Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The military to support a coup?

There is a rumor going around that the military is in or near Kiev to be in a position to support the government in a bid to hold power if the vote goes against Yanukovych. The rumor has it that the parades of two weeks ago, parades that were held two weeks earlier than they were originally planned to take advantage of a Putin visit to shore up Yanukovych support, were the cover to get them here.

This might have come from the opposition and even from Yuschenko himself, though I haven't confirmed this (and don't have the time to.) But there are problems with this, it seems to me.

The main problem is that the army is a conscript army; no one is there voluntarily. At a certain age, every male in the Ukraine must serve in the military. And there is a cottage industry here in parents trying to find the right person with enough influence to get their son the kind of position where he can serve out his time the easiest and, in some cases, the closest to home. Some people find that person and others do not-- or cannot afford the price.

The military is very underpaid and their living conditions are most often miserable. The food in any military is not going to be like momma makes and is always something to complain about. But the military food here is particularly bad. We went to a party at an R&D institute here in Kiev that had the military bring in a mess trailer to give people I think a feel for what the military ate. Sort of a "this is your military" like you might get in a US celebration. The food was awful from my perspective and my wife, who is Ukrainian, didn't like it much either. It was hog slop pure and simple though I think it would have made hogs finicky.

I don't know of any cases that have been reported here but the military in Russia has a real bad reputation. There is extensive and often brutal hazing that occurs. It is a way of maintaining discipline and order with a group of guys who do not want to be there in the first place. Suicides are a big issue there and so are AWOLs. And I think some of this has to be the case here because the same circumstances hold true here too.

So what you have is an army of soldiers who are there because they have to be, who are underpaid and ill-treated and have to be brutalized (or the threat of it maintained) to be kept in line. This is an army that is not going to be all that loyal to their command nor to the government that has put them there. But it is this army that the government is going to order to turn their guns on their fellow citizens and have any confidence they will do it? I just don't think that is likely to happen. There might be a unit of the military, like some sort of special forces unit, that has the loyalty and discipline to do this but it would most likely not be a large enough unit to control anything more than the government buildings. Would that be enough to hold power? I just don't think so.

Of course they might be able sto suppress some small scale protests or rebellion but they would have to be small scale. Anything large would require more military and that is the problem.

This is not to say they won't try it. They just might. There is nothing like the certainty men with power have that they can order something and it will be done. But I don't think it would have the effect they think it would.

And it would also alienate them from the West, not only from the US but from Europe also. The past few days have shown they are somewhat sensitive to criticism from the West. (There are now an equal number of advertisements on TV for Yanukovych and Yuschenko. This is new and is one of the criticisms from the West.) Notwithstanding what Yanukovych has said in the past, and in the debate last night he said he would move the country more toward the West but it had to be slow--Ukraine cannot ignore the West entirely. There is too much foreign direct investment at stake and too many markets for their goods--the big one now is steel--for them to risk ticking countries off in this way. To go it alone these days even with Russia would relegate Ukraine to third world status for a long time. Calling out the military would make the administration a pariah and leave them to wallow in the backwaters of the world economy.

They will though marshal their administrative forces to secure the election instead. This sort of thing can be done more in the dark.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

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Semper Fi!

Bill Adams

Anonymous said...

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