A rebel flag, yes, but not the rebel flag.
Will Baird spotted this image in a clip of rebel forces in eastern Ukraine:
It looks like the flag of the American slaveowners’ revolt. It is not. Rather, it is the flag of the putative union of the Donetsk and Luhansk rebel administrations. (I saw putative because there is no evidence that there is much administrative meat on the declarative bones of the “Federal State of Novorossiya.”) Here is a screenshot (from Vice News) of a rebel spokesman wearing it as an shoulder patch, along with on his colleage the red-blue-and-black tricolor of the Donetsk People’s Republic.
But where did the flag come from? Are they imitating the Confederacy?
Probably not. Early on, the rebels used two flags: the aforementioned red-blue-and-black tricolor and (for reasons unclear) the Russian naval ensign. You can see it in this early picture from the rebellion; it is the reverse-Scotland banner.
When the Luhansk and Donetsk rebels decided to formally link up, they stuck with the naval ensign design, but deliberately harkened back to the old Tsarist naval jack. (Which is, actually, still in use by the Russian navy.) It had the advantage of sticking with Russia’s color pattern, I suppose. Here is another picture, from Reuters:
It is possible that the eastern rebels are trying to tweak America’s eye. Filipino insurgents did just that very effectively back in 1898. But the Filipinos had a much more sophisticated leadership ... and they were fighting the United States directly. Absent direct evidence, I greatly doubt that the Ukrainian rebels are trying to anger or bother or send a message to Americans.
Moreover, I know from sad experience that few people outside the United States even realize the emotional import of the Confederate battle flag. If they think of it at all, they consider it some little bit of kitschy Americana, somehow connected to motorcycle gangs. In my younger and angrier days, I had words with strangers over the inappropriate display of the slaveowning banner in Mexico and (of all places) Germany.
That said, even if coincidental, it is nonetheless somewhat fitting that one lost cause that should never have been attempted has picked a banner similar to another.