Streetwise Professor

December 11, 2013

Ukraine: The Seen and the Unseen

Filed under: Military,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:30 pm

Although the focus in Ukraine is the drama in Maidan, the matter will be decided by what happens in the barracks and the counsels of oligarchs.  Here are a couple of interesting articles analyzing how the oligarchs are leaning.  They suggest that the oligarchs would feel more secure in a more European country than a Russian one.  For a variety of reasons.  Because they fear being caught in a new Belarus, cut off from the ability to travel to their European homes.  Because they fear that once Ukraine is firmly in the Russian orbit, they would quickly be displaced by Russians.  Because they feel that their wealth, ill-gotten as it is, would be more secure if Ukraine became more European and less Russian: such is the logic of primitive capitalist accumulation.

This is all plausible, but one must also apply a little game theory.  There are multiple oligarchs, and if any one steps out alone he is vulnerable.  Yanukovich can isolate that individual, and perhaps get the other oligarchs to turn on him by promising them a piece of his empire if they support the government.  The collective action problem may well prevent the oligarchs from turning decisively on Yanukovich.  But no doubt there are communications going on behind the scenes.  Each is attempting to figure out what the others are thinking.  There are likely furtive efforts to conspire.  Whether they will be able to overcome the collective action problem, and unite against the government, remains to be seen.

I mentioned two decisive factors: the oligarchs and the army (including other security forces, especially those in the Interior Ministry).  These are not independent.  Money can buy armies.  Or at least units of armies.  Buying off army officers may provide the most bang (literally) for the oligarchic buck (or the Hryvna, as it were). We are talking about Sovok land here.  Everything-most notably the military and its weapons-is for sale.  (In the Chechen Wars, Russian army officers notoriously sold their units’ arms.  In some cases, to the Chechens.)

So what is going on for all the world to see in Maidan is important, and affects the dynamic, what is happening behind the scenes, is likely more important still.

Speaking of Maidan, yesterday the police engaged in some aggressive actions against the protestors.  Moving in, dismantling barricades, etc.  But then they withdrew.  The opposition rejoiced.

One interpretation is that the police lost their nerve, and were overawed by the size of the crowd and its refusal to be cowed.  But I wonder if perhaps something else is going on.  Whether these were probing actions, designed to test reactions, gather intelligence, and so on.  Let’s just say that I would not get too giddy about the apparent hesitation by the security forces.  Again: The unseen-what is going on inside the security forces-is as or more important than what is seen on the streets.

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  1. It’s the old scenario where nobody wants to be the first to defect, but nobody wants to be the third one. The PoR oligarchs are hedging their bets right now by not taking sides. They want to see which side will win before casting lots. Then it’ll be a cascade. Yanukovych has the institutional authority, but otherwise the protesters are clearly in the ascendent. They have a slight advantage in numbers, but they are extremely motivated which the PoR supporters are not.

    The issue is whether Yanukovych is steadily losing his ability to command the institutional forces under him. The Berkut supposedly refused to quell the protests in Lviv, and the news reports indicate the central government cannot rely on its officials in western Ukraine to obey orders. If it appears he can no longer control events in Kiev and central Ukraine, he may agree to the demands. If he thinks he can still command the army and police, he probably won’t. The next week or two of protests should give proof whether Yanukovych is continuing to lose his authority, or if the erosion has stopped.

    Poroshenko has been one of the oligarchs to support the Ukrainian nationalist/Western parties for some time. His appearance at the rally is a hopeful sign as it indicates he does not fear association with it, but until one of the PoR oligarchs defects, it won’t mean a change in the balance of power.

    It seems to me there is really only one viable solution, and that is for the opposition leaders to make some sort of agreement with a “European Caucus” faction in the Party of Regions who will agree to join in the protests in exchange for concessions. The deal would probably include the sacking of Azarov in exchange for an agreed upon candidate to become the new PM and perhaps immediate parliamentary elections. The oligarchs would regain control of the PoR from the Yanukovych “Family”. The PoR would continue to be opponents of the nationalist parties, but there would be broader consensus on certain issues.

