Thursday, December 09, 2004

Why no crackdown

I have been meaning to post more on this subject but things have tended to get away from me during this revolution. You sit down wanting to post one thing then something comes up and you end up posting on that.

When people look back on this, especially those in the West who saw it mostly on TV, there may be a tendency to think it was all easy and that people risked nothing by coming out and protesting on Independence Square. (“A kind of revolution PARty!,” the young girl screamed, then giggled as she blew her party favor.) All they will be left with are the images from the TV set of people smiling and swaying to the music in what might have looked like a Slavic version of Woodstock, all peace, joy and love (“man!”) What will be lost in this is just how close this revolution came to spilling blood and possibly to spilling a lot of it.

I posted on what was reported about Putin’s intentions here. Why wasn’t Putin’s offer taken up? Maybe because Kuchma was not around to make a decision about it. Or maybe the troops were actually here but the go ahead was not given for whatever reason. There continue to be credible reports that Russian spetsnaz were here. (Here, here, here , here, and here.) And there were eyewitness reports of increased military activity along the Russian Ukrainian border I reported here. Both of these tie in with the Putin report.

And the Economist last week reported the following:

So far the government has let the protesters alone ­though there are credible reports that, on two occasions, plans were set in train to disperse the crowds. On the first, government officials reportedly scotched the initiative themselves. On the other, threatening troop movements near Kiev are said to have been curtailed after intervention from America at the very highest level.

I think there were others incidents but they may not have fit the Economist’s definition of credible. (Shouldn’t “credible” from a diplomatic perspective be different than “credible” from a journalistic perspective? To get to the point where evidence is incontrovertible may be too late for a country. It would be “hang on and I’ll let you talk to them yourself!” They’ll get it right for the morning edition and be satisfied they did but nothing good will have come of it.)

So why didn’t they strike? Who knows in the end why. I think things were crucial in the first day or two of the revolution. But that is when the US and the EU reacted. The US did not accept the vote and said that there would be consequences if the government went ahead. This was seconded by the EU. Not being able to get visas was mentioned as a punishment which did not impress many people here. But these guys have amassed fortunes and they did it not with the view of sunning themselves on the beaches of West Africa. They want to strut it in the usual places.

The one though that I think bit harder was the threat that the bank accounts of these guys would be seized. That would put the hurt on them and make it difficult for these guys to live and to function. It is reported that Kuchma has amassed a fortune from not only the sale of government assets but also from the sale of government jobs. This money is in some account somewhere probably offshore. (The havens du jour for moguls from this area of the world are Cyprus, the US, and Switzerland. Cyprus is an EU country. And Switzerland is more cooperative now than it once was.) And he has done all of this not because it doesn’t matter to him but because it does.

Both of these threats assured them that they would be treated like international outlaws. (And they would know who “them” is. And they would know that the US would know who “them” is. It would not be only the people in government but also the oligarchs behind the government.) Were they enough on their own? Probably not. But all they had to do was to keep these guys on their heels until other things began to happen. Indecision allowed other things to happen.

The second factor I think that was significant was that Yanukovych did not play his hand correctly if he wanted to take charge of the government under the circumstances as they developed. He could have and should have forced a swearing in on that Monday. Instead he did nothing and allowed Yuschenko to take a symbolic oath the next day that I think spoke directly to the Ukrainian people—at least the ones on the street, the significant ones in this revolution-- that made him in effect their president. But Yanukovych could have been sworn in on Monday and could have begun to consolidate power in his hands from that point. But he didn’t do it. Why? Some will say that it just shows he was acting entirely in good faith and that he wanted the presidency constitutionally. But I think his history and the fraud suggest otherwise.

What I really think happened was that he found himself in the big leagues no longer playing the role of local petty boss that he had played even as Prime Minister. I think he couldn’t play on this level. There was an article in the Kyiv Post where he was quoted as saying the international reaction stunned him and he wasn’t able to work for a few days because of it. I think that was right. He didn’t know what to do in the face of it. And he wasn’t a smart enough man to figure it out.

The third factor that was significant was that there was no storming of the gates by the Yuschenko people. On that Monday, I thought they would have to do something because the crowd couldn’t stay there for long. I thought they would need to take over the Administration building quickly to have a chance because the people would lose interest and go home in a few days. I was wrong on both counts. I think that the measured response of Yuschenko—Pora might call it “timid”—made it possible to start peeling off support from the police and the military. (Here and here.) There was no clash, no drawing of sides and that allowed the appeal to be made to the military and to the police: “We are Ukrainians. We are your friends.” That started happening from the first. By the time the government recovered and ordered a crackdown, there were probably doubts about whether the officer corps would carry it out. More indecision.

If blood had been shed, the sides would have been drawn starkly between the people and the police and military. Once emotions become engaged, the kind of traditional revolution would set in. Bleed the people, they come after the military. Bleed the military they go after the people. Blood for blood in one long round of it after another. This did not happen and it allowed for a leakage of support from both the police and the military that I think became a flood.

