Luhansk People's Republic (LNR)
The Luhansk People’s Republic [LPR, aka Luganskaya narodnaya respublika = LNR] asserted governmental authority over a part or region of Ukraine without the authorization of the government of Ukraine. The self-proclaimed LPR asserted governmental authority through a number of actions, including issuing a declaration of martial law; banning the sale of corporate rights, production facilities, companies and other assets; controlling the border guard checkpoints of Izvarino, Dolzhanskoye and Krasnyi Partizansk on the Ukrainian-Russian border; and shooting down a Ukrainian military transport jet as it attempted to land in Luhansk. The LPR also elected a leader and passed its own constitution on May 11, 2014.
In early April 2014 militants seized the local headquarters of the state security service. Three weeks later, on April 28, the loosely organized fighters proclaimed the Luhansk People's Republic (LNR), and on the next day they seized other government buildings in the city. Two weeks after that, on May 11, 96 percent of locals -- according to results released by the separatists -- voted in a disputed referendum to support LNR's independence.
The self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) elected a head leader and passed a new constitution on 19 May 2014, a week after the Ukrainian region held an independence referendum. The republic’s State Council chose Valery Bolotov as the head of the republic. Bolotov was proclaimed “people’s governor” of the region on April 21 at a people’s gathering in a seized building of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) in Luhansk. Bolotov was included on an EU sanctions list on April 13, and was added to Canada’s blacklist on May 13, a day after he announced that the Luhansk People’s Republic had declared independence from Ukraine. Alongside the selection of Bolotov, Vasily Nikitin was named the republic’s prime minister. Council deputies were also elected at popular assemblies across the region.
Since the Ukrainian government reestablished control over the eastern city of Slovyansk on 05 July 2014, the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic had been on the defensive. Ukrainian forces have been pushing to isolate the city of Luhansk and to cut the insurgents off from access to the border with Russia. In the middle of June, Ukrainian government forces entered the city of Shchastya and established control over part of the border with Russia. On July 14, the army took control over Metalist, Oleksandrivsk, and other towns in the vicinity of Luhansk. By then, the separatists controlled only the southern part of Luhansk Oblast, including the city of Luhansk.
Although the LNR is usually lumped together with the other breakaway region in eastern Ukraine, the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR), and the two have signed an agreement forming the Novorossia confederation, they are quite different. The leadership of the LNR is more centralized, although there are factions as there are in the DNR. The LNR had a dominant president in Valery Bolotov, with a governing structure that is a military junta.
Yuliy Fedorovskiy, a local political observer in Luhansk, told RFE/RL's Russian Service that LNR is a "military democracy." He noted that Bolotov and his inner circle are all veterans of the Union of Paratroopers of Luhansk Oblast. They are more "leftist" than their comrades in Donetsk, and Bolotov's statements often have a distinctly Soviet feel. In June, Bolotov formed a State Security Committee (KGB), with a counterespionage arm called SMERSH [Death to Spies], after the Stalin-era antispying program.
Bolotov's power is balanced to some extent by a group surrounding Aleksey Mozgovoi, a local commander who is formally subordinate to Bolotov in the political hierarchy and simultaneously to Novorossia military commander Igor Girkin, aka Strelkov, militarily and operationally. He opposed Bolotov at a demonstration on 21 April 2014 at which gathered protesters "elected" the LNR leadership. Bolotov's political dominance of the region meant that there was no single military commander of the stature of Strelkov, which often translated into a lack of tactical coordination.
Cossacks from Russia's Don River region have considerable influence in the LNR. The group of Don Cossacks was headed by Russian Nikolai Kozitsyn, who controls the stretch of the Russian-Ukrainian border that remained in militant hands and did not want to recognize Bolotov as the sole leader. The region's lifeline is its physical connection with Russia.
Apart from the Cossacks, Russian citizens had less influence in the LNR than in the DNR and managed to secure fewer high-level official posts. However, Russian political strategist Marat Bashirov, a well-known Russian spin doctor with ties to Putin-connected oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, was named LNR acting prime minister in early July. LNR Deputy Prime Minster for finances Dmitry Semyonov is also a Russian citizen, as are about 10 senior people in the so-called power ministries (defense, interior, emergency situations, etc.).
By all accounts, by mid-July 2014 local Ukrainians controlled the so-called Luhansk Army of the Southeast. Ukrainian military expert Oleksiy Orestovych estimated the force consisted of several thousand fighters, of whom some 30-40 percent are Russian volunteers or mercenaries. Local political analyst Oleksiy Blyuminov, on the other hand, put the total force at 12,000-15,000, of whom about 10-15 percent are Russians. By mid-July 2014 by some estimates the number of separatist fighters in the area had increased, rather than decreased, since the Ukrainian government began its offensive there.
Former Defense Minister of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic, Igor Plotnitsky, has been appointed as the republic's new Prime Minister, a source close to the LPR government told RIA Novosti 20 August 2014. “Today, Igor Plotnitsky who previously served as Defense Minister has been appointed as new Prime Minister of the Luhansk People’s Republic to replace Valery Bolotov who had earlier announced his resignation,” the source said. On August 14, Bolotov said he was stepping down due to the effects of the injuries he sustained as his car had been attacked earlier in May.
The current chief of the self-proclaimed People's Republic of Luhansk (LPR), Igor Plotnitsky, led in LPR elections with 63.17 percent of the votes, the republic's Central Election Commission announced 02 December 2014. "As of now, 27.8 percent of the ballots have been counted. According to preliminary results…Plotnitsky [has] 63.17 percent [of the votes]," the head of the LPR Central Election Commission said at a press conference.
The authorities in the European Union and the United States said the elections would come against the Minsk agreement on the regulation of the crisis in Donbas, and that the international community would not recognize them. Russia, on the contrary, expressed its intention to recognize the elections and emphasized that not recognizing would run counter to the Minsk protocol and undermine efforts to reach peace settlement in the country.
In late 2017 a power struggle between leaders of the so-called Luhansk "people's republic" played out on the city's streets. Some would call it a coup, and it certainly appears to be an attempt at a takeover by Ihor Kornet, the "republic's" top cop, who was dismissed on November 20 by his nemesis, Ihor Plotnitsky, the "republic's" official leader. Both men are native Ukrainians. The beef between Plotnitsky and Kornet goes way back. Part of it stems from Plotnitsky’s seizure of a large home from Kornet that he had taken for himself in 2014. The former is said to be the Kremlin's choice for leader, while the latter is believed to be the favorite of Russia's Federal Security Service, the FSB.
Kornet's revolt began on 21 November 2017 when men in green believed to be loyal to him seized control of Luhansk's key administrative buildings, patrolled the city center, and reportedly forced Plotnitsky to flee across the border to Russia.
Kremlin was tiring of Plotnitsky. On his watch, the Luhansk "people's republic" has been a lawless (even for an unrecognized breakaway territory) and often times brutal place, where assassinating misbehaving warlords seemed to be the rule, not the exception.
Very few outsiders and journalists have been allowed access since autumn 2015. No independent, objective media exists within the occupied Donetsk and Luhansk areas. And while Russian reporters are granted access more frequently, they often come from Russia's state-run or pro-Kremlin media and provide a limited -- if not completely propagandized -- view of things.
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