Foreign Policy reports that the newly declared "People's Republics" of Donetsk, Luhansk and Odessa in eastern Ukraine have announced the return of "Novorossiya" (New Russia)—and are arguing among themselves as to who shall lead it. In the running is one Valery Kaurov, the Moscow-exiled leader of the Union of Orthodox Citizens of Ukraine—and a former businessman who is wanted in Ukraine for his calls for separatism. The Washington Post adds that Russian President Vladimir Putin has embraced the "Novorossiya" concept, recently saying: "I would like to remind you that what was called Novorossiya back in the tsarist days—Kharkov, Lugansk, Donetsk, Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa—were [sic] not part of Ukraine back then. The center of that territory was Novorossiysk, so the region is called Novorossiya. Russia lost these territories for various reasons, but the people remained."
Russia's upper house of parliament on April 29 approved a set of bills that apply new restrictions on the Internet and blogging, a move widely criticized by both pro-democracy activists and Russia's technology sector alike. Critics of the draft laws affecting the Internet, which are expected to be signed by President Vladimir Putin soon and enforced in August, have expressed fear that the legislation is an attempt by Putin to silence opponents on the Internet. The bill causing the most concern leaves bloggers subject to greater regulation and legal liability, equating them to media outlets. This bill, which would require bloggers with 3,000 or more page visits per day to reveal their identities and abide by many of the same requirements as the mass media, is one of three bills in the package that impose control over the dissemination of information on the Internet and online payments and inflicts harsher punishment for terrorism and extremism. The legislation also requires that social networking sites and blog hosts store data on site users for at least six months in case the authorities need access for investigations. Supporters of the bill, including the United Russia party, have stated that the restrictions are needed to fight online extremism.
What are we to make of this? The Czech-based Roma website Romea.cz cites a report on German news agency Die Welt about an April 22 attack on Roma homes in the eastern Ukraine town of Slavyansk by pro-Russian separatists, who reportedly menaced residents at gunpoint, broke windows and fired shots, demanded gold and money, and voiced their intention to "purge" the area of "gypsies." Die Welt's own account only seems to be online (at least in English) at the aggregator WorldCrunch. More mysteriously, the Romea.cz account quotes a local resident named Natasha Cherepovska describing the attack to the New York Times—yet a Google search for the name or the text of the quote brings up no New York Times story. The report is all too plausible, given the attacks on Tatars in the Crimea since the Russian seizure of the peninsula. But we note that there have apparently been attacks on Jews in eastern Ukraine both organized by pro-Russian agents to tar the Ukrainians and by Ukrainian agents to tar the pro-Russians. In other words, a completely murky, paranoid and poisonous atmosphere. We await more information on what happened in Slavyansk, and call upon Romea.cz to provide greater clarity—especially on the source of the cited Times story.
CNN reports April 26 of a "perilous face-off" as Russian state news complained that Ukraine has mobilized 15,000 troops in the suburbs of Slavyansk in the country's east "in order to wipe out the city and its residents." A Defense Ministry source said the number of Ukrainian troops put the pro-Russian militants who control the city at a disadvantage, as the latter are "armed only with small amount of pistols and shotguns." Of course, Russia's military massively outweighs Ukraine's and the Defense Ministry's statement is a barely veiled threat of intervention. Meanwhile, USA Today reports that Russian warplanes have entered Ukrainian airspace several times in the last 24 hours, according to the Pentagon. The violation of Ukraine's airspace follows war games that have moblized some 40,000 Russian troops to the Ukrainian border. Earlier this week, the Pentagon deployed 600 paratroopers to Poland and the Baltic states "to reassure NATO allies in the region about the US commitment to their defense." Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk charged that Moscow "wants to start World War III" by seeking to take over Ukraine.
Lawmakers in Kosovo on April 22 voted 89-22 to create an EU-backed court that will investigate crimes committed by ethnic Albanian rebels during the 1998 war with Serbia. The move follows international pressure for Kosovo to open a state investigation into civilian killings committed by the rebel side. The court will be based in Kosovo, though most of the work will be carried out in the Netherlands. Similar to the operations of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the court will be run by international judges and lawyers. Rebels during the conflict allegedly killed approximately 400 civilians.
More ominous headlines from Ukraine that only leave us wondering what to believe. Winning the prize for combining sensationalism with sloppy vagueness is (surprise) the New York Post, which warns: "Jews in east Ukraine forced to register with authorities." There are two serious problems with this headline. First, if you actually read the story, nobody has been "forced" to do anything—yet, at least. The demand was made in threatening leaflets, with no attempt at enforcement. Second, given the confused situation in east Ukraine, it is completely ambiguous who is indicated by the word "authorities." The "official" Urkainian government, or the Russian-backed separatists who claim to be in control? This is a rather critical point, given all the Russian propaganda about how the Kiev government is "fascist" and "anti-Semitic."
On April 13, some 10,000 people turned out in Moscow for an anti-Kremlin rally to denounce Russian state television's coverage of the Ukraine crisis—which portrays the new government in Kiev as a "fascist junta" under the control of the US. Some of those who took part in the "March of Truth" carried blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flags. One woman, wearing a traditional Ukrainian wreath of flowers on her head, held a sign with President Vladimir Putin's picture and the words: "Stop lying." Among those who spoke to the crowd was Andrei Zubov, a history professor who was fired from the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations last month after criticizing Russia's military intervention in the Crimea, comparing it with Nazi Germany's annexation of Austria on the eve of World War II. Zubov told the crowd that by lying to the Russian people on television, the government is leading the country toward "an abyss." (AP, April 13; Global Voices Online, March 27; Reuters, March 24)
Pro-Russian protests broke out in Ukraine's east April 6, climaxing in the seizure of government buildings in the cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk. (See map.) Protesters in Donetsk declared their own "constituent assembly," and proclaimed the Donbas region to be a "people's republic." After clashing with riot police and breaking through their lines to enter the regional parliament chamber, the protesters raised the Russian flag from the building. Supporters outside cheered and chanted: "Russia, Russia!" A report by Russia's Interfax agency said the Donetsk protesters will push for a regional referendum by May 11 on unification with Russia. Protest camps have been established outside the government buildings in all three cities, with banners bearing messages such as "Putin, help!"