The man in the video below introduces himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Russian army … from BBC’s Kevin Harris. This is from Gorlovka.
According to Dmitry Tymchuk, a former Ukrainian military officer with unofficial ties to the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior and Ukrainian intelligence, many police in Donetsk and other cities where Russian “activists” are seizing buildings are taking a passive attitude or even cooperating with the pro-Russian groups. This is not the news Tymchuk would be happy reporting, and given that and the fact that NPR’s Ari Shapiro confirms it, it is probably true.
Any operation involving regular Ukrainian military units (and the Kiev government claims that they will begin an “anti-terrorist operation” at 6:00 am GMT [2:00 a.m. EST) if the pro-Russian groups do not lay down their arms) will face “human shields” of old ladies and children who are standing on and around the barricades, as well as probable urban street-fighting. This is not a good scenario and will make them look like murderers of civilians and oppressors of the local Russian population. Exactly the place Putin wants them.
Yet the Ukrainian leaders are in an impossible position. To accede to a Russian takeover of E. Ukraine or even federalization of the eastern provinces under Russian pressure is to accept semi-colonial status w/r/t Russia. I don’t see that they have any exit. Putin has already won. My guess is that Western leaders are at this very moment trying to get the Ukrainians to call off the “anti-terrorist operation” — if it is even in train . Then they’ll try harsher sanctions, which frankly I don’t think Putin gives a crap about. Russia has been through far worse than whatever economic pain the West can impose on her.
According to http://www.delo.ua, as of 5:30 pm local time (10:30 am EST), the city soviet building was under attack by a large group of armed activists, although they had not succeeded in storming the building.
Also in Kharkov a demonstration in favor of Ukrainian unity numbering 3000 according to police estimates was attacked by armed men, presumable Russian “activists” with clubs, etc., and about fifty participants were wounded, some critically. The men attacked as the demonstration dispersed, so that individual demonstrators on their way home and separated from the main body were more vulnerable to attack. Sheer cowardice.
As readers have probably seen in the Western media, the Ukrainian president has pledged a full-scale military operation against armed “activists” attacking public buildings in east Ukraine. I don’t know how he can avoid such an operation without accepting semi-colonial status for Ukraine vis a vis Russia, but this also could be exactly what the Putin government is waiting for to justify intervention.
Russian actions in Ukraine are indefensible at this point, regardless of the complex history behind this crisis. Polls suggest that a strong majority of the population in the East Ukrainian regions that Russian “activists” are targeting do not want Russian rule. Given the Crimean history, Ukrainian and NATO reports that Russian military, probably special forces, are involved in the protests in the east that have turned violent are not just plausible, but correct. From a realpolitik view a Russian seizure of east Ukraine is bad for everyone and highly destabilizing in the the region and world. From a legal standpoint, the Russian government has no ground to defend a takeover of the east. There is zero independent evidence that the Ukrainian government is “oppressing” Russians in the east, other than a (stupid) change in the official language law. This is in contrast to the situation in the Baltic states that have created a kind of “soft apartheid” (Matt Payne) relative to the Russian population. The Russian offensive in east Ukraine is accompanied by an internal crackdown by an authoritarian government. Putin’s claim to a right to “protect” Russians anywhere abroad is extraordinarily dangerous and indicates very major Russian ambitions in the “near abroad”. Moreover the claim smacks of the “extraterritoriality” that late imperial powers in the 19th century imposed on societies like China, in which citizens of said powers accused on crimes on the territory of the subordinate government had to be tried by the laws of the citizens’ home country. The Russian insistence on playing a role in the writing of the new Ukrainian constitution is a clear violation of sovereignty. Whether or not the United States had right to invade Iraq or intervene in LIbya, US actions had a stronger basis in international law than Russian claims to vis a vis Ukraine (I am not saying that US actions were ultimately grounded in international law or that US interventions are necessarily in support of democracy. This is clearly not so. But the fact that the US has acted stupidly or cynically or illegally in the international arena do not and cannot justify Russian actions here. I oppose destabilizing and illegal US actions in the international arena, just as I oppose Russian.
