28 July 2015
With the Maidan Revolution only seventeen months old, impatience with what many Ukrainians see as a lack of progress in reforming their country’s institutions has already manifested itself in protests and scathing media commentary. As is tradition in the ex-Soviet Union, most of the ire is directed at the country’s most visible politician, President Petro Poroshenko.
There is an enduring mentality in the former USSR that the head of state should wield despotic power and fix all their problems with a firm, ruthless and – if necessary – cruel hand. The paradox is obvious. A despot doesn’t care what ordinary citizens think. Through cruelty and tyranny, the despot can (and will) ignore popular wishes. By contrast, an aspiring democrat who inherits an undemocratic system will try to decentralize power and broaden participation in policy-making. But to succeed, he or she must not lose office, and such is the case with Mr. Poroshenko. He is the most prominent face of post-Maidan Ukraine, and with that honor comes culpability. Some believe that Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk are, at best, dragging their heels on reforms because they are incompetent or – at worst – no less corrupt than their predecessors.
The truth is difficult to ascertain from afar. As head of state, Poroshenko is commander-in-chief of the military, chairman of the National Security and Defense Council, and the country’s chief diplomat in relations with other countries. These are the primary roles traditionally expected of heads of state anywhere. Undeniably, he has presided over some reforms: Ukraine is rapidly building a new, modern military and has created a new national police force. But blame for the parlous state of Ukraine’s economy is generally laid squarely at his feet.
The cries for blood have grown louder. Poroshenko, they say, should personally see to the arrests and prosecution of those guilty of violence against protesters during the Maidan Revolution. He should root out corruption, overhaul the tax system and transform the economy by decree. Little or no attention is paid to the fact that these tasks are not the responsibility of the president under Ukraine’s constitutional system. Ordinary people see their incomes devalued by inflation or their employers go out of business in a national economic depression, and somehow it is all the fault of President Poroshenko and his government. He has not put the right people in positions of power. He hasn’t thrown all who worked in the previous regime in jail.
While it seems unthinkable that another Maidan-sized revolution could materialize, this is precisely what some are threatening – even in circumstances of war against a much larger neighbor. The years of pain required to transform the Ukrainian economy are too much for some critics, even though this is what it took for Poland to transform itself, and Ukraine was integrated with the Soviet system to a far greater degree than Poland was. Thus, the Russo-Soviet tradition of viewing anyone with money as per se evil is rearing its ugly head in Ukraine, egged on – of course – by Moscow. Worse, it is manifesting itself in language reminiscent of Bolshevism: hateful warnings of summary justice, threats of lethal violence.
Following is one such example from someone named Hennadiy Lyuk, who warns the president and head of government that they could meet the same fate as Russia’s Provisional Government, overthrown by Lenin in October 1917, and that they might even be killed by lynch mobs. Appropriately, it appeared in the widely-read online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda (‘Pravda’ being the name of the most widely circulated newspaper in the USSR). Following this is a ‘rebuttal’ (though published earlier) from another online publication, OstroV, which is reproduced here in English and dissects several of the allegations leveled against President Poroshenko personally, listing the Ukrainian head of state’s innumerable political enemies. Finally, a piece by the Russian-born political scientist Lilia Shevtsova of the Washington-based Brookings Institution offers sober commentary on what Ukraine needs. Her point is that, while the West should intensify efforts to save the new Ukrainian state, ultimately Ukrainians’ own endurance, determination and hard work will be the arbiter of their fate. Whatever else may be questionable among all the accusations, recriminations and rumors flying around in Ukraine, that point is undoubtedly true.
Hennadiy Lyuk ~ Ukrainska Pravda, 24 July 2015
1. The economy and the revolution cannot be deceived
After 2004, the third Ukrainian president tried to do what could not be done by anyone, anywhere, ever – to deceive the economy and the laws of social development.
For the third president demonstrated an inability to distinguish between the reasons and the causes of revolutions.
A revolution is an economic signal that the existing system of management is no longer capable of maintaining control of the social sphere.
A repeat revolution is a signal that the problems have reached the breaking point, and that incremental changes will not save the situation.
We don’t just need fundamental systemic changes, but very rapid ones.
Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk have been unable to understand that if at least one of these conditions is ignored – the next revolution cannot be avoided. They are ignoring both.
