Activists, bombs, police, titushki and a casino – Odessa’s armed political business

Odessa is hit by a series of bomb blasts, targeting mainly objects of the public sphere such as banks, shops or activists’ offices. Also strategically important objects as rails or a ATO recruitment centre were hit. The pace is increasing since December, feeding concerns over a wider destabilization of the south-eastern region.

Not surprisingly the bombers are expected and searched in pro-Russian circles. Recent arrests conducted by Ukrainian intelligence service SBU as well as confiscated weapons, explosives and pro-Russian propaganda material seem to confirm this assumption.

Additionally, rivalries within Odessa’s elite are becoming more contentious, fueling the momentum of violence. There are indications that the bang at Right Sector‘s (PS) assumed office at the beginning of March is related to such rivalries. The incident might not be representative for the majority of bomb blasts in Odessa. Nevertheless, this bizarre little story is worth being mentioned. Chronology of events is told in five parts, the structure of the classical tragedy.

Act One. It starts in the beginning of March, when activists of ‘Auto Maidan’ tried to close a casino in the centre of Odessa. Casinos are illegal in Ukraine. The owner of the casino bribed the police and things went on as usual (blog’s source).

Act Two. A few days later on 4 March, activists of Right Sector (Pravy Sektor, PS) started another attempt to close the casino. They broke the door of the casino, staff and visitors were beaten. According to Ukrainian media reports, casino guards started shooting and were disarmed by PS. Shortly after, the owner of the casino appeared with reinforcement (armed titushki), forcing PS’ units to retreat to the second floor of the building where they barricaded themselves. Meanwhile Varvara Chernoivanenko, the press secretary of PS Odesa posted on her facebook site that some of them were seriously injured, that they smell gas in the room and that…

Act Three … PS’ headquarters were blown up! The detonation occurred at about 00.30 (March 5) on Koblevskaya Street, 40. That’s one of the few unchallenged facts. At around the same time local police arrived at the casino, accompanied by armed activists of Samooborona Odesa (militia/movement, affiliated with Maidan and PS). Again fighting, this time between Samooborona and the casino owner’s tistushki. Bats, parts of the interior used as artillery. After Samooborona brought the situation under control, local police entered and escorted the activists from PS to the outside. In front of the casino a crowd gathered, watching the scene, as well as titushkis, shouting down PS activists. No one was killed.

https://youtu.be/7HacQe4GYIY

Act Four. The following morning, reports on local and social media reflected the assumption that the office of PS was the target of the explosion and that it was connected to the events at the casino. This contrasted the communications of government officials (MIA), who told the the explosion took place at a private apartment, while events at the casino were not mentioned. Instead officials considered the explosion as an ‘act of terror’ (Art. 258) and opened investigations in this respect.

Act Five. A few days later on 11 March, activists of PS rallied in front of the police station. It was said the police showed very limited efforts in closing the casino and going after titushkis. The next day another bomb exploded in Odessa. This time the office of the ‘Samopomich’ party was targeted, nobody was hurt. It was the second time this building was hit since December. The police considered the explosion as terrorist act. At the same day SBU arrested those suspected of organizing the assault.

// side notes

The chronology of events is based on own sources as well as reports on social and commercial media. PS declined to confirm or comment on specific questions. There remain various unclear elements in this little ‘case study’ on the ‘armed political business community’ of Odessa. Comments, further information, critics are welcome (comment or ap[at]armedpolitics.com).

The post should not give the impression that the series of bombings is mainly the result of domestic rivalries. It is widely expected that pro-Russian forces are going to increase efforts in order to destabilize Odessa (and other cities controlled by the government). Bombs on offices of political actors or in the public sphere fulfill this purpose and serve as a message to the population. One should keep in mind that all actors will try to take advantage of the situation, also domestic ones.

Dogs like to go after rabbits. Maybe it’s in their nature or a taste of nature. The behavior depends on situational factors and training. Odessa is populated by various dogs and rabbits, while it’s questionable who is on whose leash.