    Comment by Chris — December 12, 2013 @ 11:48 am

  2. Never underestimate Yanukovich’s ability to do the stupid thing. I have come across this report more than once today; admitedly, it is completely un-verified. Possibly just an attempt to rally the protetors’ steel.

    Comment by Gordon — December 12, 2013 @ 5:19 pm

  3. @Chris. Exactly right. There can be a jump from one equilibrium to another: all support, or all defect. As I said in an earlier comment, they now have their fingers in the wind. As you note, once the defections start it becomes a cascade. The opposition should try to figure a way to get the cascade started. In that respect, Yanukovich has an advantage. He has more levers to pull. Maybe there’s a way that the Euroweenies can be induced to sway the oligarchs. They are what German military theorists referred to as the schwerpunkt: the center of gravity/decisive point.

    I was discussing the issue of the loyalty of troops with a friend. I know that a risk for the government is that locally-stationed forces are often reluctant to carry out repressive actions against the population in the region where they are based. Not uncommon for authoritarians to respond to this by bringing in security forces from different parts of the country. If Yanukovich has to do that, it will be really telling.

    These things are hard to predict precisely because there are multiple equilibria. Network externalities. Coordination effects.

    I think that sooner or later Ukraine will split. Eastern Ukraine will either be a sort of rump state like Moldova, or be incorporated into Russia outright. Western Ukraine will become independent. The current entity called “Ukraine” is in large part the creation of the Soviets, and does not reflect economic, cultural, or social realities. That’s the main reason that I don’t believe the current configuration is sustainable.

    The big wild card: the Crimea.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 12, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

  4. Here is what Andrey Illarionov thinks (with some data references):

    The period of world-view and political divisions of Ukraine into differently oriented West and Center against the East and South, which excites the imagination Russian imperialists so much, is gradually but permanently disappearing. The foreign policy of “pulling over” Ukraine away from the European Union onto the side of Russia and the Customs Union, which Vladimir Putin turned out to be so passionate about, is historically doomed. The choice of European integration for their country has already been made by a majority of Ukrainians. Every year there will be more . This can no longer be changed, not even through the efforts of the new Russian media monster. The methods used by the Russian authorities to counter Ukraine’s European choice will only accelerate ideological consolidation of the Ukrainian nation on the platform of a voluntary democratic integration with Europe and away from the imposed forced integration with Eurasia under the authoritarian Russian regime. [Google translate with slight corrections]

    Comment by Ivan — December 14, 2013 @ 6:54 pm

  5. SWP, Anders Aslund has a different take on the oligarchs than you do.

    And I think he is right.

    “The surviving tycoons now see Mr Yanukovych as the greatest threat to their survival, which has made most of them supporters of the European Association Agreement that the president shelved last month.”

    Yanuchesceau has tried to consolidate all power – and wealth – in himself and what is knows as “the family.”

    That means that he has isolated himself.

    No question that the oligarchs in Ukraine are quick to jump ship to someone else’s ship, for whatever short term interests suit them at any particular time.

    But I think you are underestimating – the people – who are now in their 25th day of protests.

    This is not a personality-driven protest, as in the past. It is an idea driven protest, and the protesters are very, very happily determined to strive for freedom and a true democracy. and other live streaming, has grown astronomically.

    The comments in Ukrainian Pravda have grown astronomically.

    If you follow news releases in Ukraine, from one minute to the next, almost from one second to the next, Yanuchesceau is issuing directly contradictory press releases, and so are his minions – they don’t know what to do.

    There are rent-a-protestor crowds that have been bused in for pro-government rallies – but they peter out very quickly, and the people who attend those are jobless and will do almost anything for a few dollars.

    The protesters include all segments of society, including Afghan vets:

    Senators Chris Murphy and John McCain bypassed the “government” and went directly to EuroMaidan to address the crowds, and to specially recognize the Afghan vets:

    The sovok mafia is trying to figure out what trickery to use, including using paid provocateurs impersonating protestor to incite violence in order to provide and excuse to declare martial law.

