19:00 Oct. 11, 2016
The situation among the Russian-backed separatists is highly volatile
Jack Losh analyzes the connection between the murders of the most notorious militant leaders and the smuggling in Donbas in the article ‘War in Ukraine helps smugglers in the black market get richer' for The Washington Post.
"A separatist commander is gunned down while dining in a Moscow restaurant. Law enforcement agents uncover a makeshift underground pipeline pumping oil from Russia into a Ukrainian border village. Rebel leaders carry out a widespread purge in one of Ukraine's breakaway regions, detaining senior officials and military personnel alike.
Seemingly disparate events, but could the black market be the common link?
The main prize in the industrial, war-wracked Donbas region is the illicit trade in Ukrainian coal and Russian oil. At the retail end, smuggled fuel is most often sold at car-repair garages and tire dealerships, with most operations run by low-level opportunists. Ukraine's security services, the SBU, publicizes its anti-smuggling efforts with occasional photos of masked agents digging up illegal pipelines, which can run for a few miles in length.
Business arrangements among smugglers in government-controlled territory appear stable, but the situation among the Russian-backed separatists is highly volatile. Profits may be lucrative but the fight for them is vicious, and business disputes can turn bloody.
Take the case of Yevgeny Zhilin. During Kyiv's pro-European street protests in the winter of 2013-2014, this former fight club manager emerged as a key militant counterrevolutionary. He later raised a separatist battalion as the east descended into armed conflict. Last month, the 40-year-old was murdered in an exclusive restaurant on the outskirts of the Russian capital. It does appear that a business deal had soured. A source told the respected Kommersant newspaper that Zhilin was killed in a feud over the control of sales of gasoline, diesel and coal.
Around the same time, LNR erupted with factional infighting. Dozens of regime figures were imprisoned and a former prime minister, Gennady Tsypkalov, died in detention under mysterious circumstances. One insider described it as a "power struggle within the remnants of the Party of Regions," referring to the dissolved political party of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine's ousted president and notorious kleptocrat. Smuggling routes provide a key source of revenue for Ukraine's separatist elite, and some of those detained in the purge reputedly presided over the unregulated trade in energy supplies. Wealth and power go hand in hand, and some regard the crackdown as a means of consolidating both."
the situation among the Russian-backed separatists is highly volatile