The conflict between the so-called leader of "Luhansk People’s Republic" (LPR) Igor Plotnitsky and the self-styled "minister of the interior" Igor Kornet has been developing gradually. Its apogee was the meeting of the "Committee on National Security and Defense", where Kornet was accused of illegally seizing an apartment from a local woman and a failure to investigate criminal cases effectively. The conflict has deepened since September 2017. In October it was already evident that the situation should be resolved in one way or another: either through external intervention or by way of open hostilities. All roads were leading to one of these solutions.
However, Plotnitsky has no sufficient military capacity to retain power. He made several trips to Russia in the attempt to garner support for amassing power in his hands, but he never saw a green light from his Russian supervisors. Meanwhile, the conflict had to be resolved somehow because Kornet has, in fact, refused to comply with Plotnitsky's orders. Moreover, he made moves that testified to his unwillingness to either give up on his team or surrender his share of authority in the “LPR”.
The conflict stems not only from the struggle for control over the unrecognized territory but also the fight for the control over the coal business in Luhansk region. This is about the extraction of coal, which goes beyond the militant-controlled territory of "LPR", first of all, it concerns the Bilorechenska mine (Luhansk region, urban settlement Bilorechenskyi). Nearly 40,000 tonnes of coal is shipped to Zuivska TPP annually. Kornet set up coal "exports" to Russia and made good profits off of it.
However, Plotnitsky has no sufficient military capacity to retain power. He made several trips to Russia in the attempt to garner support for amassing power in his hands, but he never saw a green light from his Russian supervisors
Besides, reports say that Kornet also stands behind drug trafficking, transit and production of liquor, etc.
At the same time, resources are thawing in the occupied Luhansk, while the number of those who seek to gain control over and provide a cover-up for what’s left has been growing steadily. Since the occupiers and collaborators’ "feeder" has been shrinking, the conflict shifted to its hot phase.
At the moment there is no reason to claim that there are some units or military groups deployed in the territory of the occupied part of Luhansk region, tasked with ensuring the accession of the area to the "DPR". That is, the official report that came from the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine cannot be confirmed, according to my personal insider sources in Luhansk region. Those are, first of all, military units of the “LPR” army, which in fact are part of the Russian regular army, preventing a violent showdown between the supporters of Plotnitsky and Kornet. This is neither an occupation nor assistance in a coup. The task is to ensure some stability before any agreement between Plotnitsky and Kornet is reached.
According to a Ukrainian analyst Dmytro Snehiryov, who also has his own insider sources on the ground, the troops sporting white ribbons are part of the "commandant's regiment", which in fact backs Igor Plotnitsky. This regiment provided a breakthrough in the central part of Luhansk along with Russian military units located in Luhansk itself.
This is neither an occupation nor assistance in a coup. The task is to ensure some stability before any agreement between Plotnitsky and Kornet is reached
So what’s next? There are several versions, and they differ dramatically. Obviously, Kornet cannot be ousted easily. He took into account all the mistakes and miscalculations of previous ringleaders who had been sacked or even "terminated", so it would be hard enough to catch him off his guard and deliver a decisive blow. Moreover, under the existing circumstances, this may lead to the grinding of groups he now controls into smaller but more radical units that can start infighting for redistribution of Kornet’s assets.
Therefore, it is obvious that the Russian supervisors will try to build some kind of a new scheme of mutual relations. In particular, rumor has it that Plotnitsky is now in Russia, trying to secure Kornet’s dismissal and withdrawal from “LPR”. Other sources point out that Kornet managed to get Russia's support. In this case, Plotnitsky will remain simply a nominal “leader” of the “LPR”, while the entire power will be handed over to Kornet and some technical curator from Russia. The arrival of the new "prime minister" and the reformatting of power cannot be ruled out, either. Again, this would be some technical manager from Russia. This may even be a Ukrainian, not Russian, citizen. For example, some former member of Viktor Yanukovych’s "Party of Regions", who could gain control over all security forces, operational management of the economy, and other issues.
At the same time, Russian supervisors are unlikely to remove Plotnitsky anytime soon
At the same time, Russian supervisors are unlikely to remove Plotnitsky anytime soon. That’s because this would show weakness of Russian presence and the failure on the part of Russian masterminds to ensure order in the occupied territories. This would show weak staffing policy and a short “substitution bench”. After all, Plotnitsky has over the past two years been building a vertical power structure to fit his interests. If he is removed, this will mean that all those people he has put in key positions in the occupied territory will have to be sacked, too. In fact, they are now monitoring and controlling those remnants of enterprises that have not been looted yet. That is, by removing Plotnitsky, Russians will have to purge the whole structure. And it is unlikely that any of those people will be willing to voluntarily abandon their sources of income, which in turn may lead to more violence.
Therefore, Russia will be playing a rather sophisticated game. Perhaps some "non-aggression pact" will be signed off between Plotnitsky and Kornet with the participation of a third-party mediator. I believe that in the coming days the situation will clear up...
Vitaliy Kulyk is a director of the Center for Civil Society Studies