In October 1917, the Provisional Government of Russia had already committed a fatal mistake – and the third revolution quickly and dramatically destroyed both the regime and the entire elite.
Any social revolution is a product of the activities of the governing power, not revolutionaries or malevolent neighbors.
When a large part of the population is no longer able to make ends meet – a high popularity rating can be attained not only by a Lenin or a Hitler, but by a Lyashko. [Oleh Lyashko is a firebrand Ukrainian politician and leader of the Radical Party who is suspected by many of being a tool of the former chief of staff of the ousted Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. ~ Ed.]
When the people pay for the showing-off of the president and generals with hundreds of soldiers’ lives, the army becomes a revolutionary cauldron.
New tariffs under old ‘schemes’ are the most effective revolutionary agitation.
The incomes of the ‘family’ businesses of the new government – against the background of the catastrophic decline of the economy and standard of living – are the best fuel for the revolutionary flame.
Belief in the magical power of television images has already played a cruel joke on Yanukovych. Now, Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk are dancing on these rakes.
To prevent a new revolution, you have to influence the economy, not the electorate.
The economy doesn’t give a damn about the president’s theatrical-heroic posing in front of the TV camera, or the prime minister’s showy-reformist rhetoric.
The economy does not respond to the statements of Poroshenko that the criminal world is trembling before Yarema. [Vitaliy Yarema is the former General Prosecutor of Ukraine, appointed in June 2014, and replaced in early 2015. ~ Ed.]
It responds to the ridiculously small amount of stolen money that Yarema has returned to the economy.
Likewise, it doesn’t react to the ‘show arrests’ of a few prosecutors or officials.
It responds to the huge amount of money that the whole prosecutorial-judicial-police-security service system launders out of the economy through corrupt taxation.
The economy doesn’t care what name the president thinks up for areas controlled by legalized terrorists. For the economy, it is important that these areas do not become a ‘black hole,’ into which a lot of money is quickly and completely disappearing.
The economy will not notice Yatsenyuk’s tax changes as long as these changes do not stimulate domestic business to withdraw money from the shadows and invest it in the economy, creating new jobs.
Ask business acquaintances in the regions about incentives and prospects for development – and you will get a full picture of the prospects for getting out of the revolutionary situation.
Decumulation of international loans is not solving the problem, only exacerbating it.
The Ukrainian economy is in agony not because of war and not because of a lack of money.
It is being undermined by total corruption, total ‘schemes’ and total ‘offshores.’ They are leading to the collapse of the economy and the country – to revolution.
But the authorities have been consistently reticent to radically change anything. They are continuing with fragmented, selective action for attractive television images as a substitute for systemic changes.
Very demonstrative in this respect were the events in Transcarpathia. The shootings and deaths – which attracted universal attention – had still not occurred, and both Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk were completely arranging both the total corruption, and the total contraband smuggling.
A video of the aftermath of a fatal shoot-out in the Transcarpathian town of Mukachevo, between local police and fighters of the Right Sector paramilitary group. The dispute was allegedly over control of the cigarette smuggling trade.
When the dirt became impossible to hide – the decisive president appeared before the television cameras with decisive actions.
In other areas where the same dirt remains under the carpet – there have been no sudden movements by either the president or the prime minister…
To understand why, you need to answer two very simple questions:
- Where are the key business assets of Poroshenko registered? Where are the key business assets of the associates and ‘fellow travelers’ of the president and prime minister registered?
- How many personal business assets and assets of associates of Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk have been transferred to Ukraine from offshore over the past year?
The answer to these questions is the exact indicator of the reform potential of the president and prime minister.
The teams of the offshore president and offshore prime minister are categorically unwilling to support the Ukrainian economy out of their own pockets, in which the ‘minimized’ money is stored.
So it is no wonder that economic reforms boil down to fulfilling the terms of the IMF and the political donor-countries, as well as to increasing tariffs.
Why do neither Poroshenko nor Yatsenyuk have a clear, systemic business plan for reforming the Ukrainian economy?
Because they have no need for such a business plan: they will, all the same, do only that without which it would be impossible to get the next tranche of loans.
The offshore powers are little interested in the prospects of the non-offshore segment of Ukrainian business.
The offshores are not just a business scheme. They are a mentality.
During war in a poor country, billionaires and millionaires in positions of power do not hesitate to enrich themselves at the cost of ‘minimization,’ of benefits from the budget, of ‘schemes’ and smuggling.
