Thursday, April 23, 2015

Ukraine Conflict Threatens to Spread as Anti-Communist Law Increases Tensions

ODESSA, Ukraine—Outside of the city administration building here on April 16, three older men who said they were from the local Communist party unfurled a red hammer and sickle flag to protest a national law banning symbols of the Soviet Union.

Nearby, police and local militia units were standing in a defensive ring around city hall. Threats of a protest against upcoming city council votes had local law enforcement on edge, anticipating it could reignite the city’s simmering pro-Russian separatist movement. When the Soviet flag was unfurled, the police immediately responded. And after a few minutes of protest the three Communist party members relented peacefully and put the flag away.

“Hiding the flag doesn’t change the way we think,” one said, while carefully folding the flag. “We are still Communists.” They declined to give their names, but two claimed to be Red Army veterans.

There were a few scuffles between police and local agitators and at least one arrest, but no large-scale violence. By evening, the crowds and police had dispersed and the square outside city hall was once again filled with mothers pushing strollers and teenagers performing tricks on their BMX bikes. Life in this Black Sea port city and tourist destination, which is more than 380 miles from the front lines of the Ukraine conflict, appeared to be continuing on as normal. But many residents here worry that a pro-Russian uprising could erupt anytime, potentially spurring the approximately 2,500 Russian troops stationed in the nearby Moldovan breakaway region of Transnistria to invade.

“Only about 20 percent of Odessa is pro-Russian,” said a Right Sector soldier who went by the nom de guerre “Maverick,” standing guard in central Odessa last weekend. “But that’s enough to cause serious problems.”

Major combat in the Ukraine conflict has mostly been confined to cities and villages located in the “Donbas”— a pocket of territory on the Ukraine’s southeastern border with Russia where, despite the Feb. 12 cease-fire, fighting continues daily.

Complete story at - Ukraine Conflict Threatens to Spread as Anti-Communist Law Increases Tensions

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