Streetwise Professor

January 31, 2014

Ukraine: (Relative) Calm Before the Storm

Filed under: History,Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:36 pm

The situation in Ukraine has taken a turn, but not necessarily for the better.  Although the prospect for a major confrontation on the streets in Kiev has abated due to Yanukovych’s decision to repeal the anti-protest laws and offer a form of conditional amnesty to protestors, the opposition has not been appeased.  Moreover, the government has seemingly shifted tactics, targeting individual leaders of the protest movement rather than threatening to assault the barricades.

The most appalling case is that of Dmytro Bulatov, one of the leaders of AutoMaidan, a group that launches quick-strike protests in automobiles.  He was disappeared for a week, turning up yesterday horribly beaten and mutilated: his tormenters cut off an ear, and he claims they “crucified” him.  After he was released, the militia attempted to arrest him in the hospital, where they were thwarted by quick thinking protestors.  But warrants have been issued for other AutoMaidan leaders, and there are report of a rising tide of arrests on the streets.

Furthermore, the regime appears to be relying more on “titushki” thugs who are roaming the streets looking for, and attacking, oppositionists.

Moreover, the opposition is deeply suspicious-and rightly so-of the amnesty, because it is conditional on the protesters evacuating the buildings they have occupied and the barricades on the street.  In other words, the government is saying: give up all your leverage, and trust us.  Needless to say, trust is in short supply and the opposition has rejected this.  Trust is further undermined by the arrests, disappearances and beatings.

And Russia-and Putin-loom overhead, casting a broad shadow.  I was wrong that Azarov was Putin’s man-he has decamped to Austria after having resigned as PM.  But it is clear that Putin is still pulling the strings.  There are continued rumors that Russian forces are on the ground in Ukraine: Bulatov claims that those who abducted him spoke “with Russian accents.”

Mixed signals emerged from Russia after Yanukovych sacked the government. Putin played his typical double game.  Initially Russia claimed that the the departure of Azarov would lead it to revocation of December’s aid package.  Then Putin came out and instructed the government to “honor its agreements to lend Ukraine $15 billion to Ukraine and cut the price of gas it sells to its crisis-hit neighbor.”  But the very same day he said that the $15 billion plus cut rate gas deal would be put on hold until Ukraine formed a new government, a process that could take 60 days.  One has to parse Putin’s statements very carefully.  He will often state a broad principal (“Russia will honor its agreements”) and then walk it back by adding conditions and caveats. This is one of those cases.

Then there was a more ominous statement emerging from Moscow:

An adviser to Russia’s president Vladimir Putin has warned that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovich, risks losing power unless he suppresses the “insurgency” in the country.

. . . .

Mr Yanukovich “is now in a situation of creeping revolution, and to some extent he functions as the guarantee of the constitution, security and integrity of Ukraine, therefore the president has no choice,” Mr Glaziev said in an interview with the corporate magazine of Russian state gas company, Gazprom, published on the editor’s blog on Friday.

“Either he protects Ukrainian statehood and suppresses the insurgency, which is provoked and financed by external forces, or he risks losing power, and then Ukraine faces growing chaos and internal conflict from which no exit is visible.”

Add to this that the army has issued a similar warning:

After two months of unrest, Ukraine’s army got involved in the ongoing political crisis, when the Ministry of Defense unexpectedly issued  a Jan. 31 statement, asking President Viktor Yanukovych to “apply measures for stabilizing of situation in the country.”

The commanders called protesters’ occupation of government buildings “inadmissible” and said that “further escalation of confrontation threatens to integrity of the country.”

The decision to send Yanukovych a special letter was made at a general meeting of the ministry’s office the day before and, according to Anatoliy Hrytsenko, an opposition lawmaker and former defense minister, the officers had been pressured to support Yanukovych.

“I know for sure that officers, who were not agreeing to the ‘common approval’ are now being pressured by their commanders and chiefs,” Hrytsenko said on his Facebook page. In its separate statement, the Defense Ministry also denied the reports that army was allegedly involved in assisting the police during the ongoing political crisis.

This report suggests that the army is divided, but is under pressure from the top.  And the top is no doubt under pressure from Moscow.

All this suggests to me that a full-blown crackdown is being held in abeyance until the end of Sochi.  In the meantime, the regime will wage a guerrilla war against the opposition.  The opposition-and especially its leadership-will be terrorized by nightriders and roving gangs and “law enforcement.”  Putin will give Yanukovych his marching orders.  And sometime in late February, expect things to come to a climax.  What we see now is a relative calm before a storm.