But millionaire-prosecutors, judge-millionaires and general-millionaires continue to lead the ‘uncompromising struggle’ against corruption…
If Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk continue to further engage in an imitation of reforms – the economy will provide a third revolutionary signal.
And then, neither embroidery nor Nuland and Merkel will save the regime and the old elite. [The term ‘embroidery’ is a reference to traditional Ukrainian folk patterns on items of clothing and other material, a symbol of the Ukrainian nation. ~ Ed.]
In addition, attentive viewers will have noticed that in the first act of the play a large number of Kalashnikovs are hanging on the wall…
This means that not all the representatives of the regime may be as lucky as Yanukovych was to escape.
2. The war can all be written off. Even ‘to zero,’ says the regime
The authorities don’t just ascribe the deplorable results of their activities to the war.
Following the example of the Russian Provisional Government in 1917, as one of the main methods of countering the maturation of the revolution, the Ukrainian government has chosen to promote themes of patriotism and unity of government and people in the face of mortal danger.
The theme is very strong. It’s just that – as used by Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and their supporters – it frankly sounds fake.
When offshore ‘minimizers’ of payments to the Ukrainian budget swan around in vyshyvankas in front of the camera – it generates not so much respect as irritation.
The ‘president-patriot’ has managed to give not even a hint of the close relationship between the question of the rights of Russians in Ukraine, particularly in the Donbas, and the question of the rights of Ukrainians in Russia. That would put finding a way out of the conflict on an entirely different plane.
Poroshenko clutches every dollar of his property in his hands, feet and teeth.
But he immediately agreed to concede the interests of Ukraine unilaterally.
And in the end, it turned out to be a half-step from political Stalingrad. (See ‘The battle for “status.” Putin vs. Poroshenko,’ Ukrainska Pravda, 11/18/2014)
It doesn’t matter what contexts Poroshenko and the Rada are vesting in the transitional provisions of the Constitution.
Because in practice, it will be Putin who determines the ‘special status,’ under whatever name it masquerades. We already have a ‘mutual’ ceasefire…
The President’s son is hopefully hiding from progress in the Verkhovna Rada. But the president-dad gives orders to the sons of ordinary Ukrainians to ‘hold the line’ with automatic rifles and school buses against tanks and ‘Grad’ missiles…
Does anyone believe that the ill-fated Ilyushin-76 [airplane] would have been allowed to fly in those conditions if the president’s son were on board?
Does anyone believe that Ukrainian soldiers in Ilovaisk would have received neither timely assistance nor timely orders to retreat if the son of the president had been among them?
And where did the son of the ardent patriot [Presidential Chief of Staff Serhiy] Pashynsky decide to set himself up? In the defense of Mariupol or Piski? No, in ‘Ukroboronprom.’ [Ukroboronprom is the chief state enterprise of the Ukrainian defense industry. ~ Ed.]
When the people see that the authorities are diametrically opposed to two truths – for themselves and for ordinary Ukrainians – capitalizing on themes of patriotism and unity does not postpone revolution. It brings it closer.
The authorities do not want to notice that they have significantly more faith in their own televised images than they have in the people.
Team Poroshenko is trying to copy the favorite stamp of Kremlin propaganda: only an enemy of Russia (Ukraine) could oppose the Russian (Ukrainian) president in such a difficult time.
A true patriot of Russia (Ukraine) should unconditionally unite behind Putin (Poroshenko).
Anyone who is against the authorities is an agent of America (the Kremlin).
This will not help…
3. In the best case scenario, the final legal assessment of the actions of Poroshenko, Yatsenyuk and their associates will be rendered by prosecutors nominated by the next president. In the worst case, by an armed revolutionary mob.
The president and the others should not forget that Poroshenko will not always appoint the prosecutors.
It is not worth hoping that [Prosecutor General Viktor] Shokin and [Deputy Prosecutor-General Anatolii] Matios will be able to safely hide everything in the water.
It may well be that the ‘exploits’ of [Armed Forces Chief of the General Staff Viktor] Muzhenko, Yarema, Shokin and [National Bank Chairman Valeriya] Hontareva are enough for convictions under the criminal code – and for Poroshenko himself.
The same applies to the prime minister and his team.
