On Sunday 11th May, the day of the Donetsk referendum, an extraordinary report appeared in the Sunday Times, part of the Murdoch media empire and normally rigidly Neo-Con in its foreign policy agenda.
The report can be found here:
Unfortunately, the full item is only available to subscribers
The journalist encountered a paramilitary group near Mariupol, and introduces the encounter as follows:
When the men in black uniforms cocked their guns and pointed them at us, I realised it was a bad idea to make a cold call on Ukrainian paramilitary forces at their secret hide-out in the woods.
"How did you find us? Are you Russian spies?" yelled one, his face twisted with tension as he aimed his 9mm-calibre pistol at my stomach.
Our terrifying encounter came after a drive down a meandering dirt road deep into a forest near the port city of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. The men's improvised headquarters lies on a small island surrounded by a pond. It is a hunting lodge that belongs to a local oligarch sympathetic to their cause.
I have summarised the key points the journalist goes on to make in the course of his report, and included supporting quotations
1. The Ukrainian junta is arming, training and deploying a paramilitary force with the specific goal of using it to crush opposition to the regime. The paramilitary force has a name and specific battalions. It has a black uniform.
This is the Azov battalion - known as the 'Men in Black' - a secretive special unit of 70 volunteers, one of a number of paramilitary groups set up by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry as part of increasingly desperate attempts by the government in Kiev to fight the Russian backed armed rebellion in the east of the country.
The paramilitaries' activities risk fuelling an escalation in tit-for-tat violence that has claimed nearly 100 lives in just under a month, propelling Ukraine towards civil war. A number of such groups are trained and armed by the government, partly with backing from financial oligarchs loyal to Kiev. They include the Donbas and the Dnieper battalions, active in the Donetsk area, and the Kievl and Sturm units, which have been deployed in and around the Odessa region.
2. The junta has been forced to do this because it does not trust its regular army. The writer states that the Kiev regime views its army as 'heavily infiltrated by Russian sympathisers'. This is sophistry - clearly, 'Russian sympathisers' have not 'infiltrated' the army since the Kiev putsch. The simple fact is that large numbers of regular soldiers do not recognise the regime and are not prepared to do its dirty work.
They are being deployed by Kiev because of fears that its regular forces, heavily infiltrated by Russian sympathisers, are losing the battle with the separatists
3. The paramilitary force consists of former armed services personnel, policemen, and 'veterans of the Maidan uprising'. Personnel are overwhelmingly from west and central Ukraine.
A motley crew of volunteers mainly from west and central Ukraine, the majority were former soldiers, policemen and veterans of the Maidan uprising that brought down the pro-Russian government of Victor Yanukovych in February.
4. Personnel with non-military backgrounds receive as little as 2 weeks training, and include far-right sympathisers. The 'wolfs hook' is a well known modern Nazi symbol and was the official logo of the Nazi Social National Party, co-founded by Andriy Parubiy, who is currently the head of National Security - and now you know why.
One of them, a sturdy but soft-spoken fighter with a shaved head, had a tattoo on his hand of the Nazi wolf-hook symbol. "We are behind enemy lines here; everyone is against us: the police, the army, the people." he said, explaining their jumpiness. "We trust no one".