Newspaper article International New York Times

Motley Mix of Rebels in Ukraine May Hinder Talks ; with No Central Leader, Negotiating for Peace Becomes a Complex Affair

Newspaper article International New York Times

Motley Mix of Rebels in Ukraine May Hinder Talks ; with No Central Leader, Negotiating for Peace Becomes a Complex Affair

Article excerpt

The patchwork makeup of groups fighting Ukraine, and sometimes each other, lack a strong central authority who can speak for them all.

One rebel group, Oplot, comes from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Another, the Russian Orthodox Army, is composed of Russians and Ukrainians. A third, named for a river, Kalmius, is made up mainly of coal miners.

This motley mix forms just part of the fighting force of Ukraine's eastern uprising. It is more patchwork than united front: Some groups get along with others. Some do not. And their leaders seem to change with the weather.

"I can't keep them straight anymore," said a fighter who was buying walkie-talkies in preparation for what fighters here expect will be a major showdown with Ukraine's military.

The tangle of rebel groups presents a challenge for Ukraine as it struggles to quell a separatist movement inflaming its eastern edge, now in its fifth month. While the United States, the European Union and Russia would like to arrange a negotiated settlement, the fluidity and occasional hostility among the rebel groups is complicating the difficult task of getting peace talks off the ground.

The calculus may have changed recently with the appearance in Donetsk of Igor Girkin, a Russian citizen and rebel leader who goes by the name Strelkov, or shooter. He surfaced over the weekend along with hundreds of rebels who abandoned their positions after being overpowered by the Ukrainian military in weeks of fighting in the city of Slovyansk.

His presence raised the question of the role of Russia, Ukraine's powerful neighbor, whose next steps will be crucial to this country's fate. The West has accused Russia of arming the rebels, even while the Kremlin called for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

But in recent weeks, fighters have complained that Moscow abandoned them, a sentiment that burst into public view this week when a political strategist closely allied with the Kremlin was shouted at by fighters at a news conference here.

The deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People's Republic, Andrei Purgin, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Strelkov was trying to stitch the patchwork of militias into one professional army, to which soldiers would swear an oath. …

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