DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) — A top figure in Ukraine’s separatist insurgency said Wednesday he is losing hope for action by Russian forces and blamed Russian tycoons for dissuading Moscow from military intervention.
Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed governor of the rebel Donetsk People’s Republic, also said there is a split in rebel ranks and his organization no longer controls the murky Vostok Battalion of fighters who man key checkpoints on the outskirts of the Donetsk region’s capital city.
After Ukrainian forces drove separatists out of their stronghold city of Slovyansk over the weekend, Ukrainian officials said forces would aim for a blockade of Donetsk city.
At a news conference, Gubarev said: “We would like to receive help in the form of Russian forces. But we are realists and understand that’s impossible.”
Rebels in the Donetsk region and the adjacent Luhansk region have repeatedly called for Russia to send in “peacekeeping” troops as the fight against them intensifies. Russia has shown no inclination to do so, and officials have said that a peacekeeping mission could take place only with U.N. authorization.
Gubarev suggested that Russian tycoons are opposed to military action, fearing their businesses would be affected. Russia already has been hit with Western sanctions for its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March and for allegedly fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine, in which more than 400 people have reportedly been killed. Sending forces into Ukraine would almost certainly prompt even harsher sanctions.
“Their selfish interests are understandable,” Gubarev said.
He also said, without providing details, that the Donetsk People’s Republic doesn’t have control of the Vostok Battalion whose fighters include men from Russia’s North Caucasus provinces including Chechnya. The Vostok Battalion appeared in Donetsk in late May, taking over a building previously held by the DPR fighters and raising questions about the balance of power within the insurgency.
If the Vostok and DPR fighters are genuinely under separate command, any attempt by Ukrainian authorities to negotiate with rebels would be even more difficult than it has proven to be so far.
Nonetheless, Gubarev vowed that his group would stand up to any attempt by Ukrainian forces to take the city.
“There is nowhere to retreat to,” he said. “For us, it’s either victory of death.”
Balint Szalko in Donetsk contributed to this report.