If the people don’t resort to lynching when the situation reaches the breaking point…
Especially when you consider that the Kremlin will do everything possible to make sure that a Third Maidan, pre-prepared by Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk, takes on the form of chaos, rampant looting and violence.
If the government has created the reasons for revolution – the occasion and the revolutionaries are always found.
This is verified by history.
They’ve ‘had’ us for such a long time, our government authorities, that now – in any one of them – we see only a rapist. The main problem with power in Ukraine is not its good or bad acts, but society’s distrust of it, due to historically…
Many argue, many talk, and much has been written expressing the most contradictory opinions about the Ukraine’s current president. Some started to ‘celebrate’ a year of the Poroshenko presidency on May 25th (election day). But the inauguration ceremony was held on June 7th, and it was then that Petro O. [Petro Oleksiyovych Poroshenko ~ Ed.] officially became head of state. Whatever the case, a year has passed, and we can draw some conclusions.
‘OstroV’ once asked the question, ‘Who are you, Mr. Yanukovych?’ We’d like to conduct analogous ‘research’ with respect to Petro Poroshenko.
Is there something to ‘brag’ about?
The first thing that usually begins a conversation about the president is a reproach: ‘He promised, but he didn’t do it.’ Let’s try analyzing this topic.
Start looking online for materials related to the current president, and you really will come across catchy headlines: ‘Poroshenko said that he would end the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation – Ed.] in a few hours,’ ‘Poroshenko said that he would sell his business,’ Poroshenko promised this. Poroshenko promised that….
We could dispose with the dictum of Winston Churchill, who said that a real politician has to say what will happen tomorrow, and then be able to explain why it didn’t happen. However, it would be a good thing to understand what Petro Poroshenko has said, and whether he’s kept his word.
For example, this sort of message: ‘Poroshenko said that immediately after the inauguration, he would sell his business’ (if you enter this topic in a search, the search ‘thread’ is packed with references to similar titles). But using the same search it’s easy to find the full quotation: ‘As for my business, immediately after this (the inauguration) a contract will be concluded with an investment firm with respect to a search for buyers.’ This is what Poroshenko said, while still not officially president, at a press briefing on May 26th, 2014.
In fairness, it should be noted that neither the Constitution of Ukraine nor any other law contains a direct obligation of the president to get rid of his business. However, once it was said, society showed an interest.
After taking office, Petro Poroshenko told reporters: ‘A contract has now been concluded with the Rothschild Group, and a requirement of this contract is the categorical exclusion of a politically exposed person, that is me, from the affairs of the company.”
Then, again, they write and say that Poroshenko promised to FINISH THE ATO in a matter of hours. But let’s check out the ‘primary source’ for what was said at the same briefing on May 26th, 2014:
‘I have no information that it (the anti-terrorist operation) will now be stopped. I support its continuation, but it requires a change of format: it should be shorter in its terms; it should be more effective. An anti-terrorist operation cannot and will not last two or three months. It should last for hours. Ukrainian soldiers must be well equipped, their service should be properly paid and they should be provided with insurance. Then we will see rapid improvement in the efficiency of the anti-terrorist operation.’
Did you see in these words a promise to end the ATO? His idea after all can also be understood thus: a classic ATO should be carried out quickly. But we do not have a classic ATO, and therefore it will go on, and we will just reformat it.
If we assume that Poroshenko made a mistake – that he underestimated (or overestimated) the situation – then he corrected his opinion on developments in the Donbas quickly enough.
His words at a Cabinet meeting on September 10th, 2014, already in the capacity of President of Ukraine, serve as confirmation:
‘Do not relax: one of the most powerful armies in the world is WAGING WAR against us. This, unfortunately, is a PROTRACTED military threat. We must learn to live in such conditions. The authorities will make every effort to keep peace. But at the same time, we have no reason to relax.’
As we can see, the concept of the ATO is no longer used, and Poroshenko has said that a war is being waged against Ukraine.
But this is what he said on May 20th, 2015:
‘Let us speak directly. We are not fighting with the separatists, backed by Russia. This is a real WAR with Russia. What more proof do we need to give to the world? What more proof do we need to provide to Russia that it is their soldiers, their regular forces, and their war and aggression?’
