced on 16 February, the day the West initially warned of a likely Russian invasion of Ukraine. That discrepancy was only one of many, yet by 20 February, Russian state media are full of claims that Ukraine’s Army are attacking ‘D-LPR’, online reporting about “the escalation in DPR and LPR” and heart-rending stories about fleeing “refugees”. The West, meanwhile, continues using the future test in discussing "whether Russia will invade Ukraine’.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky received a standing ovation for his very powerful address to the Munich Security conference on 19 February. There were, however, no indications that western countries would head his call for preventive sanctions now. Germany’s Ambassador to Ukraine, Anki Feldhusen, reacted to his proposal for consultations with the guarantor states of the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances by denying that there ever was any legally binding guarantee. The USA and United Kingdom should really have informed Ukrainians back in 1994 that Ukraine was giving up the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world for words of ‘commitment’ of absolutely no force. One wonders whether Russian President Vladimir Putin believes that the current assurances about western sanctions that will hurt are also non-binding. He appears to believe, and here with cause, that they can be averted, at least in Donbas.
In August 2014, the attention of the world media and international politicians was focused on Russia’s purportedly ‘humanitarian convoy’ of 280 white trucks illegally headed for occupied Donbas. Many of the trucks proved to be half-empty, but they certainly provided a focus for international correspondents and for stern words about Russia’s behaviour. Russia was also sending huge amounts of military hardware and men into Donbas, with these deployed in the devastating battle at Ilovaisk, but they received far less attention.
US intelligence may well know something that we do not, but at present it does seem clear that Moscow’s evident escalation in occupied Donbas, and the dangerous warmongering propaganda are not being treated as the ‘real invasion’. Tell that to the families of the two Ukrainian soldiers. Captain Anton Sydorov and Denys Kononenko killed on 18 February. Western countries are in no doubt that any ‘escalation’ in occupied Donbas is on orders from Moscow. Sanctions are needed now, especially given the ease with which the supposed full ‘mobilization’ announced in D-LPR can be used as a front to explain a large influx of Russian soldiers without insignia.
As mentioned, on 18 February, the supposed evacuation of the civilian population from ‘DPR’ and ‘LPR’ was claimed to be because of an ‘imminent Ukrainian offensive’. There were no grounds for believing in such a suicidal plan on Ukraine’s part, especially given the massive Russian and Belarusian military might surrounding the country on three fronts. Ukrainian forces are on the highest alert to avoid any provocation, and it is much more likely that the empty car blown up in Donetsk, the explosion to a gas pipe, etc are being carried out by the militants themselves.
News of Donbas reports another fake ‘sabotage’ claim. On 18 February, ‘DPR’ militants claimed that there had been an attempted attack in Horlivka. The video, however, that was produced can be seen from metadata to have been made on 8 February.
While Russian state media show images of officials carrying the luggage of ‘refugees’ from Donbas, reports from journalists with families or contacts in ‘D-LPR’ paint a quite different picture. Some of those ‘evacuated’ can be heard here complaining after having been brought to the Rostov oblast and effectively dumped there, with nowhere to stay, no hot food and forced to use open fields as toilets. People with children are now stuck, going from place to place, told that there’s no room for them. The women speaking here make it quite clear that they did not leave Donbas voluntarily.
Vera Yastrebova, Head of the Eastern Human Rights Group, reported on 19 February that the ‘D-LPR’ militants are unhappy with the small numbers of people wanting to be ‘evacuated’. The NGO has learned of a verbal order to get those public sector workers, or those in enterprises which the militants control to gather up their relatives. This, Yastrebova says, is no evacuation, but forced deportation.
Kostiantyn Chernenko, Representative of Ukraine’s Human Rights Ombudsperson in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, says that the evacuation is yet another provocation, like the shelling of the kindergarten in Stanytsa Luhanska. The militants initially claimed that a kindergarten had been shelled on militant-controlled territory. One kindergarten was shelled – on Ukrainian government controlled territory.
Chernenko sees the ‘evacuation’ operation on 18 February in the same light. They gathered together a whole lot of coaches to take people to Russia in order to show and stir up panic, and try to claim that Ukraine’s Armed Forces might wage an offensive. They began (as in 2014 also) with the children from an orphanage. “This was an act planned in advance in order to keep our people all the time in tension, in order to sow panic and hysteria”.
Pavel Lisiansky, Director of the Strategic Research and Security Institute, was equally critical of the stunt. They had contacted people who had been evacuated and were sitting somewhere on coaches. He noted that they had even evacuated people from Antratsyt which is around 70 kilometres from the Russian border. It was clear, he said, that the only reason for this was its propaganda value. In general, he added, people had not idea why they were being evacuated now, when this had not happened in 2014, or in 2015.
Journalist Oleksiy Matsuka quotes other local residents. “For seven years, the ‘DPR locals lived in their own barracks for pay, and now all of us are being called up to defend them and their boss [Denis] Pushilin with rifles in our hands. Donetsk guys are on mass refusing to take part in this con”.
“An eyewitness from Donetsk says that “This morning I saw almost empty coaches heading in the direction of Russia. They take coaches with blinds or with darkened windows so that it won’t be seen that they’re almost empty. People from Donetsk are refusing to take part in this so-called evacuation and nobody’s taking it seriously.”