Armed standoff among leaders of Ukraine’s breakaway region as Kremlin keeps close eye
Leaders of the rebellious Lugansk region in Ukraine’s east turned on each other Tuesday, as gunmen blocked central streets of the provincial capital. The Kremlin said it was closely monitoring the developments.
Armed people in military fatigues first appeared on the streets of Lugansk, the capital of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR), Tuesday. According to some accounts, gunmen blocked several administrative buildings. Other media reports said they blocked streets in the center of the city.
The leader of the self-proclaimed republic, Igor Plotnitsky, then issued a statement, in which he said the “people on the streets” were members of “some interior ministry structures” who apparently support the former interior minister Igor Kornet who was sacked Monday.
Plotnitsky condemned attempts by the “interior ministry structures” to “challenge” the decision of the LNR government to remove Kornet from office. He said the situation in the republic remains under control of the government and that things will soon return to normal.
On Wednesday, Plotnitsky said Konet tried to orchestrate a coup d’etat. During a meeting with the new interior minister, he said forces controlled by the former interior minister cut off mobile communications and TV broadcasts in the city. Residents of Lugansk had complained about mobile phone coverage and TV broadcast outages Tuesday.
Kornet was fired Monday. However, the next day he issued a statement, in which he claimed that several senior officials of the LNR had been exposed as members of a spy ring linked to Kiev. Kornet also dismissed reports about his removal from office, and said the situation in the self-proclaimed republic is under the control of law enforcement.
The sacked interior minister then claimed that spy ringleaders have been trying to smear his name, and that the order of dismissal published the previous day was based on fraudulent accusations against him. Plotnitsky’s chief-of-staff, the chief of security as well as the head of the TV local station, are among the people accused of having close ties to Kiev.
Plotnitsky then rebuked Kornet, stating that he had been lawfully sacked and rejected his pro-Ukrainian plot claim. “I can assure you that Mr. Korent’s statement has no basis as well as no legal force,” he said.
The Kremlin said Wednesday that it was closely monitoring the situation without elaborating further.“It would be wrong to give any superficial assessments [right now],” Dmitry Peskov, President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman told journalists. “As we get detailed information on the matter, I will share it with you,” he added.
The situation in Lugansk is seemingly the result of an escalation of a long-standing dispute between Plotnitsky and Kornet. The two men have reportedly been in conflict for some time.
The Lugansk People’s Republic – established in the region with a predominantly ethnic Russian population – fought for independence from Ukraine after the armed coup in 2014 deposed its elected central government and empowered many anti-Russian figures. The self-proclaimed republic remains unrecognized by any member of the UN, however. Russia has been providing humanitarian aid to the region which is under a blockade by the government of Ukraine.