18:16 Oct. 4, 2016
Militant held territory sees the war for control over black market; coal, gas and cigarettes smuggling
Jack Losh, British foreign correspondent based in eastern Ukraine, recently wrote an article for Washington Post on the back ground of current bloody purge in militant held part of Ukrainian Luhansk region.
"After Russian-backed rebels proclaimed the creation of the Luhansk People's Republic in 2014, a paratrooper turned entrepreneur has swept to power as prime minister of the breakaway state in eastern Ukraine.
Gennady Tsypkalov, with a background in the oil pipeline industry and rumored links to organized crime, had gained a reputation as a discreet, well-connected man you could do business with — a pro-Russian pragmatist rather than an extreme separatist ideologue.
He "was neither a hillbilly nor a gentleman," said a former colleague who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his own safety. "Sure, he had some romantic notions of the Red Army and the glories of the Soviet Empire. But first and foremost, he was a businessman."
Ousted a year ago, he was arrested in mid-September and accused of plotting a coup. Today he is dead.
Tsypkalov was one of dozens of senior officials, army commanders and rank-and-file soldiers to be rounded up in the past few weeks. In a dramatic and potentially far-reaching shake-up in the rebel-controlled rogue statelet, the Russian-backed separatists are carrying out a widespread purge of their own internal opposition figures.
The arrests followed a purported coup attempt against Luhansk's authoritarian, Moscow-anointed leader, Igor Plotnitsky, who was a low-ranking regional official before he was ushered into power by the upheaval of war.
Analysts say this dark, bloody drama could lead to intensified clashes on the front line and may be tied to disputes over the control of lucrative smuggling channels between Russia and government-controlled Ukraine that cross rebel-held territory. It may even reflect bureaucratic infighting among the rebels' masters in Moscow as the Kremlin elite plays out its private battles in the war-torn fields of the Donbas region.
"These internal power battles happen over turf, over black-market revenue and over access to Russian fighters, and can lead to spikes in fighting on the contact line," said Alexander Clarkson, a lecturer in European studies at King's College London. "In eastern Ukraine, military power equals political power. Plotnitsky is securing both. And whoever is in control is fundamentally dependent on patronage from Moscow."
Referring to the self-styled Luhansk People's Republic, he added: "If this crackdown in LNR is connected to struggles in the Kremlin — i.e., it's a proxy war between Russia's power elite in which Moscow's rival curators back Luhansk's rival factions — then this all becomes of much wider strategic significance."
The purge shows little sign of ending soon.
"When Moscow deals with figures it doesn't like, the process is smooth and deadly," said Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security affairs and senior research fellow at Prague's Institute of International Relations. "This rolling mess in Luhansk doesn't feel like Russia's doing: It's the politics of a street gang, the falling out of capos of a criminal conspiracy. This is no quick settling of scores and could instigate an ongoing pattern of vengeance and feud."