Ukrainian separatists beset by leadership gap, goofy supporters

Things do not appear to be going well for the pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

Hero of Socialist Unity Igor Strelkov has resigned as defense minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic.”

An obscure science fiction author, Fyodor D. Berezin, is now a senior military commander for the rebels, The New York Times reports.

Their increasingly erratic leadership has been met with a breakdown in discipline in rebel ranks and signs of dissent and possible pro-Ukrainian resistance in Donetsk. There, unknown assailants sprayed a minivan of rebels with bullets over the weekend, and graffiti has appeared showing Mr. Strelkov shooting himself in the head, with the tag line “Just Do It.”

Separatist fighters have taken to carousing drunkenly at night and wearing civilian clothes. This month, three of them crashed a car into the curb outside the Ramada hotel. On Saturday, two separatists again crashed at the same spot, rolling their vehicle and scattering broken glass and bullets on the street. On Tuesday, a drunken rebel, improbably, again crashed at that location, severely injuring four civilians.

As bystanders watched horrified, the drunken gunman, who was not wounded, drew a pistol and proceeded to kick one of the injured civilians, berating him for causing the accident.

In an attempt to maintain discipline, the prosecutor general of the Donetsk People’s Republic announced on Saturday the introduction of the death penalty in newly formed military tribunals. In announcing the punishment, the prosecutor, Eduard Yakubovsky, said: “It’s no secret that we have servicemen committing crimes. There are facts of marauding and violence.”

As the Ukrainian Army closes in on the city, public statements by the Donetsk People’s Republic have become ever more unbelievable, if not delusional. “The Ukrainian soldiers are defecting en masse,” one statement said, on the authority of the new prime minister, Mr. Zakharchenko.

Finding competent, charismatic leaders for the separatist forces and governments has always been hard. At various times, senior positions have been held by the owner of a dog behavior school, a man who performed as Santa Claus, the operator of a Ponzi scheme and a reputed organized crime boss. But with the rebels’ sagging military fortunes, the quest for able leadership has grown desperate. Mr. Berezin’s elevation to deputy minister of defense, by his own account in part owing to his literary accomplishments, is a case in point.

Meanwhile an Englishman named Thomas Scott-Chambers– a decidedly odd duck– has formed a group to support the separatists and their Russian allies.

The Sunday Mirror filmed the ranting Russian-speaking leader defending the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 this month, at the cost of 298 lives, which has been blamed on pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

But Scott-Chambers, wearing a black and orange ribbon on his suit lapel in support of the rebels, blamed the Ukraine military for the strike.

He said: “Malaysia Airlines should have known better to send a plane over a war zone. Who in World War Two sent planes to fly over Europe?

“Ukraine closed their air space and when you close your air space, you shoot anything unidentified down. What happens every day is Ukrainians shoot into Russia, and then the Russians retaliate and it’s all over the news.”

He then launched into a vile homophobic rant, raging: “I’m completely against homosexuality. I think it’s disgusting. I think it’s a perversion of all human morals.

“Russia is the only country standing up against the seemingly-global trend.”

Blaming homosexuality for recent paedophile scandals, he said: “If you see where homosexual propaganda has led us and look at the scandals recently with paedophiles, even in Parliament, it’s all because of this ‘do what you like’ culture.”

Continuing his fascist outpouring to followers in a meeting at the Fenton Hotel in Leeds, he said: “The only reason they’re making a fuss about Israel is because Obama has told the Jews to start bombing the Arabs again.

“A couple of Arabs die in Gaza every day, don’t worry about it. The Zionist lobby is huge.

“The worst thing to be in Great Britain is a white, working class male. If you’re a black, a homosexual or a Jew you get a council house tomorrow.”
Scott-Chambers calls himself the chairman of Za Rossiu, which he runs from a flat above a second-hand car dealership in Doncaster, South Yorks, where he lives with his Russian-born wife.

He boasts online of making dozens of trips to Eastern Europe.

Desperate to ingratiate himself with Russia again he has begged pro-Putin rebel leaders in Ukraine to let him join them on the front line in their campaign to take over the country.

Writing in Russian, he sent an open letter to the Ukrainian Communist Party in February saying: “Good day my dear comrades. I am an English communist.

“I would like to start the armed struggle against Western agents in Ukraine. I will be one of the very first volunteers on the plane.”

He signed his letter Comrade Thomas Scott-Chambers.

Confronted by The Mirror, Scott-Chambers said, “I would fight against fascism in the Ukraine if I could.”

I don’t mean to dismiss the dangers in Ukraine, where a full-scale intervention by Russia is always a possibility. But with the support of both Socialist Unity and Comrade Thomas Scott-Chambers, the “anti-fascist” rebels in Ukraine clearly are on the wrong side of history.

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