Staunton, January 20 – Even as observers try to keep track of the shifting lines of the front in Donetsk and at the airport there, a more frightening form of conflict is spreading across Ukraine – a partisan-style war in other parts of that country that will give Moscow additional leverage on Kyiv while complicating Ukraine’s response to Russian aggression.
“A partisan war is going on full steam” in Ukraine, Russian commentator Ruslan Gorevoy says in an article on the “Versiya” portal yesterday. The number of its victims is still relatively small, allowing Kyiv to claim that it isn’t a serious problem, but clearly it is growing and likely to grow further in the coming months (versia.ru/articles/2015/jan/19/vyshli_iz_lesa).
In some places, the Ukrainian authorities can’t hide its spread, he continues, noting that in Odessa, the local police have been unable to cope with the anti-Kyiv partisans and have had to request additional forces from the National Guard. Such requests, Gorevoy suggests, are likely to grow and overwhelm Ukraine’s capacity to cope.
According to him, “the potential for partisan units today is extremely high.” Rostislav Ishchenko, who works as a political analyst for Russian state television, says that “Russia will be able to imitate the liberation of Ukraine by the armed forces of Novorossiya,” if the military capability” the partisan underground elsewhere is even “50 percent” of what its leaders claim.
At present, partisan commanders say there are about 10,000 fighters in their ranks in Odessa oblast, 12,000 to 15,000 in Kharkhiv oblast, and “no less than 5,000” in Zaporozhye. Few believe them, but then few in Kyiv or Moscow believed in the claims of the Donetsk and Luhansk leaders only a few months ago.
Recently, he reports, Vladimir Shabliyenko, a press spokesman for the Ukrainian interior ministry in Odessa, acknowledged that “it would be naïve to suppose that the problem of ‘partisan activity’ is wholly invented,” especially since Ukrainian militia patrols are not strong enough by themselves to counter it.
Although some in the ranks of the partisan detachments are ordinary citizens, Gorevoy says, most of the pro-Moscow fighters are former law enforcement or military personnel who support the Russian side and do not want to fight in the Donbas. They bring their weapons and military skills with them.
The partisans say, Gorevoy continues, that they do not accept military aid from Moscow lest that detract from Russia’s assistance to the fighters in the Donbas or open the way for criticism of Russia internationally. But of course, that is what the Donbas fighters have said as well and what one would expect such people to say even now.
The first anti-Maidan partisan detachments were formed almost a year ago, but they have grown in number, size and sophistication since then, and neither the militia nor the Ukrainian security services have had great success in countering them and preventing attacks on military convoys and government institutions, according to Odessa journalist Yury Tkachyov.
“Ought one to expect an increase in partisan activity in Ukraine in the immediate future?” Gorevoy asks rhetorically. The answer, he says, is an unqualified yes. Ishchenko suggested that the partisans are organizing now to go on the attack in the spring across all of southeastern Ukraine.”
According to the analyst, “up until now, the value of the actions of the partisans has been more in the information and propaganda areas than in the military one,” but that will change as the battles in Donetsk and Luhansk intensify. Indeed, Ishchenko says, “the partisans could become the moving force for the liberation of Ukraine from the Kyiv junta.”