An official count of the deceased released yesterday numbered 42 in the wake of violent clashes between protestors in Ukraine’s southwestern city of Odessa. Tension began to rise on Friday afternoon as pro-Ukrainian activists took to the streets to confront separatist groups dressed in all black. Tensions soon metamorphosed into a bitter firefight, as both sides traded shots from pistols and other light arms they were carrying. Following several street battles, separatist forces eventually barricaded themselves inside the Odessa trade union building, a marble-constructed holdover from the Soviet era, and resumed fighting from within. Though presently the means used remain unknown, what is known is that pro-Ukraine protestors lit fire to the building, ultimately burning to death at least 32 of them. In the aftermath of the violence, more than 100 alleged separatists were detained, though since then pro-Russia protestors have stormed a detention center in Odessa and freed more than 65 of them.
The aftermath of the incident has been marked by a combination of outrage, finger-pointing and increasing speculation concerning the course that Ukraine will have to take if the “Odessa massacre” serves as the catalyzing incident for either increased guerrilla-style violence throughout Ukraine, civil war or a combination of the two. Ukraine’s interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk has been quick to levy the blame on the incompetence of an already inadequate security and police force within Odessa, accusing them of intentional idleness, and stating that they were inefficient and in direct violation of their responsibilities, due to their inability to stop the violence. Yatsenyuk has further alleged that forces trained by Russia and that entered Ukraine through Transnistria, a breakaway region of Moldova, were responsible for inciting the violence. A “full, comprehensive and independent investigation,” though no further details of said investigation have yet been divulged.
Russia has described the incident as one that typifies Ukrainian aggression throughout the country, and has blamed Kiev as well as its “Western advisers” for a “day that will live in infamy.” It is unlikely that a clear impetus for the violence will be identified, as Ukrainian and separatist groups, much like their respective patrons, become increasingly entrenched and polarized.
- Flooding in northern Afghanistan over the past weeks has triggered a landslide, with over 350 feared dead. The landslide took place at a village in Badakhshan province, with NATO and UN rescue forces pledging their support. The village, Aab Bareek, has a total population of 2,500 and with thousands still unaccounted for, it may be that they were also covered by the mud.
- The nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers was protested by thousands of hardliners in Tehran at the former site of the US embassy this past Saturday. The protesters carried banners that referred to the November deal as a “poisoned chalice,” and others declaring that it gives up Iran’s rights in return for little reward. In related news, the Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said that there are no plans to decommission the Arak heavy water reactor, but reassured IAEA officials following Iran that it “will be redesigned to produce lesser amounts of plutonium, but will remain a heavy water reactor,” he told reporters.
- Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemliev was denied entry into Crimea once again after being turned back at a Moscow airport on his way from Kyiv to Simferopol. He is allegedly barred from entering the peninsula for criticizing its annexation by Russia following the March referendum, raising in particular the the questionable current status of 300,000 Crimean Tatars. The Tatars of Crimea make up about 13% of the current population, and have been largely displaced by the Russian population after the majority of them were exiled by Stalin in 1944.
- On May 3, Gul Agha Sherzai joined Abdullah Abdullah’s presidential campaign, lending critical support to his campaign in anticipation of the run-off between Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani later this month. Sherzai won a mere 2% of the vote, but his support will likely Pashtun voter turnout for Dr. Abdullah. Sherzai’s nickname is the “the bulldozer” for pushing through many major road and infrastructure projects throughout Kandahar province.
- Kyrgyz NGOs have announced they plan to hold protests against Customs Union on May 5 in Bishkek. According to RFE/RL, they claim that Krygyzstan will lose its sovereignty by joining the Customs Union, the free trade organization headed by Russia with current members Kazakhstan and Belarus. Moscow has been lobbying hard to get other former Soviet republics to join the union, hoping to model the Customs Union after the EU.
- Turkmenistan is lobbying hard for UNESCO to recognize a recently discovered paleontological site, its so-called “Plateau of the Dinosaurs.” The plateau is home to one of the world’s largest collections of preserved dinosaur tracks anywhere on the planet, first discovered by Soviet paleontologists in the 1950’s. Some 2,500 tracks have been discovered. Local legends about the tracks abound, with various natives contending that the nearby village takes its name (Khodja Pil or “Miracle of the Elephants”) from Alexander the Great’s elephants as they marched through to conquer India.