And what will the storm winds blow?  I fear civil war, largely on regional lines, but not completely.  Even parts of eastern Ukraine are restive.  And if it comes to that, Putin will no doubt find a pretext for a more direct intervention, reprising the role of Nicholas I, “the gendarme of Europe,” who intervened to crush rebellions in Poland and the Hapsburg Empire. I do not think that Yanukovych has the forces to subjugate a country as large as Ukraine, especially if those forces are largely conscripts who will not be enthusiastic about attacking-and killing-their friends and family.  I don’t know if Putin does either, but I cannot see him sitting idly by while Ukraine spins out of control.

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16 Comments »

  1. @Professor, the fact that Azarov decamped to Austria does not in any way mean you were wrong. Perhaps ironically, the reason many Kremlin satraps attempt to keep the majority of Ukrainians out of Europe is that this is the only way for them (the satraps) to be able to live in Europe. Think of 19th century Russian nobility squandering in Paris their fortunes extracted from their rightless serfs back home. If there is such a thing as the Russian dream, this is it.

    Andrei Illarionov on Russian intervention: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfy5OE5FwTE

    Comment by Ivan — February 1, 2014 @ 12:59 am

  2. I think that Ivan is right – plus the “re-shuffling” doesn’t mean anything.

    You cannot think of Ukraine having a legitimate government – it is regime which is run like a corporation which sucks money out of corruption – via taxes, via borrowing, via other sources of revenue.

    the “government” positions are appointive, rather than elected positions, except for a few positions, which further cements political patronage and corruption.

    SWP, here’s one thing that you are overlooking – the Maidan protesters are not controlled by the political opposition.

    Thus, there are 2 groups working here – the political opposition, which has been powerless in the face of false voting by the Party of Regions and the commies coalition, and the Maidan protesters.

    As you note, it remains to be seen whether the military, which is very poorly paid and equipped, will actually obey orders to kill fellow citizens. Refusal to do so has already been evident in quite a few instances.

    By the way, Azarov and his son have long held significant property (wealth) in Austria, well-documented by Ukrainian Pravda and other journalists in Ukraine.

    Where did they get their wealth on modest government salaries? One guess.

    Comment by elmer — February 1, 2014 @ 9:40 am

  3. story about the barbaric cruelty against Bulatov, and picture, here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-25988661

    the mafia regime in Ukraine now wants to place Bulatov under house arrest

    instead of looking for the barbaric thugs who committed this atrocity

    typical sovok mentality

    Comment by elmer — February 1, 2014 @ 9:45 am

  4. the sovok mafia regime published details about car ownership and residences and names of AutoMaidan activists – so there have been cars that have been burned.

    In addition, they have been burning cars of journalists, and burned the car of a Canadian government representative in Kyiv after Canada announced sanctions.

    Last night, for example, 8 cars were burned between midnight and 3 am

    Pictures and videos here:

    http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2014/02/1/7012322/

    The so-called militia and “road police” are doing nothing about it.

    Comment by elmer — February 1, 2014 @ 10:04 am

  5. The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine issued a statement that the military can be activated only in the event of an emergency situation – надзвичайний стан – and that there had been many “provocative statements” issued regarding activities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

    And that it would not succumb or yield to provocations.

    http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2014/02/1/7012332/

    Comment by elmer — February 1, 2014 @ 10:25 am

  6. http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/euromaidan-rallies-in-ukraine-jan-28-live-updates-335735.html

    Red Sector claims responsibility for burnt cars in Kyiv

    Feb 1, 5:55 p.m. — A newly created group called Red Sector claimed responsibility for cars that were set on fire recently. The Emergencies Ministry said that at least 23 cars, many with western Ukrainian number plates, were set on fire on the night of Jan. 29. Last night, a car that belongs to a Ukrainian employee of the Canadian Embassy, was also burned.

    The message from Red Sector, which plays of the name of the Right Sector, an alliance of nationalist organizations associated with EuroMaidan, is the following: “Yes, today we burned many cars of the idiots who came to Kyiv, shat on it and think they are masters. There will be no revolution! We apologize if we damaged the property of normal people. But you have to understand that had it not been for our active deeds, fascists tomorrow will set a tent in your flat because they don’t like you. And they don’t give a shit about the law.”