    But Ukrainians have been subjected to sovok mafia trickery for so long, they are prepared for it.

    Berkut, the “Golden Eagle” special forces, number only 3,000.

    That is what Yanuchesceau has been surrounding himself with.

    But that only goes so far.

    Tons of pictures and videos here:

    The protesters are wearing orange helmets – for self-protection

    Comment by elmer — December 15, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

  6. The Professor wrote: “The current entity called “Ukraine” is in large part the creation of the Soviets, and does not reflect economic, cultural, or social realities.”

    This is a ridiculous statement. The ‘professor’ should read Ukrainian-sourced history (start with the Ukrainian Encyclopedia) about Ukraine before making such absurd conclusions. Distinct Ukrainian culture existed long before Moscow and its unique culture came into being. Ukraine existed long before Russia was born. Many Russians think that the name “Rus” as a component of “Kievan Rus” was the capitol of Mideaval Russia around 1000 A.D., which is why the proper name “Russia” derived from. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s only a semantic similarity.

    Comment by ral — December 15, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  7. I’m seeing reports that big name oligarchs have issued statements in support of Euromaidan, either explicitly or in code. Viktor Pinchuk supposedly showed up at a rally, and Rinat Akhmetov issued a coded statement. Kyiv Post also reports opposition winning some by-elections. The next vote of no-confidence motion is supposed to happen on December 17 when parliament reconvenes. There was earlier talk of the Communists organizing a no-confidence motion on Azarov for reasons outside of the EU deal. If that happens and if some PoR members defect, we could have a new government which would allow a peaceful end to the demonstrations. I think the oligarchs now know the Euromaidan will continue indefinitely unless they get real concessions so they won’t wait for it to fizzle out. I think everyone wants to wrap this up and get back to normal.

    Ukraine certainly has tensions, but I’m not sure it will split. If Ukraine looked likely to rejoin Russia, we’d see the extreme Western part – or perhaps more – secede. But that won’t happen. 20+ years of independence has incubated too much nationalist sentiment across the whole country. Even the Russian young in the PoR prefer an association with EU than Russia although their ethnic sympathies are of course with their cousins in Russia. Also, the oligarchs don’t want it. If a pro-Western government overplays its hand, then the Donbas and Crimea might split. Again, I don’t see it. EU membership is probably 10-20 years away at best, and that is a long time for the eastern and southern regions to get used to it. NATO membership bid might do it, but I don’t think the opposition – except perhaps the extreme nationalists – would risk pushing that unless the international situation greatly changes.

    Crimea might be the only part of Ukraine to secede because it wasn’t always part of Ukraine, and there might be more legal wriggleroom to justify a peaceful secession. Crimea would take with it the key Sevastopol naval port. The other southern and eastern oblasts would create a too chaotic situation. Opposition support is slowly increasing along the Dnieper which would split the heavily pro-Russian into three areas. If the opposition takes the 2015 election and orients the state clearly to the West, then Putin might attempt to cause problem in Crimea, but I don’t think he’d expand it to the Donbas. Supporting industry there would cost too much.

    Huntington was right about Ukraine, as he was on so many things. But after twenty years, there is a lot more sense of Ukrainian nationalism and pro-Western sentiment (in the sense of rule of law and honest elections) than when Huntington wrote in the mid 1990s.

    Still, the situation is very up in the air. Should the Euromaidan collapse or fail spectacularly, all bets are off. I remain cautiously optimistic.

    Comment by Chris — December 15, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

  8. Yanukovich… typical sovok, even in crisis. Never tell the truth when a lie will do.

    This from the EuroMaidan live updates at the Kyiv Post:

    Anti-Maidan protesters claim they were cheated out of money by protest organizers

    Dec. 15, 9:07 p.m. The people who were bused in from the regions to a pro-government demonstration, dubbed anti-Maidan, were cheated out of the promised honorarium, writes On the night of Dec. 14 there were about 50 or 60 buses parked by the exhibition center where they were lodged. People were promised Hr 150 per diem for Saturday and Sunday, and an additional Hr 25 for every hour of the meeting, participants told Gazeta’s correspondent. This was supposed to come up to Hr 800 altogether, according to their calculations.