On a personal note, we did not allow the kids to go downtown at all except for once. We were concerned, and with reason, that the crackdown might happen at any time and happen too quickly to be able to get out of the way. The one time we did let them go was right after the first agreement to agree was reached between Kuchma, Yuschenko and Yanukovych. I thought that that agreement relieved tensions enough to make it safer, at least for the next day, to take them downtown to see the revolution. So we went.

Whatever it was that stood in the way of the crackdown, it was not inevitable that it happen. That it didn’t happen though we can all be thankful for.

UPDATE: Ron in the comments notes that Jane's is reporting spetsnaz in Ukraine. (At Maidan.)Part of what they claim supports the reports we have been hearing here.

Following recent JID revelations concerning Moscow's involvement in the election crisis in Ukraine, intelligence is emerging that confirms in detail the deployment of Russian Spetsnaz special forces (see JID 3 December 2004). Our Ukraine correspondent reports.

Up to 500 members of Russian Spetsnaz forces from the Vityaz special forces division in Bryansk are currently deployed at a Ukrainian Interior Ministry (MVS)
military base in Irpin, near Kiev. Two transports flew them into the Gostomel
aerodrome near Irpin between 1 and 3 am on 24 November, three days after the
hotly disputed second round of the presidential election on 21 November. A third
transport flew into the military aerodrome near Vasylkiv, Kiev on 24 November.

They report that there was no intention to use them in any crackdown but for protection of Kuchma and others; to remove sensitive documents from the building; and to secure a way out of Ukraine.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Credible is truly in the eye of the beholder...

On the Russian troops, we had - in addition to Yulka's article in the Pakistan Times, where she baldly stated that there were Russian troops here - this, from Rybachuk:

http://www.podrobnosti.ua/power/2004/11/26/161535.html

Then, this, from Delovaya Stolitsa (supporting Yushchenko):

http://www.dsnews.com.ua/index.php?action=article&r_id=17&article_id=17795

Hmmm...those numbers, the location and the scenario all look rather similar, don't they?

Now, if it turns out that someone can prove that Russian spetnaz were here, I'll be among the first to condemn that action (of bringing the troops in, not of proving that they were here!) Similarly, I would expect to see potential members of the next Cabinet of Ministers strongly censured for voicing hysterical and DANGEROUS rumours, if it turns out to have been untrue and merely a act of political expediency.

You wrote: "But understanding what the consequences of this involvement of Russian troops might be, it would be much better to protest and let the Russians prove that it hasn't happened, than to sit around until the proof becomes incontrovertible. This would help maintain the sovereignty of a nation. Waiting might be too late."

How would you propose that Russia prove that troops were NOT here? Send a list of every Russian serviceman and his exact whereabouts on the days in question?

And what if, in an atmosphere on a knife's edge and made worse by allegations of Russian armed intervention, some Ukrainian patriot had taken into his hands to "deal" with a Russian or two? Who would be responsible?

By the way, an AN-26 can carry up to 40 troops. An IL-76 -- 125-140 (the latter number for paratroops.) That leaves a rather large number to get to 800. Why is there no concrete data on the other alleged flights?

The Boryspil story is also suspect, especially when one considers the original story, that 1000 (!) troops arrived on TWO planes. Find me an aircraft that can carry 500 troopers (even unarmed) and I'll take the story as read.

How is it that - with troops moving all over the shop, as well as tanks - that nobody thought to take a picture of them?

Scott W. Clark said...

Oh, you are right. There is no absolute proof of any of this. But the question is what kind of proof could there possibly be in the end that would satisfy someone who would doubt it could happen in the first place? You mention pictures, but what kind of pictures would constitute the evidence you say you need? Pictures of troops with Russian insignia? Wouldn't you have to get close to get that kind of picture especially if they are uniformed virtually the same?

Or what about troops loitering around buses the buses having Russian license plates? Circumstantial it is true but enough to start asking questions about. A local station had this video.

And why would it be more dangerous to act on evidence you have even though less than incontrovertible and demand something of the Russians than simply ignoring it especially given the seriousness of it? Don't rile the Russians? If we ignore them maybe they won't in fact be there? Of course it is impossible to prove the negative but I would put the burden on them in this case anyway to give some sort of satisfaction on it. When asked the comment was "we can neither confirm nor deny" it. Of course they later denied this and that may end up being the truth but that was not a good start.

Why would alleging Russian spetsnaz troops in Ukraine be considered in their interest to do? Part of the plan by Yuschenko to sever any ties with Russia and cast his lot with the West? A secret plan to undermine Russian interests in Ukraine? That sounds like the Russian position. All that is needed is a bit of talk about the CIA being behind the whole thing and there it is.

Anonymous said...

Scott, I am really happy you blogged on this topic. Somehow, the signs stating "Don't Shoot" which were put up by the opposition and the real fear of 'crackdown' that the deomstrators had was not reported. This makes the actions of the demonstrators all the more admirable and courageous, that in spite of their fears, they continued to demonstrate. Why no crackdown? I think it was also due to its being on the worldwide media(tv/press), which was a real shocker. Because there have been numerous demonstrations in Ukraine, in the past, with huge numbers, which have never received any world press attention at all.

Anonymous said...

