Regional official tells Russian paper about situation in Ukraine’s Luhansk

Text of report by the website of Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, on 9 June

[Interview with unnamed "high-ranking official" from Luhansk Region by Pavel Kanygin; place and date not given: "’There Is No Longer a Border. One of the Leaders of Luhansk Region Contacted Novaya Gazeta. The High-Ranking Official Described What Is Happening in Eastern Areas of Ukraine." A footnote to the interview states: "The high-ranking official, who is continuing to work in the regional administration building captured by volunteer militia members, asked us not to give his name. The editorial office is complying with the source’s request."]

[Kanygin] What is the situation in Luhansk like?

[Interviewee] It is still possible to leave the city freely by road and rail. Tickets are selling out, but there is no panic. There are currently no problems with food and medicines, but the number of trucks arriving in the city is falling. Drivers are afraid to travel. And it is highly likely that Luhansk will become the second hot spot after Slovyansk and the location for the launching of a counterterrorist operation. Because the Ukrainian military are gradually seizing the initiative in Donetsk Region and so the separators (this is what it says in the original – P.K.) are going to retreat in this direction, towards us. Plus there is the border. The insurgents wanted to gain complete control over it in order to move around and rotate their forces unimpeded. If they succeed in this, the Luhansk region will be a black hole with uncontrolled circulation of weapons and innumerable numbers of volunteers from Russia, and the Ukrainian counterterrorist operation troops will find things very difficult here.

[Kanygin] You talk as if only recently the regime was in control of some things here.

[Interviewee] At least there was not so much uncontrolled crossing of the border. The border was protected to some extent nevertheless. Admittedly there were lots of weapons, because militants captured the central regional arsenal in Luhansk back in April. But now we have started seeing the use of, for example, weaponry like the AGS-30 [tripod-mounted automatic grenade launcher], which the Ukrainian army never had from the beginning. We had AGS-17 Plamya grenade launchers, whereas AGS-30s are in service only in Russia.

[Kanygin] If the border was being protected, how did these militants get across it with their weapons?

[Interviewee] Ukraine’s eastern border is a classic corrupt business. Ukrainian border guards have always made money out of smuggling, with the Russian police and FSB [Federal Security Service] also taking a cut, incidentally. Following the Maydan the new regime has of course shaken up the security services, but on the whole the same people have stayed on. Until recently mercenaries were able to calmly cross the border using so-called smuggling routes. The border guards de facto turned a blind eye to this. There was a tacit rule: you don’t touch us, and we don’t touch you. But now the insurgents have started ploughing straight through the checkpoints. Why? Because they have become totally brazen, because the Russian border guards are calmly letting them through, because their trucks are carrying precious weapons that need to be transported by road, not across potholes in the steppes. Our border guards started to resist this brazenness and started turning them back, it got to the point of fire-fights, and the insurgents decided to teach them a lesson. The now well-known attack by militants on the border detachment headquarters in Luhansk took place (in the vicinity of Myrne on 2 June – P.K.) and the headquarters building was also captured.

[Kanygin] How did the situation on the actual border change after this?

[Interviewee] After the LNR (Luhansk People’s Republic – P.K.) militants captured the headquarters building, they started to lay siege to all of the region’s border posts, which were eventually left without any coordination. Some people simply left their posts, but the majority of soldiers fought on until they ran out of ammunition, and then, of course, they were forced to surrender because the army was simply unable to help them – there was only the Air Force, but this did not change anything. The militants let the border guards go, thank God. But there is no longer a protected border between Russia and Ukraine. And, according to our information, trucks carrying people and weapons are now arriving en masse from Russian territory. In order to stop this it is necessary to send the army to the border and seal off all the roads and paths, as was done in Donetsk Region, while it is still not too late.

[Kanygin] But is there any kind of Ukrainian army presence in Luhansk at all?

[Interviewee] Virtually none, if you discount northern areas adjacent to Kharkiv Region. The main counterterrorist operation forces are concentrated in Donetsk Region. Whereas the Luhansk region is almost totally in the hands of rebels – from various groupings, incidentally: Cossacks are in command in some places, local criminals in others, Afghan veterans in others, and volunteers from Russia in others. Luhansk itself is under the control of LNR militants.

[Kanygin] What is known about the incident involving the air attack on the regional administration building?

[Interviewee] It is controlled by LNR forces; they set up their so-called government there, we were de facto evicted and are compelled to work remotely. But there was no attack on the regional administration building per se. An Su-25 was flying to the aid of the Myrne border guard detachment, which was under attack from separators. The actual fact of the utilization of combat aircraft in a city of half a million people is a separate issue, of course. The border detachment headquarters is surrounded by a dormitory area of high-rise blocks; it is impossible for aircraft to operate there without risk to civilians. But the fighter plane completed its mission, circled back round, and flew low over the centre of the city precisely in the area of the regional administration building – according to our information from the military, the pilot did this specially with a view to intimidating the people ensconced there. But the aircraft came under fire from a portable surface-to-air missile launcher in the square in front of the regional administration building. The pilot spotted this and automatically launched decoy flares, which the Strelas from the missile launcher were supposed to lock on to, while he himself climbed sharply away from the scene. The flares scored a direct hit on the regional administration building and correspondingly took a Strela with it. The consequences we know about – a partly destroyed wall beneath a third-floor window. Your television claims that the fighter plane opened fire on the building, which is a lie and stupid, because a hit by an Su-25 missile would have destroyed at least several floors of the building. Whereas we are talking about a hole beneath a window. On the other hand, Ukrainian television is lying that a Strela from a portable surface-to-air missile launcher was attracted by the heat from an air conditioner. This is stupid, as an air conditioner heats up to 70 degrees whereas a Strela is designed for the heat from a jet engine – which is something of the order of 600 degrees. We now know that there are no brains on either side. The military send a fighter plane into a city without thinking about what the consequences might be. While the separators try to down it – an enormous machine with full tanks of fuel – right in the centre, where there is a concentration of people and apartment blocks.

[Kanygin] According to Russian television, people are talking about thousands of refugees fleeing from Luhansk and Donetsk. Can you confirm this?

[Interviewee] People are frightened and of course want to leave the zone of hostilities. But it is necessary to understand two things. First, it is mainly people with children who are leaving. And they are leaving for Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk, and Zaporizhzhya – public transport is continuing to go there. And these routes are much safer than trying to go east, to Russia, across territory that is controlled by groupings that are independent of each other. Furthermore, people are alleging on your television that there are enormous waiting lines in Rostov Region. To say enormous is garbage. Four thousand people a day is a normal sight on the Luhansk-Rostov border during the first days after the beginning of the summer vacations. Plus it needs to be understood that those residents of the Donbass who used to travel to Crimea on vacation in previous years are now simply unable to get there other than through Rostov Region. Or they are travelling to your Black Sea coast.

Source: Novaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 0000 gmt 9 Jun 14

 

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