That is, almost immediately after his inauguration Petro Poroshenko made it clear that he regarded what was happening in the Donbas as a long war with Russia, and he holds that view now as well. If you look at the change in his opinions objectively, not through filters of ‘treason’ and ‘everything has collapsed,’ then such a transformation is quite clear and understandable.
In addition, we at times demand from the president – that is, from one person – that he should single-handedly do what is not in his power. Especially when it comes to matters related to finance (social benefits, wages), to the programs which require the adoption of a special law, a separate regulation, etc. Who’s ‘in charge’ of this? Parliament, the Cabinet of Ministers and other institutions of government, or the SOLE PERSON of the president, who should take up and single-handedly enact the appropriate law?
When a candidate or president designates his or her program, they talk about what needs to be done for the country’s development and the achievement of success. This doesn’t mean: you guys can sit on the couch, and I’ll do everything for you. De facto, this means it should be done by the COUNTRY, SOCIETY, EVERYONE TOGETHER, for one is a warrior.
Unfortunately, many people have a mentality that predisposes them only to criticize, to be disappointed, to protest, to demand, but other than that to do nothing, and do not know how to work on creating the new society themselves.
They require, for example, that the president punish people for murder on the Maidan, for corruption, for other things. Is it to be understood that Poroshenko should personally do the punishing? Or should he issue a decree to the prosecutor’s office and the court? And we, like, talk about a state of law, about independent investigation and trial? Aren’t they established yet? Good question. Then another question: should the president create them ALONE, PERSONALLY? And are we are ready to accept such ‘justice’ and agree with this order of things?
No, we are simultaneously demanding reforms, but in such a way that this reform is made by one person: the president. So he has taken power thus, and by his decree he has made us honest, made the law enforcement organs moral, made the judges fair and incorruptible, and so on.
But there is no decree yet…
Naturally, the president is to blame. He hasn’t issued it…
Political opponents or personal enemies?
During the eras of previous Ukrainian presidents, the political opposition always stood against them.
Kravchuk had Rukh, led by Vyacheslav Chornovil, as his main opponent.
Oleksandr Moroz and his Socialist Party fought against Kuchma, and his main instigator was Yuriy Lutsenko.
In [Kuchma’s] second presidential term, Viktor Yushchenko and ‘Our Ukraine’ led the struggle against ‘Kuchmism.’
The main political rivals of Viktor Yushchenko were the Regionals [members of the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukovych – Ed.].
Against Viktor Yanukovych there was a ‘united front’ of several political forces, led by BYuT-Batkivshchyna and the People’s Front.
Petro Poroshenko at the moment has no intelligible and serious POLITICAL opposition. Even the ‘Oppo-Bloc’ behaves sluggishly and does not live up to its name.
At the same time, there is quite a pronounced and serious struggle against Petro Poroshenko to eject him from the presidency.
For example, on June 2nd a meeting was announced at the Verkhovna Rada, followed by a collection of signatures for the resignation of Petro Poroshenko. This was declared by ‘social activists’ representing some sort of ‘social organizations.’ We deliberately refrain from mentioning the names of these ‘activists,’ with their veneer of obscurity, and the names of these unknown ‘social organizations,’ so as not to ‘uncoil’ them.
The first reaction was this: the guys decided to promote themselves, to establish an image for themselves on the shoulders of a famous person. But most social organizations are without money and exist only on paper. As a rule, only those who create them appear in them. At the same time, collecting signatures is not an inexpensive pastime. That means someone is funding this action. That is, someone is behind them. Who?
Although Petro Poroshenko has no obvious, clear-cut political rivals, he has formed a fairly wide circle – it can be said – of personal enemies who dream of taking revenge on him, or taking control of him, or replacing him with someone more loyal to themselves.
The first is the Kremlin’s ‘clique,’ which – if fully and objectively evaluated – lost out in its confrontation with Petro Poroshenko. The Kremlin’s plan of weakening the situation in Ukraine and organizing early presidential elections to topple Poroshenko is, essentially, a fact requiring no proof. Many knowledgeable people in Russia say and write that the Kremlin is making direct contact with the richest people of Ukraine, and offering to support the struggle against the current president, promising any price.
The next on the list of presidential ‘enemies’ – these are the richest people, whom we used to call the oligarchs. Some can be called by name.
The budgetary financial flows and preferences to Rinat Akhmetov, which were hugely profitable for him, are being capped. They’re now trying to work things out with the Akhmetov’s monopoly ‘empire’ and the legality of his acquisition of assets. The active struggle is over the price of coal purchased for state needs.