The better part of the responsibility for whatever happens next in east Ukraine, assuming that it is bad, and I think it will be, lies squarely on the Russian government.
Why are the Russians taking this huge risk, highly destabilizing to an already unstable “world order”, and highly destabilizing to the regions bordering on Russia?
(1) Putin et al view Maidan as an existential threat and therefore are willing to risk a lot to take down or cripple the new regime in Ukraine. This would serve as a warning against further “meddling” in the region by Western Powers.
(2) They want to take control of the former Soviet Republics, known to them as “the near abroad,” expanding Russia’s regional influence, securing markets for Russia, and creating a buffer zone around her.
(3) Thanks to Matt Payne on this one — they aim to split the Atlantic alliance, hoping the Europeans will resist decisive US action. A very serious and dangerous game.
Militarily, would NATO do anything about Russian invasion of E. Ukraine? It is doubtful they could or would challenge Russian air superiority in the area. They might reinforce Polish, Baltic militaries and/or put a small tripwire force in West Ukraine, daring the Russians to attack it.
We are talking about a very dangerous game of “chicken”.
The online Kievan newspaper “Delo” is calling this “The First Day of the Russian Intevention in East Ukraine.” The paper reports from E. Ukraine –
(1) In Slaviansk a small number of men the Ukrainians identify as Russian special forces storm a police station with gunfire. They call themselves “narodnoe opolchenie” … a loaded term meaning “people’s militia”, used in WWII. Russians are presenting this as an existential crisis on the order of the “Great Patriotic War” by labeling the Ukrainians as fascist oppressors of the Russians in the east.
(2) In Donetsk at 6 a.m. a group of about 40 Russian “activists” in masks seized the prosecutor’s office. They abandoned it at 7:30. Later in the morning about one thousand people protested before the HQ of the Donetsk Region Ministry of the Interior (which controls the police) and eventually a smaller group seized it. They have not left. The head of the regional Min Interior resigned. The “activists” demand the return of the man who was previous chief.
(3)In Kramatagorsk a group of “activists” seized the regional (raion) police HQ after a firefight. Police fled the station after expending all of their ammunition. About one thousand pro-Russian demonstrators are surrounding the building and have proclaimed the “Donetsk People’s Republic.” They claim they will issue an “ultimatum” to loyal Ukrainian city government and demand a reply by Monday. The armed activists are also calling themselves the “people’s militia”.
(4) An attack on the Donetsk Chemical Factory was beaten off by police.
(5) Krasnyi Liman – about 20 armed activists attempted to seize a police station but were arrested after local residents came to the aid of the police. Russian AK-100 automatic rifles were confiscated from the attackers.
(6) In Artemovsk a group of activists calling themselves “people’s militia of the Donetsk Republic” entered a police station but left after “negotiations.” They proceeded to the central square where they raised the flag of the “Donetsk Republic” and declared independence.
(7) In Gorlovka police blocked an attempt by activists to seize the central police offices.
The number of demonstrators and activists involved is small, suggesting that this is not a mass movement, but something organized by small local groups, almost certainly coordinated with and involving Russian military intelligence. The Russians are, as Karl Rove said about his own neo-con movement, “creating their own reality”, setting the scene for intervention.
More bad news from BBC. The really ominous quote here is from Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov — Mr Lavrov said Ukraine was “demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country”. (from BBC). This is what the Russians call “ocherednaia provokatsiia”. Very simply, create disorder, then claim the area is ungovernable. This is naked agresssion in an area whose population does not want Russian rule. The West had better respond with real, devastating economic sanctions, and to hell with weasely British and German investors in Russia.
The Ukrainian newspaper “Delo,” at http://www.delo.ua, reports that Russian “activists” detained by Ukrainian police in Slaviansk are Russian military. “Delo” claims “The Russian intervention in Ukraine has beg
Ukrainian police reportedly fire on Russian “activists” in East Ukraine. Activists taking over government buildings in more towns. This against the background of a poll showing that two thirds of residents of Donetsk region do *not* want Russian rule. So, a Russian takeover of East Ukraine would not even have the flimsy legitimacy that it did in Crimea — where a majority of the population almost certainly *did* want Russian rule.