    The Facebook profile, which is the source of the claim, was created on Jan. 4 and operates under the name of Nikolay Amelchenko. The statement claiming responsibility for arson was released on Jan. 30. The same page also contains a threat to journalist and activist Mustafa Nayyem, and links to a video with threats to the journalist, which has now been deleted from Youtube. –Katya Gorchinskaya

    Comment by elmer — February 1, 2014 @ 11:25 am

  7. According to a former adviser to Vladimir Putin, the economist Andrei Illarionov, the Kremlin will take one of three possible scenarios with respect to the Ukraine problem. The most dramatic will be the establishment of full control over the whole Ukraine. Within the first half of February, Illarionov states that Russia will begin the total pressure on Ukraine, the purpose of which, will be to assert full control of Moscow over the country.

    According to Illarionov, within the next week, Russia will begin to assert a lot of pressure on Kiev. Moscow has resumed a reduced trade war with Ukraine and there has been an information war against Ukraine put out by the government. In particular, there is a delay at the border of Ukrainian goods moving into Russia for 10-15 days. This is expected to increase domestic economic pressure in Ukraine.

    The mainstream news in Russia portrays the Ukrainian protesters as criminals and what they are attempting to do amounts to a coup. Some even claim this will lead to a resurgence of Nazis and neo-Nazis power on the border. Purpose of this revolution in Ukraine is to accomplish, says Illarionov literally, is “genocide and the destruction of the Russian population.”

    Others in Russia talk about the “reunification” of Russian lands, not that Ukraine is even a separate country. They place this in the news and the context is justified the same as German unification. The Eastern part of Ukraine was historically once Russia. This is the same justification Iraq made on invading Kuwait. The Western portion of Ukraine was never part of Russia so this reasoning would not apply. Indeed, even in the West they speak Ukrainian whereby in the East they speak Russian. We could see Russia justify taking the East as a “reunification” but I would not expect anything before the Olympic games are over.

    At the same time, according to the ex-adviser to Putin, Russia has increased its presence in Ukraine, in particular, in the Crimea and the Luhansk region, where the predominant Russian population live. They entered that region to protect the Russian population in eastern Ukraine. Additional Russians were sent into Sevastopol to protect it from the raging swells against Russians. All this gives the impression of a major well-prepared campaign that has just begun and will go on increasing in February. It is not much different from American troops being sent to a foreign land to protect Americans.

    Illarionov believes that the active phase will begin immediately after the opening of the Olympics in Sochi, February 7-8th. It is unlikely that Russia would take any such action prior to the Olympics. What happens after the games, is purely political motivation. However, the Russian government will paint the Ukrainian protesters as criminals no different than Hoover called the Bonus Army criminals to justify military action against them in Washington back in 1932.

    According to Illarionov, Russia’s options are

    (1) establishing a baseline scenario control over the entire Ukraine. This would be the most appropriate option;
    (2) pro-Kremlin politicians and political scientists see this as the federalization or confederation Ukraine in the context of reunification as a state subservient to Moscow. and
    (3) llarionov suggests that if the first two options fail, then control over the Crimea, Luhansk , and possibly part of Sumy region will need to be established under this idea of “reunification” with Moscow over part of the country in the East joining the Russian population with their mother country.

    Illarionov believes that the outcome is really predetermined and that whatever attempts are made to pretend to appoint a opposition Prime Minister of Ukraine, the decision is simply a stall tactic.

    It is very clear that many Russian politicians call directly for a popular idea to recreate the age-old dream of reunification of Ukraine and Russia. It is very clear that many have never considered Ukraine as an independent state and call it “nedogosudarstvom”. From their point of view, Ukraine will no longer be so weak in relation to Russia, and Russia will not be as strong in relation to Ukraine, as it is today.

    The Western powers represented by the EU and the US have nothing to stand on to protect Ukraine and can only offer lip-service at best. So once again, it appears that Ukraine is doomed and the best one can hope for there, is that Russia will allow the West to leave. The countdown goes forward and the political and economic crisis is indicative of what we see with the first shot across the bow in the rising trend of the Cycle of War.

    Source: http://crimea24.info/2014/01/31/obnarodovan-plan-rossii-v-otnoshenii-ukrainy-zakhvat-nachnetsya-v-fevrale/

    Comment by Anders — February 1, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

  8. @elmer-The car burnings are exactly the kind of thing I was thinking about when I mentioned “nightriders.” It’s the kind of thing the KKK did.

    Re the Ministry of Defense. I am sure that the army is as divided as the country is. There are certainly rival cliques within the army saying totally contradictory things.

