February: A Hot Month in Ukraine
By Walter Derzko
This upcoming week will likely be filled with historic, game-changing decisions and events that will decide the ongoing fate of Ukraine. The situation on the ground in Kyiv is changing not just daily but hourly. Several scenarios are being tossed around in the Ukrainian media and on the internet that may lead to an inevitable escalation of violence. These include: 1) the imposition of emergency measures or martial law in Ukraine, 2) overt and covert support of a Maidan crackdown by the Kremlin, 3) the possible invasion of Ukraine by foreign Russian troops, 4) the health of President Yanukovych and 5) the Sochi Olympics factor. Let’s explore each driving force and the impacts of each.
Emergency Measures “on Hold” but still on the table
Over the past two weeks, opposition leaders were alerting the nation that Viktor Yanukovych was ready to sign an emergency measures bill to clear Maidan of protesters using “force”. The situation was diffused after the Verhovna Rada voted to cancel the draconian January 16th anti-protest laws and a controversial amnesty law that been called a hostage bill. But clearly, the martial law option is still on the table. Consider these signals: The government is allowing itself to enact a “state of emergency” without consulting parliament. The Interior Ministry has ordered more lethal weapons from Russia including flame throwers and grenades. Last week, 7 Russian military cargo planes landed in Kyiv, but border and customs guards were not allowed to inspect the contents. It wasn’t reported if it carried troops, weapons or both. The parliament passed a bill increasing the size of Berkut riot police from 5,000 to 30,000. Most people speculate that the extra 25,000 will come from Russia. The Defense Minister, Pavlo Levedev, who is a Russian citizen and never swore an oath of allegiance to Ukraine in 1992, last week called for a crackdown on Maidan and demonstrators across Ukraine.
MP Lesya Orobets writes that martial law, for all practical purposes, is already in place: “Yanukovich’s strategic goal is unchanged -- the brutal and complete repression of protests all over the country. Last week again, dozens of activists were convicted to detention; almost one hundred people have gone missing; police and interior forces keep kidnapping random pedestrians on the streets, burning cars from Avtomaidan, raiding hospitals; hired armed thugs traumatize citizens. “Berkut” are roaming in buses without license plates. A curfew and limitation of free movement are already in place in the centre of Kyiv for the last 1.5 months. Individual terror, intimidation, and arson are widely used tactics – especially in Eastern Ukraine – and is on the rise on the very day that dictatorship laws were repealed.”
Russia is re-supplying the Interior Ministry troop and Berkut with weapons. Most opposition politicians and analysts are expecting further bloodshed in the days and weeks ahead before the situation normalizes or improves.
Former Putin advisor and Russian member of the “Committee for Solidarity with Maidan, Andrij Illarionov shocked the nation when he exposed on Hromadske TV that the Kremlin is considering 4 scenarios for Ukraine:
- full control over the whole of Ukraine through a person who will
the confidence of the whole country. (maybe Kluyev and Medvedchuk) However, this option is no longer probable,” - said Illarionov .
“The second option, is the eventual confederation or federalization of Ukraine (or shifting power to the regions.) The aim is to establish control over the eastern and southern parts of Ukraine.”
“The third option - if you can not establish control over the entire South- East, then set out to control the most important areas: Odesa, Mykolaiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Kharkiv or Crimea”. “The fourth option – Just Crimea or Sevastopil.“
Previously, such plans were expressed in private circles, by academics, but now it is being openly discussed in prime time on state channels. Most importantly, the historic opportunity window to “reunite Ukraine with Russia “may be closed in a few weeks, so you can’t set aside the question“, suggests Illarionov.
The situation is very similar to what we saw in the summer of 2008, when Russia decided to separate Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia at the start of the Beijing Olympics.
However an invasion would require staging and movements of battle-ready troops, which we have not witnessed yet and most of those are preoccupied with Sochi for now. Historically Russian invasions were preceded by false flags or events staged by Russia to justify a military incursion. So if in the next week or two, we see unexplained bombs or terrorist attacks on the gas transport system or in Crimea or the East and automatically blamed on nationalists or the opposition, you might conclude that Yanukowych would then invite Russian troops to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. But even this is unnecessary after the December 2013 agreement with Russia, where Ukraine will allow Russian troops onto Ukraine soil under the guise of security for the Sochi Olympics.
Should Yanukovych suddenly succumb to his alleged “strokes” , then Putin might see this as an opportunity to quickly fill the power vacuum.