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Friday, 2 May 2014

The battle for Slavyansk, 5 million AKs, the IMF and Shale Gas | @Odessablogger's Blog #EuroMaidan

The battle for Slavyansk, 5 million AKs, the IMF and Shale Gas | Odessablog's Blog:

May 3, 2014

Many readers may have wondered why Slavyansk – an otherwise unknown little backwater in Donetsk Oblast – was the epicentre of Kremlin GRU activity when starting its shenanigans in eastern Ukraine.

It is not as though taking and controlling this small town would or should lead to the taking of such a large industrial Oblast in Ukraine’s east as a critical first step.

slavyansk map

Many readers may also wonder why the IMF would agree to lend Ukraine $17.1 billion when much of its eastern industrial border is either occupied/controlled/threatened by an external actor that has already illegally annexed part of the borrowing sovereign State with absolute disregard for numerous international legal instruments and threatening the regional order.

How can the IMF agree such a loan over 2 years if the heart of Ukrainian industrial output is under such direct and impending threat?

Does it not force Ukraine to hold its eastern Oblasts even if in doing so it may possibly cause war between Russia and Ukraine?

On the other hand, whilst the eastern Oblasts are indeed the industrial production centre of Ukraine and a major source of GDP and export – they do so via substantial government subsidies to remain globally cost effective.  If they were to fall like Crimea, whilst Ukrainian GDP and exports would fall, so would the large cost to Ukraine to heavily subsidise antiquated industrial plants to which the definition of efficiency is an anachronism.

Thereafter the question for The Kremlin is whether to annex yet further financially draining regions of Ukraine.  Let us be frank, without international recognition, any “independent” People’s Republics would find it very difficult to export anything anywhere.  Russia at a minimum would have to recognise them.

Perhaps the IMF forecast Ukraine triumphing – but then forecasting is not something the IMF does particularly well looking at its track record.  However, should the eastern Oblasts be annexed or be successful in their bid to succeed, there would be a need to renegotiate any such IMF loans.

Now whilst the IMF loan may – or not – galvanize the Ukrainian government to be far more robust in defending eastern Ukraine – thus making Slavyansk an apparent psychological focal point when it comes to reasserting control – it does not really explain why this small town is so important to either side when compared to the city of Donetsk (or any other small towns in the Oblast).


The Internet is alive with theories that it is because Slavyanst sits in the middle of a very large shale gas reserve – and that may be a consideration – but it cannot be the overriding consideration.  Controlling Slavyansk does not control the administration of the Oblast or the region.  Nor does it dictate where and when any shale gas may be tapped.

In short untapped shale gas does not make Slavyansk an immediate strategic necessity.

So why choose Slavyansk as revolution central?  Why was it so important to control this town first and foremost?

The answer seemingly lays with the legacy of the USSR.

Across Ukraine there were and still are several very sizable stockpiles of weaponry – about 5 million Kalshnikovs.  Not far from Slavyansk there just happens to be such a stockpile that contains approximately 2.5 million of those assault rifles and ammunition.


For several obvious reasons, as a GRU planner,  this is something far more tactically important to assert some control or influence over than untapped shale gas or Donetsk City Hall in the immediate term.

The first reason naturally is to prevent any massive armed resistance to your incursion from a local and regional population who manage to gain access to this stockpile and arm themselves.

Secondly, allowing those you agitate – the ultra-Orthodox, the criminals, the unemployed/underemployed, the radicals or patriotically challenged – to access this stockpile makes controlling them far more difficult too.  It is far easier to control a radical element armed with sticks and shields when you hold the vast majority of guns.  It is far less easy to control a radical element that also has unlimited access AKs and ammunition, and who may decide to go their own way or do their own thing now and again without telling you.  Control is paramount.

If the stockpile is currently under GRU guardianship, clearly such a huge amount of weaponry cannot simply be transported across the border into Russia and out of harms way covertly as any attempt would remove what is left of any possible deniable plausibility with the international media wandering about.  Secondly it is not something that can be done swiftly or without coming to the attention of the local radicals who will want to exchange baseball bats for something more purposefully when the Ukrainian military comes knocking.

If Ukraine still controls this stockpile it may decide to open this Pandora’s Box to those of the public prepared to fight a full Russian invasion/annexation.  After all, to be clear, 1000 men armed to various degrees across the Oblast holding a dozen government buildings maybe embarrassing and administratively annoying, but it does not equate to permanent and unequivocal control.

Thus Slavyansk and its immediate vicinity was and is tactically important to controlling the Oblast – due to its Soviet legacy, far more important than it first appears.  Shale gas and the IMF may be considerations, but they are not the overriding reasons for controlling this little backwater town.

As I write, it appears the inevitable battle for Slavyansk is now joined.  May the deaths be few and the casualties light.  We shall now await the Kremlin’s response.

The chances of avoiding a state of emergency or war seem to be – momentarily at least – diminishing.  With that any chance of elections on 25th May are also reducing it appears.
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