So as not to take time, we can say briefly that Akhmetov has more than enough reasons to be dissatisfied with the current government, which is usually represented in our country by the president.
Then there is Firtash. Although they say and write that he ‘bought’ Poroshenko and financed his election campaign, these statements, as they say, are from an evil source.
During 2014, Petro Poroshenko declared an income of 369 million hryvnia, but in 2013, it was a little over 50 million. Why this sudden surge?
Over 90% of this income was from dividends and interest. Specialists and experts agree that Petro Poroshenko – if he’d wanted to – could have taken his revenues offshore. But he needed to fund his election campaign and show that this money was ‘clean.’
Now let’s think – to ‘splurge’ on taxes in order to ensure the purity of financing his presidential campaign, and to immediately conspire with Firtash to take ‘dirty’ money from him. You’ll agree – it doesn’t fit.
In contrast to previous years and campaigns, Poroshenko had no centralized financing of local election staffs. And he had enough money for his central headquarters and nationwide campaign. The same situation existed in the parliamentary elections: the Petro Poroshenko Bloc campaign was funded at the local level by those elected to parliament.
You can also include on the list of enemies the fugitive Yanukovych and all his ‘family,’ Yuriy Ivanyushchenko (from Yenakiyevo), against whom criminal cases were opened, and the entire fugitive team of his ministers and minders, who took – according to various estimates – between 30 and 40 billion out of the country.
Perhaps, in time, you can add Ihor Kolomoisky and his team to this list. The reasons, I think, need no explanation: they are all on view and audible. [Ihor Kolomoisky is one of Ukraine’s wealthiest men. Appointed governor of his native eastern region by the interim authorities in March 2014, shortly after the Maidan Revolution, he was sacked by Poroshenko a year later for exceeding his authority. He was publicly thanked by Poroshenko, however, and honored with a massive street party in his home city of Dnipropetrovsk for his service to the state at a critical time. ~ Ed.]
The ‘Right Sector’ – which you don’t even know how to categorize – have included themselves among the enemies of Petro Poroshenko.
It’s like a political party, like a military structure, and like a social organization (for example, it was announced that ‘activists’ of the Right Sector would handle the collection of signatures for the resignation of Poroshenko).
You can add yet another group under the very tentatively title of ‘Kombats’ (remember the recent protests were organized by a structure calling itself something like ‘Military Brotherhood of Combatants’?). They position themselves as a volunteer corps that is even prepared to go to Kyiv with weapons to ‘restore order.’
As you can see, it turns to be out quite a kaleidoscope, and a very motley crowd.
It is definite food for thought that those seeking the resignation of Petro Poroshenko cannot pinpoint even a single weighty and concrete reason for this. They’ve tried ‘he hasn’t sold the business’ and ‘he hasn’t given up the Lipetsk factory,’ and they’ve realized that this isn’t working. Now they’re trying to promote the theme of ‘ties to Firtash,’ although many experts call this complete nonsense. They are also attempting to incriminate him for the ‘non-imposition of martial law’ and ‘treason.’
Some, I think, would like to see Poroshenko in the role of Chapayev – in front of a spirited horse with his sword at the ready – or in the role of Marshal Zhukov, who would not hesitate to send to certain death hundreds of thousands of soldiers to replenish his list of ‘victories.’
But Poroshenko has turned out to be primarily a politician and diplomat who’s simply defeated everyone.
What is interesting is that people demand the introduction of martial law and at the same time insist on decentralization of power so that Poroshenko doesn’t become a dictator and doesn’t usurp power. How’s this? So that he’s the commander-in-chief, but doesn’t command, and gives away everything to the mercy of the ‘Kombats’? Even I don’t want to imagine such a ‘war game.’
Although it’s worth stopping at this situation: Poroshenko declares war and imposes martial law.
Thus, Ukraine is negotiating a peaceful settlement of the conflict, the cessation of hostilities (remember, incidentally, that at first many condemned Poroshenko for announcing an armistice and signing the first embodiment of the Minsk Agreement, and after the signing they began referring to them). And here, in these conditions, in the course of peace talks, Poroshenko declares war and imposes martial law…
It seems it isn’t necessary to give details. It’s clear what the commentary would be from both the West and the East.
