An armed underground group in Luhansk, Eastern Ukraine, which was planning to launch an attack April 10 to “seize power” in the city, has been raided and their weapons have been confiscated, according to the Ukrainian Security Service. Around 300 firearms, a grenade launcher, grenades, molotov cocktails and other weapons were taken.
Fifteen members of the group were apprehended. They face charges of betraying the government and violating weapons regulations.
Luhansk Oblast shares a border with Russia and has a population that is 40 percent ethnically Russian. Russians are the majority in several regions of the province, however, and Russian is the main language of nearly 70 percent of the population–the percentage of Russian speakers is especially great in the south. Luhansk city is in the south.
Luhansk, with its large Russian population and close proximity to Russia, was classified by a U.S. intelligence study as one of three possible targets for a possible upcoming Russian incursion into Ukraine. The study, conducted last month, found Luhansk, Kharkiv and Dontesk possible Russian targets as land that would provide Russia with a land bridge to the Crimean peninsula.
The eastern border of Ukraine has drawn the attention of world governments and several militaries because Russian forces have been building up nearby. The current estimates of the Russian force includes 40,000 troops and hundreds of tanks, transport, air force and other machinery. NATO commanders have repeatedly issued strong warnings about the possibility of a Russian move into Ukraine. Russia initially denied any buildup of troops, but modified its statement to say that there were troops, but the troops were conducting military exercises. International observers have reported that they have not witnessed any exercises taking place.
Ukraine is readying its military to meet the Russian threat. The government has called in thousands of reserves, has passed legislation to fund their military for the next three months to get it to “combat readiness,” and has asked the U.S. and other allies for assistance in terms of “technology and military support.” Ukraine has repeatedly stated that they will fight if any part of Ukraine is invaded.
Russian leaders have denied any intention of invading Ukraine. They have simultaneously, however, made efforts to communicate with ethnic Russians in neighboring countries in ways that have caused the people of those countries concern, including Moldova, Azerbaijan and the Baltic States.
Moscow has voiced support for foreign Russians who have been calling to Russia for protection. Saturday the Russian Foreign Ministry commented that many Ukrainian citizens have written letters to ask for such protection. The Ministry claimed that the letters were written asking for protection of Ukrainians’ rights and freedoms. One particular right is the right to speak their own native language. The language issue was a motive in the Crimean invasion—pro-Russian Crimeans called for Russian aid shortly after the Ukrainian parliament cancelled a piece of 2012 legislation that recognized Russian as an official language.
Within Ukraine, separatists have been very active since the ouster of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Since February, approximately 320 separatist acts have occurred in Ukraine, according to the nation’s first deputy prime minister. The number of Ukrainians who have participated is 242,000, according to the same source.
The Ukrainian Security Service, which arrested the 15 pro-Russian activists Saturday, has not released information about how many activists were involved or how many are left.
By Day Blakely Donaldson