    This is frightening, though, because it means that if worse comes to worse, the army could be fighting within itself.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 1, 2014 @ 4:32 pm

  9. @elmer-The statement I quoted yesterday was allegedly from the MoD. The two messages are not contradictory. The one from yesterday quotes the MoD as calling for a declaration of emergency. The one you quote just says that the military cannot get involved without such a declaration. One could even interpret the latter one as a broad hint that reinforces yesterday’s statement.

    Changing subjects: what is your opinion of Tymoshenko? I can guess, but I’d like to hear it.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 1, 2014 @ 5:10 pm

  10. SWP, in this interview, at the very beginning, the Shrieking Shrew, Inna Bohoslovska (I like neologisms, so I call her Boogooslonskaya), states at the very beginning that it is now very clear that besides withering support, it is now clear that Yanukonvikt cannot rely on the military for support. She purports to be an insider of the Party of Regions.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=783G7sofptI

    Additional input here:

    http://foreignnotes.blogspot.com/2014/02/bohoslovskas-predictions.html

    Tymoshenko:

    incredibly intelligent, bright, quick-witted, talented, articulate, personable, energetic, charismatic, brave, savvy

    also incredibly and disgustingly egotistical

    she took advantage of the corrupt system in Ukraine to make a ton of money in the gas trade

    BUT – there is absolutely no way she should be sitting in jail – it’s all based on trumped up charges, a stalinist code, and a stalinist show trial

    She went to jail for “exceeding authority” – but while the gas was cut off not only to Ukraine but also to Europe, and while people were literally dying, freezing to death in Europe, and all the assholes like Yushchenko, Yanukonvikt and the rest were nowhere to be found, either on vacation or elsewhere, she was the only one who was working to restore gas flows to Europe.
    She outfoxes Putler by having the foresight to make sure that Ukraine’s gas storage facilities were plenty full in advance, and she managed to reverse some gas flows, thus saving Ukraine from a brutally cold winter. And no, Ukraine did not “steal” gas bound for Europe.

    During her time as Prime Minister, she should have been implementing reforms, but because of infighting not only from Yushchenko’s action, but also from the Party of Regions and commies, that did not happen.

    She did her own share of parceling out contracts to favored insider oligarchs, while claiming that her party had no oligarchs. She herself was an oligarch.

    The failure to implement reforms, especially in the legal system, which does not exist in Ukraine, came back to bite her in the ass.

    I have been watching to see whether she has learned anything in prison. She seemed to have a view of government that put her in the position of a “benign queen.” Which, of course, is not democracy.

    Nevertheless – there is absolutely no way that Tymoshenko and the other officials that were prosecuted in connection with the 2009 gas deal should have been prosecuted.

    Comment by elmer — February 2, 2014 @ 9:45 am

  11. SWP, little story about Tymoshenko.

    In Ukraine, the game has been vicious propaganda character assassination and disinformation, distortion and deception.

    Tymoshenko was at the podium one day in parliament, and one of the mafiosi started haranguing her and screaming about her wealth and the “fantastically expensive pearl necklace” that she was wearing at the time.

    Tymoshenko promptly took them off, walked down the aisle, and gave them to the mafioso.

    They were not real pearls.

    Doesn’t mean that she had not accumulated wealth, but it was thoroughly humiliating for the mafioso.

    Comment by elmer — February 2, 2014 @ 12:38 pm

  12. @elmer. Thanks. Very informative re Tymoshenko. I guess that she is another example of my beliefs about Sovokistan (i.e, anywhere in the FSU): the best of them are ambivalent figures, the worst of them monsters. No one has clean hands. Tymoshenko (like Khodorkovsky) is an extremely ambivalent figure. Some definite virtues, but clearly mired in the corruption and dysfunction of Sovokistan. I guess it would take a saint to transcend all that.

    I can definitely guess, based on your answer re Tymoshenko, but I would like to hear more of your opinions re Yushchenko.

    Thanks too for the information on Bohoslovska, and her views on the military.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 2, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

  13. @elmer. There is no doubt that Tymoshenko had a sense for the dramatic, and was far smarter than the typical mafiosi mouth breather.

    And speaking of mafiosi mouth breathers, have you seen this image of Abruzov, the new acting PM? Too f*cking funny. The coat. The phone. The ring. The necklace. It’s all too much. Like a bad Sopranos episode.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 2, 2014 @ 3:47 pm

  14. H/T to @libertylynx for the Abruzov picture.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 2, 2014 @ 3:59 pm

  15. Arbuzov – more like a bad “Muppets do the Sopranos” episode.

    Yushchenko – as everyone knows, he did a great job cleaning up the Bank of Ukraine, which got him a lot of attention.