Why no crackdown? I think it was partially due to the total surprise on the part of Kuchma and Putin. They had to play 'catch up' and by that time, it involved the lives of too many people, as well as too much attention.
I think it was mostly due to worldwide attention, technology and the actions of the Ukrainian people. Press attention was overwhelming and far beyond a normal 'life cycle' for a news story esp. about a country and people no one had ever heard of before.
I do think that technology: digital photography, blogging, Internet, telephones made a difference. Both for spreading the news and the content of what was being disseminate. Reading first hand accounts and seeing phtographs (blogs), changed how they understood the situaiton and made it real for people. Having access to Ukrainian newsfeeds, newspapers, radio, tv, ... made it possible to obtain 'more direct' information. The power of the Internet even resulted in the Chinese govt blocking people's access to English news stories from Google within China.
The determination, wisdom, organization and courage of the Ukrainian people were instrumental in preventing the 'crackdown'. From the beginning protesters were determined to see the process through to its conclusion. The tents were pitched immediately. Countermoves were astutely planned. For ex. how to 'deal' with the riot police - placing of flowers, having young girls speak to them, ... Welcoming the Yanukovych supporters who arrived in Kyiv with information and food was such a success that it created converts. The eyes and ears of such org. as PORA and Maidan were extended. People could call in with reports on 'hot phones' as well as write letters to them. The 'reporters' were very brave individuals who refused to be apathetic. Courage was also exemplified in vehicles being surrounded by individuals in order to prevent their movement. Officials and militia 'switched' sides and pledged their support of the protesters.
The people of the entire country were engaged in the events. Whether pro or con, 48 million people were involved. And it is hard, to 'crackdown' on 48 million people.
My concern is for any future attempts on the part of people to affect change, in that part of the world.

Ron said...

JANE'S INTELLIGENCE DIGEST: Spetsnaz deploy in UkraineChecking - the article is on Jane's website - and a copy is available on Maidan HERE.

Jane's has a good reputation to protect, and I doubt they would push that just for headlines.

What is more important than the numerous reports, pictures and private statements are the facts concerning Putin's mafia that also has a reputation, a track record and now well-known agenda.

It is without doubt that Putin had big plans, contributed massively, and did not want to lose – but lose, he did. Now he has one last chance to redeem himself – somewhat.

Will Putin take his lumps for trying to help them help his expansionist plans, or help the criminals escape? Will he step back and let justice be done, or bail them out at the last moment when defeat is certain, and continue to undermine justice in Ukraine?

I’ll wager it is the later – because Putin has proven one thing. He is not very smart.

Ron said...

This system SAYS it has posted - but posts are being lost, after much effort made to create them. Blech! Blogger is a crappy mess!

Anonymous said...

>Oh, you are right. There is no absolute proof of any >of this. But the question is what kind of proof could >there possibly be in the end that would satisfy >someone who would doubt it could happen in the first >place?

First off, I don't believe that I wrote anywhere that I don't believe that it COULD happen.

>You mention pictures, but what kind of pictures would >constitute the evidence you say you need? Pictures of >troops with Russian insignia?

Why not? Rybachuk claims that they had already changed into Russian uniforms - meaning they must have been wearing some kind of insignia.

>Wouldn't you have to get close to get that kind of >picture especially if they are uniformed virtually the >same?

Not as close as you would have to be to hear them speaking with "non-Ukrainian Russian accents," as has also been claimed.

>Or what about troops loitering around buses the buses >having Russian license plates? Circumstantial it is >true but enough to start asking questions about. A >local station had this video.

Haven't seen it, so I'l have to take your word for it.

>And why would it be more dangerous to act on evidence >you have even though less than incontrovertible and >demand something of the Russians than simply ignoring >it especially given the seriousness of it?

Here's a "what if": Ukrainian nationalists, hearing that Russian troops have landed, decide to take revenge upon local ethnic Russians and kill 10.

>Don't rile the Russians? If we ignore them maybe they >won't in fact be there? Of course it is impossible to >prove the negative but I would put the burden on them >in this case anyway to give some sort of satisfaction >on it. When asked the comment was "we can neither >confirm nor deny" it. Of course they later denied this >and that may end up being the truth but that was not a >good start.

Their Interior, Defence and Foreign Ministers all denied it. The latter made a bit of a joke out of it, reminded us that it was only a month ago that Russian spetsnaz was alleged to have removed Saddam's WMDs.

>Why would alleging Russian spetsnaz troops in Ukraine >be considered in their interest to do?

Hey, you've got to have an enemy if you're running a revolution. Why was it in the interests of Yulka to make the comment about Yanukovich supporters hanging from their blue and white scarves? Gotta keep the crowd engaged and frightened about the external enemy. And just why is it that the man himself, Yushchenko, has not made the claim? It's been Zinchenko, Yulka and Rybachuk.

>Part of the plan by Yuschenko to sever any ties with >Russia and cast his lot with the West? A secret plan >to undermine Russian interests in Ukraine? That sounds >like the Russian position. All that is needed is a bit >of talk about the CIA being behind the whole thing and >there it is.

It also sounds like nothing I've said and a strawman.

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