The leader of the self-proclaimed “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR) in eastern Ukraine has fled the occupied territory, Russia’s independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported.
Igor Plotnitsky, who has ruled the unrecognized republic since August 2014, reportedly fled to Russia with two of his staffers — Irina Teitsman, the head of his “administration,” and Anastasia Shurkaeva, the head of Luhansk “state television.”
This would not be the first time Plotnitsky was reported as having escaped across the border. On November 22, the press secretary of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, Artem Shevchenko, also claimed the the separatist leader had fled the “republic.”
Plotnitsky’s reported exit comes after a three-day standoff with the head of the LPR’s “Interior Ministry.”
On November 21, armed men in unmarked uniforms seized the center of occupied city of Luhansk and took over a number of administrative buildings, according to information resources from within the LPR.
According to Novaya Gazeta, the unidentified men were armed with light weapons and mortars. Plotnitsky ordered the militants to release the city, but they refused.
The armed standoff appears to be part of ongoing palace intrigue within the LPR’s de facto government. On November 20, an LPR “court” ruled to temporarily remove the self-proclaimed republic’s “Minister of Internal Affairs,” Igor Kornet, from office.
Previously, Plotnitsky had evicted Kornet from his home and accused him of illegally residing for three years in a residence belonging to an elderly Luhansk resident.
However, on November 21, Kornet posted a video address on the site of the LPR “Ministry of Internal Affairs” stating that he had not been sacked. Instead, he said, the “Interior Ministry” had uncovered a Ukrainian “reconnaissance and sabotage group” and detained most of its members.
Kornet also stated that several LPR “officials” in Luhansk had been identified as conspirators against the unrecognized state. The “interior minister” accused Shurkaeva of maintaining ties with the Ukrainian Security Service. He also alleged that Teitsman and Yevgeny Seliverstov, the head of the LPR “Interior Ministry’s” “Government Security Service” played an active role in a September 2016 coup attempt in the “republic.”
Kornet said he passed this information onto Plotnitsky, who opened criminal charges against all three officials and ordered them arrested.
However, in a subsequent statement on his website, Plotnitsky wrote that Kornet's video address had "no authority or legal force." Plotnitsky called the situation on the streets of Luhansk a "continuation of yesterday's staffing changes" and proof that he had made the correct decision to sack Kornet. He also defended Shurkaeva, Teitsman, and Seliverstov.
There was, however, one area of overlap between both "officials'" statements: each assured the public that the situation was under control.
On the night before November 22, monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe witnessed a column of military vehicles near the town of Debaltseve. That day, the “Minister of State Security” of the neighboring self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” announced that his “republic” had intervened in the occupied Luhansk in support of the LPR.
/By Matthew Kupfer and Sofia Fedeczko