    But after today’s rally, which lasted from 10 a.m. till 4 p.m., they were handed out Hr 300 each and told to go home early.

    “We’re now being sent home. As far as I understand, we are being replaced by other people who were also promised Hr 800. But they will be cheated the same as us. We can no longer find the man in charge who promised us money,” says Mykhailo from Petropavlivsk. The newspaper did not give his last name. A representative of the Party of Regions denied allegations, though. “People came to express their will. We paid them Hr 300 per diem. I did not promise any money to them, I am here with my voters,” said Artur Martovytskiy, a lawmaker from the Party of Regions.

    @ral – Right On Brother!

    Comment by Gordon — December 15, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

  9. @Chris. Pinchuk might be in some financial difficulties. His main firm, Interpipe, is about to default on debt to Russian banks. The Russians might have him by the short ones.

    The dog that hasn’t barked is the most interesting on: Firtash.

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — December 15, 2013 @ 6:46 pm

  10. the Donbas region of Ukraine, and 2 of its cities, Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk, towards the eastern side of Ukraine, is the stronghold of the Bolshevik Party of Regions – Yanuchesceu’s party.

    There have been protests in this 2 cities, with, predictably, attacks by “athletic types” and/or militia.

    This news report, from Dec 15 2013, reveals 3,000 protestors came out to demand the resignation of Yanuchesceu, and to support EuroMaidan in the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv.

    They also demanded an end to the practice of gathering “anti-Maidan” protestors for money.

    а також відмовитись від практики збирання «антимайданів» за гроші.

    The Party of Regions has refused to comment on the practice of “rent-a-crowd-for-anti-Maidan-protests,” according to the article.

    Comment by elmer — December 16, 2013 @ 9:18 am


    The EuroMaidan dispelled a favorite myth from the past that keeps being promulgated by Russia and its appointees in Ukraine, promoted by Russia’s paid spin-masters, and accepted by foreign media and analysts, who neither know nor understand Ukraine’s history. The persistent spin that there is a fundamental divide in Ukraine has been used to portray the country as weak and fractured. This view is often simplistically portrayed by analysts who draw lines, circles, and squares on a map, dividing regions of Ukraine in an attempt to describe differences based on language, religion, and ethnicity that supposedly cannot be overcome.


    The differences in Ukraine are not based on language, ethnicity or geography, but between this government and its own people.

    The fundamental difference in Ukraine is a worldview. The Ukrainian people understand this well. The people on the Maidan and the millions they represent, reject being shackled to a totalitarian Russian version of a glorious past, and to a government seeped in corruption with total disregard for the rule of law, human rights, and the national security of its own nation. They do not want to be robbed of their future.

    Comment by elmer — December 16, 2013 @ 9:31 am


    Several city council members have also voiced their concerns about the repeated use of intimidation tactics against Euromaidan supporters by rent-a-thugs. On the evening of Nov. 25, 50 men in sports clothes attacked 12 Euromaidan protestors who were planning to stay the night in European Square.

    “I tried to warn the police,” said Victor Mikhailovich Romanenko, deputy of the Krasnogvardeyska City Council and an organiser of Dnipropetrovsk’s Euromaidan protests:

    “We recognised these ‘sportsmen’. We had seen them assault people before [on May 8]. The police told us that everything was alright and that they would do everything they could to prevent the ‘sportsmen’ from assaulting us. But ten minutes before the attack, all the policemen left the square. At 10 p.m. they attacked. Everything was broken — cameras, laptops, everything. Then I was knocked unconscious.”

    Five people, including Romanenko, were hospitalized. The Dnipropetrovsk Municipal Guard declined to comment.

