Coal transport trains travelling between Donbass rebel controlled territory and Ukrainian government controlled territory have been halted by a group of Ukrainian radicals. Despite the two sides being at war there were still trains trading energy resources between the two territories during the war up until a few days ago.
This blockade action was imposed on the 25th of January and received support from some members of the Verhovna Rada (Ukraine’s national parliament). The radicals blocking the trains have stopped coal from being sent to the Ukrainian government held areas from coal mines located in the rebel held areas. Many of the radicals are veterans of Ukrainian military operations against the rebel cities of Luhansk and Donetsk, and are linked to the Ukrainian nationalist battalions of ‘Aidar’ and the ‘Donbass’. Donbass has a long mining community heritage and has been a source of coal in Europe for over a century. Blocking these coal trains jeopardises the energy system of the Ukrainian held areas, the heating the coal supplies to civilians and endanger the jobs of Ukrainians in the steel industry who rely on a steady source of coal. In response the Ukrainian government has imposed a ‘state of emergency’ which started on the 16th of February to deal with the coal shortage caused by the nationalist blockade. According to Ukraine’s minister of energy, the Ukrainian state will not be importing energy resources from Russia and told the ICTV channel:
“I’m confident consideration of electric imports from Russia are out of place because we won’t be importing it,” and followed on by saying “Instead, we’ll be doing everything in our power to give it up altogether.”
The trains contained a special form of coal called anthracite coal which is an especially solid form of coal which contains a higher concentration of carbon than other coals and a high energy content per its weight. Anthracite coal is only mined in very few countries and accounts for only 1% of the world’s coal reserves making it a strategic resource. The coal is important to the Ukrainian state because it is a fuel used in thermal power plants.
The blockade action by the radical nationalists has coincided with large protests and demonstrations in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev this February. The protests and demonstrations were to mark the 3rd anniversary of the 2014 Euromaidan when Ukrainian president Yanukovych was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by Ukrainian nationalists and installed a pro-EU government. The protesters shouted nationalist slogans while smashing windows, setting fire to various objects, and fighting with the Ukrainian police. Protesters shouted chants denouncing Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. To protest in favour of the blockade against the coal trains coming from rebel territory protesters pitched tents in front of the building of the Ukrainian president’s administration in central Kiev to demand that they support the radical nationalist blockade of coal trains from rebel territory to Ukrainian government held territory.
There is a clear conflict of interests between the Ukrainian government and the radical nationalists which helped them come to power. During the 2014 coup in which the Yanukovich government was removed and a pro-EU government installed, the pro-EU politicians have relied on the help of radical Ukrainian radicals which do most of the fighting and dirty work for them. But since 2014 the Ukrainian government has not lived up to its promises and the radical nationalists are becoming restless. Protests and very small violent skirmishes between the government and the radicals they depend on are not unheard of. One of the most infamous cases was of the Neo-Nazi paramilitaries Azov battalion. The Ukrainian government gave Azov Battalion their own wing of the Ukrainian National Guard as a way to absorb the radical nationalists to avoid conflict with them. Any Ukrainian government official who challenges the nationalist militias is put in danger by them and subjected to intimidation by armed and radical nationalists. The coup was successful in installing a pro-EU and pro-USA government but at the cost of condemning Ukraine to a future of war, infighting, and nationalist extremist/sectarian violence.
It would be a mistake to view the infighting within the Ukrainian state as a fight between moderate Ukrainian politicians and radical violent paramilitaries, because there are many powerful Ukrainian politicians willing to use nationalist radicals to support their political agendas or their business. After the Euromaidan coup in 2014 many Ukrainian oligarchs and radicals gained leading positions within the Ukrainian government. Following the Euromaidan a man called Oleksandr Sych became the Deputy Prime minister of Ukraine. Sych is a member of a party called Svoboda which was founded by ex members of a now dissolved Ukrainian Neo-Nazi party called the “Social-National Party of Ukraine. Andriy Parubiy who was the founder of the Social-National Party of Ukraine was appointed as the secretary for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council after the Euromaidan. Working alongside him was former leader Dmytro Yarosh of the radical nationalist paramilitary Right Sector. The number of radical nationalists entering high positions in the Ukrainian state shows how useful the Ukrainian economic elite view these nationalists. There are nothing more than just a business and only business.
The text above is a transcript of this video made by Matt Florence: