As battle raged in rebellion-wracked eastern Ukraine, cargo trains piled high with coal thundered along rail tracks to keep heating and power going to households in rebel-held territory.
Coal is the lifeblood of this region dominated by pro-Russian separatists – and now the source of its first corruption scandal. The former energy minister of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic has accused a top rebel official of pocketing money from the sale of coal to power plants. Both men are now languishing in jail in connection with an investigation into abuse of authority.
The details are murky, but there is growing agreement that the opaque nature of the new order in separatist-controlled areas has created fertile ground for the corruption that flourished under President Viktor Yanukovych, a native of the east who was overthrown in February.
Meanwhile, the United States plans to increase non-lethal military assistance to Ukraine, including deliveries of the first Humvee vehicles, having decided for now not to provide weapons, U.S. officials said.
The aid falls short of what Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko requested during a visit to Washington in September when he appealed for lethal aid — a request echoed by some U.S. lawmakers in response to what NATO allies say is Russia’s movement of tanks and troops into eastern Ukraine.