Pavel Gubarev, one of the leaders of eastern Ukraine's rebel insurgency, is unconscious in hospital after his car was shot in an ambush on Sunday, it has emerged.
Rumors of political infighting and rivalries are rife in the lawless rebel-held territory as self-styled politicians with guns jostle for power in the build-up to an election scheduled for early November.
Posting on her Facebook page, Gubarev's wife Ekaterina said that her husband was on the road from Rostov-on-Don in Russia to Donetsk, the heart of the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, when another vehicle cut up his car and opened fire, causing the driver to crash into a concrete pillar. Ekaterina said her husband had not been shot and is expected to regain consciousness at "any moment."
Coups and backroom deals are a regular occurrence in the fledgling rebel republic, which has had three self-styled prime ministers at its helm since being founded in mid-April.
Gubarev — among the original leaders of the rebel movement — was imprisoned in Kiev for his activities related to separatism in the early days of the uprising. Upon his release, however, the rebel leader who used to work as a Santa-for-hire, found he had been ousted from the top spot by Denis Pushilin. Previously an unknown face in the separatist movement Pushilin, who has a penchant for shiny blue suits, was the first to formally take the title of "prime minister" in the Donetsk People's Republic.
Since then Gubarev has remained a feature in the rebel political administration as the Donetsk "People's Governor," but has been seen as more of a figurehead than as a politician capable of exerting influence over decision-making processes. His waning power took another blow in August when his ally Igor Strelkov, once a revered commander of the republic's militia, was also pushed from power. Strelkov, a nom de guerre that means shooter in Russian, fled the region after being summarily dismissed from his post as the republic's "defense minister."
Recently Gubarev, who regularly posts clips of long monotone Russian Imperialist rants on Youtube, also made a cameo in a bizarre rebel musical propaganda video featuring a stereotypically traditional Russian family singing and playing accordion at the kitchen table. With dark rings under his eyes, Gubarev's guest appearance seems stilted and scripted. "For Russia! From Kamchatka to Odessa, united and indivisible" he tells the camera finishing with a grimace.
Politicians in the Donetsk People's Republic have been subject to assassination attempts in the past. In June, Pushilin was the target of a car bomb that was planted under his minibus by unknown assailants, shortly after he too was ousted from power by Russian citizen and a suspected Kremlin intelligence agent Aleksander Borodai.
A week previously the former prime minister had another lucky escape when masked gunmen opened fire on his entourage in Donetsk city center. The rebel politician escaped unscathed but his bodyguard and assistant Maxim Petrukhina was killed in the attack.
At the time Pushilin attributed the attacks to pro-Kiev militant group Right Sector but rumors swirled in Donetsk that his political rivals were behind the attack.
So far all the politicians in the DPR administration have been appointed internally, but plans by the rebels to hold their first vote to elect a prime minister are now well underway.
In early May, rebel leaders held a referendum on the independence of the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic — known collectively as Novorossiya — claiming a exceptionally high turnout of around 75 percent and whopping vote of approval with 90 percent of ballots in favor of "yes. However, the hastily organized vote, which was not attended by recognized international observers, attracted widespread condemnation from western states who labeled the ballot a "sham" and "bogus."
The March referendum on independence held in Crimea also attracted criticism from the international community for a lack of transparency. Ukraine's southern peninsula was annexed just days later by Russia.
This time, however, the Donetsk rebels say they are much better prepared. Speaking to VICE News, Roman Liagin, head of the rebels' Central Election Commission — which also oversaw the referendum on independence — said the negotiations were already underway to bring in international monitors to oversee the vote. "Our election will not just meet standards of Europe it will be better than them, and European elections won't meet our standards," he told VICE News.
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