    But despite the intimidation tactics, Dnipropetrovsk’s protests look set to continue. Further EuroMaidan demonstrations in Dnipropetrovsk are scheduled for every day this week in European Square, starting at 4 pm. The weather forecast predicts temperatures as low as -14 degrees celsius.

    Comment by elmer — December 16, 2013 @ 9:40 am

  13. More on the oligarchs and EuroMaidan in Ukraine

    So, in the next few days the fate of the country will be decided by a handful of the richest oligarchs, the Akhmetovs, Pinchuks, Kolomoyskys and Firtashes, and the several dozen Party of Regions parliamentary deputies they control.

    For these mega-rich oligarchs money is never enough. Reputation and status abroad, rubbing shoulders with the world’s richest people is most important. Pressure by the USA and the EU on them – the possibility of losing access to these countries really hits them hard, hence their recent statements calling on peaceful conflict resolution in Ukraine.

    Yanukovych is caught between a rock and a hard place. He cannot go meet Putin on Tuesday with his head held high whilst is Maidan in place…any major deal the pair make will not have much validity if the president Yanukovych’s chair is wobbling under him.

    But Maidan can only be removed by extreme force. When a heavy-handed previous unsuccessful attempt was made to do this three normally ‘fire-proof’ loyalists have been jettisoned and have had to pay the price, even though everyone knows orders came from the very top. Others, therefore, will be more reluctant to do the president’s dirty work in future as a result. And if Yanukovych does try to solve his problem using extreme force and declares martial law he knows the assets of major oligarchs, of which he is now one, located in western banks will be under significant threat. Similar warnings have been expressed by the USA.

    General strikes and further chaos would inevitably follow. There would be a risk to the integrity of the country itself.

    The oligarchs, and Party of Regions deputies have some big decisions to make. They are to attend an extraordinary party meeting Monday – there are credible rumours that over 100 are now willing to approve the sacking the cabinet of ministers..

    On Tuesday, one likely outcome of the Putin/Yanukovych meeting will be some kind of deal on gas…and Ukraine’s gas transport system transferred to a [Ukr/Russian/EU?] gas consortium.

    An [over?] optimistic prediction could follow this scenario: Several dozen PoR deputies could support a campaign to dump PM Azarov, and perhaps the Minister of the Interior. A cabinet of national salvation could be formed and perhaps even a parliamentary vote could achieve a constitutional 2/3 majority to curtail the president’s powers back to those of 2004 .

    Armed with these changes, the country could turn to the IMF for an emergency, much needed loan, and the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU could be wrapped up as quickly as possible.

    Yanukovych’s decision making has been dangerously haphazard these last few weeks. So maybe wiser heads in PoR will rein him in..we will see..

    p.s. The anti-maidan organised by PoR was a rather pitiful sight. But the few who agreed to speak to reporters did make valid points. It will be they, workers from factories in the eastern part of the country, who lose their jobs if the Kremlin continues its embargo on Ukrainian produce. Only Petro Poroshenko mentioned this on Maidan today. He considered the probable ‘hit’ to the Ukrainian economy by Russia’s embargo was exaggerated, and that Ukraine/Russian trade would inevitably pick up and return to previous levels.

    And only one speaker, firebrand journalist/activist Tetyana Chornovol, bothered to mention Yulia Tymoshenko…good for her. Without Tymoshenko there would have been no Yushchenko victory in 2004, and Ukraine could have looked completely different to what it looks like now..Chornovol herself is facing criminal charges and arrest. Like Tymoshenko, the brave Chornovol said she will not run and hide….

    p.p.s. Scott is absolutely correct – corruption is rotting Ukraine from within. If the country joins the Eurasian Customs Union and Yanukovych joins its club of dictators there is no hope of the situation improving. If Ukraine does choose a western vector, then at least there is a little hope, maybe just a little, that the corruption problem can be tackled. I guess this is what motivates the brave guys on Maidan. Its the last hope.

    Comment by elmer — December 16, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  14. more on the oligarchs

    Comment by elmer — December 16, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

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