Analysts have attributed the infighting to a period of relative calm during Ukraine’s war with Russia, worsening economic conditions and efforts by the Kremlin and Igor Plotnitsky, head of the self-proclaimed republic, to introduce centralized administration and crack down on independent militias.

“This reflects the relatively calm situation on the front,” said political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, head of the Kyiv-based Penta research group. “As a result, conflicts have intensified.”

He added that the situation in the Luhansk People’s Republic contrasted with that in the Donetsk People’s Republic, where the insurgent leadership’s authority is not challenged by rival groups.

The conflict flared up after Alexander Bednov, head of the republic’s Batman military unit, was killed by men loyal to Plotnitsky on Jan. 1. Bednov’s supporters have accused Plotnitsky of murder, saying that Bednov’s car was ambushed and burned with Shmel rocket launchers, while those who jumped out of the car were killed with either machine guns or assault rifles.


Alexander Bednov, head of the Luhansk People’s Republic Batman military unit.

According to the Prosecutor General’s Office of the unrecognized republic, Bednov refused to obey orders given by the republic’s authorities, resisted them and was killed as a result. The Prosecutor General’s Office has opened a criminal case against Bednov and his unit, accusing them of torturing prisoners.

The killing has triggered resentment from Plotnitsky’s critics.

Earlier this month Alexei Milchakov, head of the Kremlin-backed insurgents’ Rusich subversive group, said he would wage war both against Ukraine and the Luhansk People’s Republic. He said in an interview with Anna News released on Jan. 5 that Bednov had been targeted because he had tried to prevent looting and drug trafficking allegedly organized by his enemies in the self-proclaimed republic.

The Rusich (Russian) subversive group is a unit comprising Russian ultranationalists. The group’s insignia features a kolovrat, a kind of swastika popular among Russian neo-Nazis.


Milchakov, a native of St. Petersburg, has posted pictures of himself with a Nazi flag on his Vkontakte social network page. In 2012 Melnikov killed a puppy, showed off its severed head and ate the puppy, publishing pictures of the process online.

Igor Strelkov, a former insurgent leader who left Donbas in August, has also lashed out at Plotnitsky’s administration and urged separatists who disagree with him to leave eastern Ukraine.

“Regardless of the motives of this murder, even if (Bednov) and six of his fighters had been demons incarnate, killing them in the way it was done has no trace of lawfulness (even under emergency law) or ordinary human decency,” Strelkov said on Jan. 2. “If Bednov had deserved arrest or even execution, this should not have been done through a criminal ambush.”

The killing of Bednov has also increased tensions in the south of the Luhansk Oblast, controlled by Cossack leader Nikolai Kozitsyn’s Almighty Don Host.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said on Jan. 7 that Plotnitsky’s units were trying to seize cities run by the Almighty Don Host.

On Jan. 4 Rashid Shakirzyanov, the Cossack “commandant” of Antratsit in the Luhansk Oblast, said in a YouTube video that the Luhansk People’s Republic had no legitimacy whatsoever. Shakirzyanov’s predecessor, Vyacheslav Pinezhanin, was killed in November in a conflict between Plotnitsky’s units and the Almighty Don Host.


In another YouTube video released on Jan. 4, Kozitsyn also questioned the legitimacy of the Luhansk People’s Republic, saying that he believed Putin to be the emperor and that the areas under the Cossacks’ control were part of the “Russian Empire.” Kozytsin had to leave the Luhansk Oblast for Russia in December due to the conflict with Plotnitsky before coming back to the area in the same month.

In December another insurgent leader and critic of Plotnitsky’s regime, Pavel Dryomov, released a video demanding Plotnitsky’s resignation. Dryomov, head of the Stakhanov-based Cossack National Guard, accused Plotnitsky’s men of theft, including stealing coal, and of voting fraud, saying that those who did not vote were not given pensions. Dryomov also said that only one out of Russia’s 10 “humanitarian aid” convoys had reached those in need, while the rest of the aid had been sold. Ukrainian online newspaper Insider wrote, citing anonymous sources, that Dryomov left the Luhansk Oblast for Russia before publishing the video.


On Jan. 5 the blogger known as Johnan Carlson, who describes himself as a representative of Ukrainian partisans in Donbas, said that Dremov’s unit had clashed with Plotnitsky’s men in Luhansk, killing six insurgents and injuring 18.

Both Bednov and Dryomov have lambasted the Sept. 5 Minsk ceasefire agreement and repeatedly accused Plotnitsky of treason and surrendering to Ukraine.

Kyiv Post staff writer Oleg Sukhov can be reached at [email protected].

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