Last week’s takeover in the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) spawned a crisis, which largely seems to be over now. This takeover was long time in the making, since at least the fall of 2014. The leaders of the republic — Igor Plotnitsky, the Head of the Republic, and Gennadiy Tsipkalov, the Prime Minister — represented different power spheres in Luhansk, with the latter representing the military, and the former the administrative. Plotnitsky was unpopular with the military, which only escalated when he managed to fire Tsipkalov in late 2015, increasing military opposition and arrests.
The conflict, now rooted in a long-standing antagonism between Plotnitsky and Minister of Interior Affairs Igor Kornet, started to heat up in November. On November 9 the Minister of Interior Affairs was kicked out of his house by Plotnitsky, under suspicion that he had allegedly extorted it from an elderly woman. After the house was returned to its previous owner, it was discovered that Kornet bought the house in 2015 with the necessary documentation filled out in Kyiv, raising suspicion of collaboration. The house Kornet was kicked out of had belonged to the late Valeriy Bukayev, one of the most influential businessmen in the region. His ex-wife moved to Kiev, and her new partner enrolled in the Aidar battalion. According to the DPR officials, they’d been offering help to Ukrainian military. Plotnitsky, it turned out, returned the house to the enemy of the republic.
A LPR military commander addressed Plotnitsky on YouTube. In the video, commander Alexander Gaidey (nom de guerre Rhim) expressed his concerns regarding high-ranking military personnel being sacked, and voiced his suspicions that Plotnitsky might be collaborating with the Ukrainians. Although this video went largely unnoticed, on November 10 it was followed by LPR Minister of Agriculture Ruslan Sorokovenko accusing the Head of the Republic of being involved in faking a coup in fall of 2016, which led to arrests of Head of LPR People’s militia Vitaliy Kiselyov and former Prime Minister of LPR Gennadiy Tsipkalov. The latter died under mysterious circumstances, with Kornet later publishing testimonies that said that Tsipkalov had been tortured to death and Kiselyov was brought in under false charges.
Igor Kornet was officially stripped down of his post on November 20. Armed military uniformed unmarked personnel took over the city’s center on November 21. They took over the Prosecutor’s office on November 22, allegedly under Kornet’s orders, and refused to leave despite Plotnitsky’s demands. This culminated in Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) sending a military convoy to LPR, sighted on November 21, and rumors of possible unification of the two republics. Kornet and the staff loyal to him arrested more than 50 people, including the Prosecutor General of LPR Vitaly Podobry, LPR’s military prosecutor Sergey Rakhno and their attendants on suspicion of collaborating with Ukraine. After questioning the rest of the staff of LPR’s Prosecutor’s office, most people were free to go. Chief of Head’s Administration Irina Teytsman and head of the LPR TV and radio network Anastasiya Shurkayeva were charged with faking the coup, and were reported arrested, which later turned to be false.
By morning of November 22, Luhansk was under Kornet’s control, with administrative buildings taken over my unmarked military personnel. Despite this, Kornet apparently did not wish to make things worse for Plotnitsky: the Ministry of Internal Affairs did not lay blame on Plotnitsky for anything, saying that all the misgivings were the fault of his office and not him personally. Plotnitsky did not get the message though, with the state TV publishing a YouTube video, where Plotnitsky pretty much declared Kornet an enemy of the state.
Moscow reacted to this debate by saying that it was an “internal affair”. This internal affair came to an end, when having fled to Russia on November 23, Plotnitsky resigned as the Head of the Republic the next day, citing “concerns over health”, with Minister of State Security Leonid Pasechnik becoming acting Head of the Republic until the next elections. Plotnitsky became LPR’s authorized representative in Minsk, as he signed the Minsk accords, thus taking care of formalities.
Leonid Pasechnik was a Security Service of Ukraine member, where he served as a chief of an anti-contraband unit. Since October of 2014 he had been LPR’s Minister of State Security.
The takeover leaves a lot of questions for the future of LPR. Is it possible for rumors of possible unification of the two republics to come to fruition? It is unclear whether the takeover will effect the Minsk accords, and how Ukraine will react.