Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Putin’s Warlords Slip Out of Control

By ADRIAN KARATNYCKY, NYT, JUNE 9, 2015

KIEV — In waging a clandestine war in eastern Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has made a bargain with the devil. He has farmed out much of the fighting to warlords, mercenaries and criminals, partly in an attempt to simulate a broad-based indigenous resistance to Ukrainian rule. But Mr. Putin’s strategy of using such proxies has resulted in the establishment of a warlord kleptocracy in eastern Ukraine that threatens even Moscow’s control of events.

Surrogate fighters were recruited from four sources: local criminal gangs; jobless males who live on the fringes of eastern Ukraine’s society; political extremists from Russia’s far right, including Cossacks; and itinerant Russian mercenaries who fought in Chechnya, North Ossetia, Transnistria and other regional conflicts in the post-Soviet Union. They have been trained and equipped with modern weapons, and are often supported by Russian regular and special troops.

These irregular forces now form the backbone of the armies of Donetsk and Luhansk, two mostly Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine along the border with Russia. Those separatist enclaves are dominated by well-armed criminal networks whose leaders play key roles in local politics, both formally, as government leaders, and informally, as chieftains of gangs with their own turf. These men and women have supplanted the pro-Russian elite that had held sway in the area since Ukraine’s independence in 1991.

By striking a bargain with what are, in effect, local warlords, Mr. Putin is recreating a model Russia first tried in Chechnya more than a decade ago. There, the Russian government made common cause with Ramzan Kadyrov, the son of a prominent Chechen mullah turned separatist president. Mr. Kadyrov, whose clan had once backed the indigenous independence movement, switched sides in 1999 and, with Russian help, seized power in Chechnya. Chechen resistance was defeated, as the Kremlin had hoped, but at the cost of letting a local warlord with his own powerful army gain near-total sovereignty.

(More here.)

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