Despite Viktor Yushchenko's announcement from the stage on Maidan Nezelezhnosti that Russian troops had indeed been in Kyiv, confusion remains over the size and even the very existence of RF Spetsnaz in the area.
No less an authority than Janes Intelligence Digest confirmed Yushchenko's words, but sources in Kyiv's diplomatic community and others with ties to Ukrainian government ministries still insist that RF troops never entered the country. However, the case can be put forward that not only were RF Spetsnaz here, they played a role in the success of the Orange Revolution.
Rumors of the Special Forces entry into Ukraine came as early as Tuesday, November 23. Yuliya Timoshenko reported that she met troops who she declared as being Russian while she was at the Presidential Administration buildings. The troops insisted that they were from Crimea. However, news sources at the time stated independently that RF Special Forces had been trucked in overnight.
Reports within Kyiv grew even more confusing as the week passed. Oleksandr Zinchenko, working from information that 17 flights with soldiers from Russia had landed at Boryspil' Airport, announced on November 24that almost 1,000 of the RF's Vityaz Special Forces were in Kyiv, with half of them based in the presidential administration buildings already. Rumors of 'tall, physically fit men asking for directions to well-known places' abounded.
What is certain is that two Antonov An-26 aircraft and an Ilyushin Il-76landed in Kyiv area airports on November 23 and 24th. The Antonovs, one of which UNIAN reports as having the tail code RA-26410, carried30 troops each. These aircraft were to be serviced by a detachment atBoryspil's military airport. The second in command at the airport, Lt.Colonel Lyashenko, refused to deal with the Russian craft and resignedinstead. Though Security Bureau of Ukraine (SBU) chief Ihor Smeshko denied the landing, he did confirm that Lyashenko had indeed resigned on the 24th.
The Il-76, which can carry 140 troops, is said to have landed at Hostomel airport in Irpin and the troops were stationed at Vasylkyiv. However, the Ilyushin is said to have been a Ukrainian aircraft and the troops disembarked wearing Ukrainian uniforms. Later reports claimed that thetroops were 'back in Russian uniform' but left only an hour before investigators arrived.
At this point only 60 Vityaz can be considered as having been in Ukraine, despite Jane's claim of 'up to 500'. It is known now that Crimean militsia in the Kyiv region were actually issued ammunition on November 28, so the troops that Tymoshenko met could have been Ukrainians. The Il-76 may have had Ukrainian troops as well. But later reports claiming that the two Antonovs came from Russia with money for Yanukovych's counter-protestors flies in the face of Lyashenko's resignation.
Russian Federation President Wolodymyr Putin may have well acted on a request (however illegal) from President Leonid Kuchma for troops to act as a praetorian guard. That another part of the detachment was to retrieve records, as Jane's reported, also makes sense. Since Ukrainian military units were starting to pledge themselves to the Ukrainian people, Kuchma could have hardly had much trust in his own soldiers. And that is why the presence of foreign troops on Ukrainian soil, however unwelcome, may have staved off bloodshed. With Kuchma's personal safety ensured by the Russians, he could resist calls for the use of force to restore the administration's idea of order.
In his interview with the Financial Times on December 14, then-deputy head of the Presidential Administration Vasyl Basiv stated that President Kuchma was consistently against the use of force." Presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych and Presidential Administration head Viktor Medvedchuk are said to have pressured Kuchma into doing so. It is still unclear who ordered the militsia troop movement on November 28 which sources in Kyiv claim was stopped by the SBU and backed up hours later by American diplomatic efforts. However, Obozrevatel reports that an official review of the incident was started on December 7.
There is one other factor, largely undocumented, which should be brought to light. Though consideration of Russian reactions is rarely far from mind in Kyiv, the Orange Revolution got underway to resolve internal problems, with Russian interference as a factor rather than the whole problem. However, bythe 24th the
mood in Kyiv had sharpened as concerns about the foreign incursion gathered
steam. As one normally peaceful scholar put it, "I'll talk to the Ukrainian militsia for hours until they give up, but don't getb etween my hand and a Vityaz throat."
Considering the masterful crowd control the revolution's organizers showed, playing down the Russian military intrusion may have been seen as keeping order, and not for fear of the people losing heart. By facing the unthinkable - that yet again, Russian troops had been brought into Ukraineto impose order - the protesters on Maidan steeled themselves to press on regardless and determine their own fate.
Wednesday, December 22, 2004
An analysis of the spetsnaz question
This is an interesting analysis from the Action Ukraine Report (#269) by a writer living in Kiev: