Kremlin backs pro-Russia minister in Ukraine power struggle

By Sara Shayanian  |  Nov. 22, 2017 at 1:22 PM
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Nov. 22 (UPI) -- The Russian government is supporting Ukrainian Interior Minister Igor Kornet amid tensions in the eastern region of Luhansk -- which is controlled by Moscow-backed separatists.

Armored vehicles and soldiers in unidentified uniforms patrolled the streets of Luhansk Tuesday in an attempted coup against region leader Igor Plotnitsky -- an effort led by Kornet.

The action came a day after Plotnitsky tried to fire the minister, a move that backfired when most troops backed Kornet instead.

Plotnitsky called the presence of armored trucks and troops a "coup."

"How else can you call the situation when the person fired by court from his job is attempting to conduct some operations by force?" he said. "This an attempt to seize power."

Forces surrounded Plotnitsky's office Wednesday and detained its employees.

Moscow spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the Kremlin is closely following the situation amid reports that Plotnitsky had fled to Russia.

A Luhansk separatist television channel reported, however, that Plotnitsky was still in the region.

Peskov said there was "an understanding" in the Russian government about who may be behind tensions in Luhansk, but didn't elaborate.

Conflict has been brewing between Plotnitsky and Kornet for several months, as Kornet has been answering directly to Moscow and making the interior ministry more independent -- a move that concerned Plotnitsky.

The region has been held by Russia-backed separatists since the oust of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych three years ago. The Kremlin has supported separatists through military, economic and political means and has chosen to support Kornet.

Russia has been accused of stoking the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Kiev since the Moscow-friendly Yanukovych was sacked.

Moscow, however, has denied involvement in the conflict -- which has left thousands dead -- and said it respects Ukrainian territory. Russia annexed the Ukrainian region of Crimea in 2014.

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