    His problems were many.

    First, he had the mindset that simply because he was president, everyone should bow down and listen to him. A somewhat authoritarian mindset.

    Second, he had somewhat good intentions, but a very plodding personality. His interview on the Larry King show was a disaster – Larry got a good dose of Yushchenko’s habit of taking forever to answer questions, but the answers never really answered the question.

    Third, he was from the Kuchma mold – his slogan was “bandits to jail” in the presidential campaign. But privately he assured everyone of the mafia not to worry.

    Fourth, he was stupid enough to try to create a “roundtable” with the Party of Regions to defuse a great deal of hostility, including absolutely feverish non-productive rhetoric between the Orange camp and the Blue camp, the Party of Regions. He was stupid enough to believe that those assholes were actually interested in democracy. The EU recently found out that they were and are not.

    Fifth, although he claimed that “these hands never stole anything,” a self-serving absolution of participation in brutal and massive corruption in Ukraine, his brother was the conduit for money. His brother received massive amounts of money from Firtash, plus his wife got jet rides to Belgium and elsewhere. That’s the way things work a lot of the time in Ukraine – one uses nominees or relatives, etc. In addition, people really soured on him when he and his son appropriated all of the Orange Revolution paraphernalia and trademarks, and the profits therefrom, into their own pockets. People stopped buying the souvenirs at that point. A truly disgusting thing on his part.

    Sixth, he had a massively psychotic obsession against Tymoshenko. Everyone knows about that. He had sovoks in his group who decided to deliberately torpedo the very slim Orange majority in Parliament, just so they could undermine and torpedo Tymoshenko. The Pig Plyushch was one of them.

    On the other hand, he did instigate the Holodomor memorial.

    He also made quite a few patriotic speeches about Ukraine, its national identity, and freedom and independence from the Kremlin.

    In the end, he managed to purloin a very nice mansion complex for himself and his family. Part of the bargain was to torpedo Tymoshenko in the presidential election against Yanukonvikt in 2010.

    Was Tymoshenko an innocent in the war between herself and Yushchenko? No.

    Yushchenko should have done what Ronald Reagan did when he ran into roadblocks in the parliament – he should have gone directly to the people. Instead, he made deals with the devil.

    Did he have some good programs in mind? Hell,yes.

    Example – the people were furious with the Road Police, who simply wave people over on any pretext and demand bribes.
    So at one point, he simply fired all of them. Even those at the top. Because of political pressure on all fronts, they were reinstated.

    Example – he fired the head of Naftogaz for getting an incredibly expensive Mercedes for his own use with Naftogaz funds.

    Example – the famous repeat auction of the Kryvorizhstal (Crooked Bend) Steel mill, which took away a steel mill which had been acquired dirt cheap by Akhmetov and some other Kuchma insiders in a crooked privatization deal. The repeat auction ended up with Mittal Steel as the buyer at several billions more in purchase price. Crooked privatization deals were and are notorious in Ukraine.

    He took off Akhmetov’s shirt in that one, and let Akhmetov keep his pants, along with a bunch of other wealth.

    But Yushchenko should have done more.

    Except he was too busy fighting Tymoshenko.

    Comment by elmer — February 2, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

  16. Vertually the entire spectrum of the Ukrainian political elite is corrupt. They are all filthy rich thanks to the lawless 90’s. even among the Oranges there is a sense that because they are in government, because they have the power, they are entitled to enrich themselves at the state teet. The difference until now has been that the Oranges believed in the “Ukrainian National Ideal”, something that I won’t describe here, but is adhered to by the vast majority of the Ukrainian people and all Ukrainian patriotes throughout the ages (including myself, my parents and grandparents). The Regions and commies are anathema to the Ukrainian National Ideal. The commies openly call far the unification of Russia and Ukraine. The Regions not only don’t believe in it, they hate everything Ukrainian. Very few of them care to advance Ukrainian language and culture in any way, indeed they find it a great hiderance to their looting of the geographic area they control. They are almost to a man, Russian chauvinists. The only reason they protect Ukrainian soveriety at all is because they are protecting their mafia turf.
    This is known to the Maidan. It is why they don’t follow the party leaders, although they allow Tyahnibok, Yatseniuk and Klitchko to stand with them.
    It is also why I think Klitchko is pulling away from the pack in their eyes. He made his money the old fashion way, he earned it on National TV.

    Comment by Gordon — February 2, 2014 @ 8:11 pm

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