On January 25, demobilized soldiers and veterans of Ukrainian volunteer battalions launched a trade blockade of the occupied parts of the Donbas.
The economic blockade of the Donbas will hit Ukrainian law enforcement agencies, as the smuggling streams it cuts short are shared by high-standing officials from both the Ukrainian side and those from the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” , military expert Dmytro Sniehyriov says in his interview with Gazeta.ua. In his opinion, the activists initiating the blockade may be scapegoated.
— Who profits from the economic blockade of the Donbas?
— I can say who doesn’t profit from it – the so-called “authorities of LNR” and corrupt Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) officers on Ukrainian territory who cover up the terrorists. This trade is in the economic interests of Akhmetov who continues to dictate his play for Ukraine. And it can be profitable for the members of Parliament who exploit the blockade to promote themselves. In fact, a civil action will be turned into a media project with political slogans and flags. The Anti-terrorist operation (ATO) veterans [who take part in protest] may be scapegoated. Already [the Deputy Minister for Occupied Territories] Georgiy Tuka threatened to unblock the railway by force. The activists who initiated the blockade will be hit the most, because the even dumbest policeman won’t raise his hand against an MP.
— How do you assess the impact of the blockade?
— Its positive impact is more than enough. The blockade is not a populist action. We are told that the Ukrainian economy cannot get along without anthracite coal from Donbas. But it is illegally mined at illegal makeshift coalmines of “DNR” near the town of Antratsyt. There are only seven anthracite-fired thermal power stations in Ukraine. Two of them are situated in western Ukraine. For some reason, they could run them on local coal up till 2011. Then oligarch Akhmetov privatized them, and, suddenly, only Donbas anthracite mined at Akhmetov’s mines became acceptable for them. The blockade hits both his economic interest and the “sore spot” of the militants, who lose their coal profits. The economic blockade shows that Ukraine’s coal dependency is a thing of the past.
— Who should handle this problem, the activists or the state?
— We see that the activists are being intimidated, especially, the ATO veterans, and there’s a lot of speculation about the blockade. But we should remember the “Andrew” volunteer group that detained a train carrying jewelry from the “LNR.” All that jewelry were illegally manufactured at a plant inside the occupied territory, in Rovenki. Concrete names of people allowing this smuggling to take place were called out, like the SBU colonel Yurii Klymenko. For some reason, he still holds his rank.
— What can the participants of the economic blockade achieve, omitting the political component?
— The State Fiscal Service of Ukraine will manage the transit of goods from government-controlled territories to the occupied ones instead of the SBU. Another positive aspect: on January 25, a train with half a ton of coal was detained near Yasynuvata, smuggled cigarettes were found under the coal. The blockade confirmed what we suspected: tobacco, vodka, medicines, and bank gold bars are being smuggled disguised as coal.
— What action should the state take in that situation?
— First of all, to give a straight answer to the question of who sanctioned buying coal from terrorists and exporting it to Poland and the Czech Republic. Instead, officials started to bully ATO veterans. But these tactics use selective justice. For some reason, no criminal proceeding were opened against those who directly controlled smuggling streams for over 1.5 years. The best thing the state can do is to make personnel decisions as for heads of law enforcement agencies who covered up smuggling.
The state must also make a political decision about the ongoing trade with occupied territories. It shouldn’t exist as such. Not like Chernysh [Minister for the Temporarily Occupied Territories and Internally Displaced Persons Vadym Chernysh] and Tuka [Deputy Minister] do who avoid the term “occupied territories” altogether. If they suppose that they are the territory of Ukraine, then let them make it clear, what 5.000 Russian regulars and 40.000 mercenaries do there.
A policy to eliminate smuggling must be imposed. It cannot be done without prior arrangements. Just coming and blocking off a part to get political dividends won’t work – the next day, the loopholes will open again and the trains with smuggled goods will start once again. The blockade of January 25, when a train smuggling cigarettes was detained, simply focused the attention of society and media on politicians instead of the problem.