Groysman Implies Moscow is Behind “Pro-Ukrainian” Donbass Blockade

March 16, 2017

Prime Minister Volodymir Groysman condemned the “pro-Ukrainian” paramilitary-led blockade of trade across the Donbass contact line in remarks posted on his social media page on Sunday (Mar 12). Without specifically naming Russia, Groysman said, as reported by the UNIAN news agency, that the blockade is a “hybrid war” tactic and “an attempt to block not railroads, but to block [Ukraine’s] economic growth, which has begun to recover”, and that “it is unacceptable to destroy the state from the inside.” The Prime Minister had previously stated that the blockade is costing Ukraine UAH 2-4bn (USD 70-140mn) per month on lost coal supplies alone. Meanwhile, in Kharkiv province on Sunday in the town of Kupyansk near the Russian border, around 30 paramilitaries attempted to set up a new railroad blockade of trains entering Ukraine from Russia proper. However, according to the Ukrayinska Pravda news site, they were prevented from doing so by local police and some 500 angry citizens, including members of the railroad workers’ union. The Donbass blockade, which began on Jan 25, is being implemented by fighters of so-called “volunteer battalions”, led by Donbass paramilitary commander and Samopomich party MP Semen Semenchenko (a nom de guerre; his real name is Constantine Grishin) and Volodymir Parasiuk, a hardline nationalist MP from Lviv who is both anti-Russian and anti-Western.
The “Ukrainian nationalist” instigators of the Donbass blockade have an obvious shared goal with the Kremlin: overthrowing or otherwise getting rid of the current democratically-elected pro-Western government in Kyiv. In this sense, we agree with Groysman that the blockaders are essentially making common cause with Moscow against the Groysman Cabinet, President Poroshenko, and the Ukrainian economy. Groysman is definitely right that the Kremlin does not want to see Ukraine’s economy recovering at several percent per year while the Russian economy stagnates. We presume it is no coincidence that this blockade activity began only a few days after US President Obama was replaced by new President Donald Trump; in contrast to the Obama administration, which maintained a clear policy of promoting political stability in Kyiv, Trump’s administration appears to have little interest in Ukraine and also to lack the needed expertise to keep the US effectively engaged. It is obvious that Poroshenko would have a lot to lose by physically confronting the blockaders, as this might start a chain of violent events that could lead to an overthrow of the government. However, we would argue that Poroshenko also has a lot to lose by allowing a tiny, un-elected, and aggressive armed minority to hijack national border controls and unilaterally dictate trade policy with a country that is still one of Ukraine’s largest trading partners. We admit that if Ukraine is really serious about re-orienting the entire national economy westward, there might be some logic to abruptly shutting down all trade with Russia and the occupied Donbass. However, in that case, nobody should pretend that the Ukrainian economy is going to grow at 3-4% for the next couple of years; in such a scenario (definitely not priced into current Ukrainian sovereign bond valuations), further economic contraction is inevitable. The actions of the local citizens at Kupyansk against the blockaders suggest to us that the majority of Ukrainians are not ready to endure additional economic hardships for the sake of this blockade, and in particular the prospect of paying even more for electricity and heating than the increases that the IMF is already mandating.

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