The situation in Ukraine has escalated significantly in the last few days, with the deaths of five protestors, two killed by gunshots allegedly fired by Ukrainian security forces (sometimes said to be “snipers”), and one being tortured and left to die in the woods. An opposition aid station was attacked, and its patients taken away, by security forces. The security forces are also going through hospitals looking for injured protestors.
A line has been crossed. The beatings that had occurred periodically before were bad, but the deliberate murder of protestors who did not pose a direct threat to the police is a Rubicon. Opposition leaders including Klitschko have been trying to negotiate with Yanukovych, but this has only angered the Maidan movement rank-and-file., who now see that compromise with murderers is pointless-and wrong. Throughout western Ukraine government buildings are being seized, and Yanukovych appointed officials (such as the governor of Lviv) forced to resign. The country is on the brink of civil war. The killings have made civil war all the more likely.
The shootings were not something analogous to Kent State: panicked weekend warriors opening fire on rioters/protestors. They were, apparently, carried out with malice aforethought.
Which raises the question: who decided to pull the trigger? Who authorized the premeditated use of deadly violence?
The protestors blame Yanukovych, and yes, he is ultimately responsible, in the sense that his intransigence, and his forcing through draconian laws outlawing protest, are a necessary condition for the escalation that culminated in five deaths.
But I have my doubts that he authorized such action. He seems to me to be an indecisive, temporizing figure. He does not want to back down, because he knows that if he cedes power he will likely end up in prison, and will lose all of the corrupt spoils that he has gained. But he seems reluctant to order a full-scale repression.
Which no doubt angers hardliners. I surmise that those hardliners, disgusted with Yanukovych’s vacillation, ordered the killing of a few protestors to bring the pre-revolutionary situation to a climax, and to eliminate the possibility of any compromise.
The hardliners’ determination to force the issue would no doubt be intensified by dissension within the ranks of the military and the security forces. There are reports that some officers have refused orders to attack the barricades on Hrushevskovo Street. This would make it all the more imperative to hardliners to escalate the confrontation.
Which raises the question: who are the hardliners? Angry colonels? (I think of the Serbian army officers who supported the Black Hand, and Princeps, in the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.) Or perhaps angry colonels acting under the direction of Russia/Putin/the FSB? Or angry colonels acting under the direction of a Ukrainian agent of the Kremlin?
I think this is the most likely alternative. Moreover, I think it quite likely that the authorization-or orders-originated with the Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov. He is not Ukrainian: he is of Russian extraction, born in Kaluga, and has been called “the most Russophile member of the new cabinet.” He is a latter-day Ukrainian, only moving there in the 1980s. If he is anything, he is an old school Sovok, and no doubt an eager supporter of Putin’s drive to restore at least a simulacrum of the USSR. He has employed brutal rhetoric, praising the Berkut for its patriotism. He is quite the favorite of Putin: a perusal of some of the images of when they are together suggests more than the forced comradery between officials of different nations: there seems to be a real rapport (h/t @libertylynx). Have you ever seen Putin look that way at Medvedev, let alone Merkel-or Obama?
I think Azarov is Putin’s man in Ukraine. The one who is there to ensure that no Second Orange Revolution occurs. The First Orange Revolution was a stunning defeat for Putin, and you know that it left a mark: that the hatred and resentment still burns. Never Again. He wants any protest movement crushed, but he wants to hide his hand. Azarov is the natural man to do the dirty work. A few provocative killings are precisely what is required to ensure that Yanukovych (a venal man, obviously, but one who doesn’t strike me as a hard man like Putin or Azarov–hence the problem for them, and why he must be denied an out) cannot go back. The orders go from Russia to their creatures in Ukraine. People die. The battle lines harden. Things escalate, and eventually the crackdown happens.
Maybe Azarov is not in the chain. No doubt the Russians have direct contacts with angry colonels. But regardless, I strongly suspect the ultimate source of the decision to kill is in Moscow.
Something else struck me. When watching via the Espresso TV live feed the brief assault of the police/Berkut on Tuesday, when they stormed the barricades and tore them down, and then retreated, I noticed one of the Berkut/police picking up a Ukrainian flag a protestor had dropped. He carried it back as a trophy, but not with respect. He dragged it behind him. Then there is this video of a Berkut/policeman disdainfully hacking down a Ukrainian flag from a vehicle (another @libertylynx h/t). These are not the actions of Ukrainian patriots. Most likely they are ethnically Russian Ukrainians, perhaps Crimeans (who @libertylynx says strive to be more Russian-y than Russians), or Russian speakers from eastern Ukraine. They no doubt would be quite happy with Ukraine being re-united with Russia, or at least its vassal: the good little brother. Men like these would be more than willing to kill protestors in order to advance that cause.
The die has been cast in Kiev. The most reasonable explanation is that Putin is the die-maker. He wants to bring Ukraine to heel, and to someone of his bloody-minded outlook, foreclosing any compromise and forcing a confrontation is the best way to do that. And murdering a few protestors is perfectly suited to accomplishing that end.
Sadly, there are many in Ukraine who would provide willing hands to do the the dirty work. Those desecrating the Ukrainian flags are emblematic of that. But those who pulled the triggers in Kiev (and those who gave the orders) are the real Orcs, doing Sauron’s/Putin’s bidding.
Update: Just saw Edward Lucas’s column from yesterday, in which he states that a source told him last year that Putin had ordered Yanukovych to “dip his hands in blood.” Says Lucas: “Only by forcing an irreversible breach with Europe and America could the Kremlin be sure that its Ukrainian satrap would behave.” That’s similar to my conjecture: that the killings were intended to foreclose any possibility of political compromise or settlement, though I think this was intended primarily to affect the situation within Ukraine, rather than to affect American or European actions. The long lag between the alleged order and the actual shootings suggests, moreover, that Yanukovych resisted. Maybe he eventually capitulated, but I think it is more plausible that the Russians worked through members of the Ukrainian government, or directly with their connections in the security forces. Putin/the Russians were tired of waiting, in other words, and forced the issue. From their perspective, it doesn’t matter. In the popular Ukrainian mind, Yanukovych is responsible, and the any political compromise between Yanukovych and the opposition that would inevitably reduce Russian influence (a la the Orange Revolution) has been fatally damaged. Yanukovych now realizes he can’t negotiate his way out, and is thus more likely to escalate, seeing that as the only way he can survive. Which is fine with Putin. Indeed, it makes the Ukrainian government all the more dependent on Putin and Russia.