We’ll take another aspect.
Declare war. On whom? DNR-LNR? [‘DNR’ and ‘LNR’ are abbreviations for the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, respectively. Both are unrecognized secessionist entities propped up with Russian military support. ~ Ed.]
Declaring war on the rebels would mean recognition of their side of the conflict, recognizing them as independent entities.
Declare war on Russia? There’s no point in commenting.
Just declare martial law? That is, Ukraine signs the peace agreements with one hand and, with the other, declares martial law. In this case, the truce collapses, and Ukraine has lost more than it has found.
I’m sure that, these options having been taken into account, it was not for nothing that Poroshenko clearly stated there was no military solution to the problem of the Donbas.
Yatsenyuk also spoke on this matter and confirmed that we would not win the war for the Donbas. All the same, some are itching.
By the way, why doesn’t it fit? What’s not to like about the proposed path?
It is proposed to lift Ukraine up, to develop the economy, to move towards a European standard of living, to get a visa-free regime and thus prove our victory, the justness of our chosen path. Is there no desire to live in European style?
Recall how and why the USSR collapsed.
Nikita Khrushchev declared the goal of catching up to and overtaking America (they even issued a directive with the acronym ‘DIP’ – dognat i peregnat – ‘catch up and overtake’).
Under Leonid Brezhnev, all indices were compared with the United States.
The States somehow ‘aggravated’ the situation, played on the arms race, with the price of oil, while they themselves developed.
As a result, the Soviet Union lost its ‘peer status,’ couldn’t compete, lost out economically and collapsed.
What kind of president do we need?
We’ve become accustomed to the president always being ‘someone’s,’ and that someone is always ‘standing behind’ him.
Who does Poroshenko belong to? Perhaps even his enemies are unlikely to give a definite answer.
He is somehow equidistant from the oligarchs. They call him an oligarch. He declares deliverance from the oligarchs. He financed his election campaign himself. He did not use alien media and TV free of charge. He owed nothing to anybody. The party is his, with his name. It operates by itself.
Maybe it is precisely this that is the greatest stimulus, tempting him to impose something, ‘to stitch things up,’ ‘to attach himself,’ so that he ends up belonging to someone?
Maybe this is where the contradictory accusations come from?
Judge for yourself. They charge that Poroshenko wants to usurp power, to become a second Yanukovych, to subjugate everyone to himself, to become a dictator.
And then – in parallel – Poroshenko merges Ukraine [with Russia]. He has secret agreements.
If a person has decided to usurp power and become a tyrant, then why would he merge and subsume himself under someone else? Illogical.
On the other hand – they’re talking about Petro Poroshenko consolidating his own power. But is it a bad thing, particularly in wartime, when the power is strong? Only someone who wanted to see a weak president – with flaws, in order to control him – would find this objectionable.
And finally, let us remember again: under the constitution we have a parliamentary-presidential republic, and the president’s power is limited.
By and large the matter is not in the surname, not in the personality of the president – whether it be Poroshenko or anyone else. The matter concerns ourselves – how we have behaved under other ‘surnames.’ Could it be that we – first and foremost – are the ones who need to change?
There has even appeared an expression – ‘porobots’ – which refers to anyone who has said anything positive about Poroshenko.
By the way, why didn’t we have ‘kravchukbots,’ ‘kuchmabots,’ ‘yushchenkobots’ or ‘yanukovychbots’? Maybe it’s not so bad that there are ‘porobots’?
At least the author is willing to tolerate this phenomenon, although he also suspects they may enter his name in their records. No matter, we will move on. Moreover, because in Ukraine there are in total almost 10 million of these people – as many as voted for Petro Poroshenko. The results, if you remember, were: the maximum percentage Petro Poroshenko scored in the Lviv region – 69.93%; the minimum, understandably, was in the Donetsk (35.58%), Kharkiv (34.99%) and Luhansk (33, 25%) areas.
By the way, what was the alternative to Petro Poroshenko in the election, do you remember?
The first five: Poroshenko, [former Prime Minister Yulia] Tymoshenko, [Radical Party leader Oleh] Lyashko, [former Defense Minister Anatoliy] Hrytsenko, [former Economy Minister Serhiy] Tihipko.
Which one of them would you like to see now as president instead of Poroshenko? Who of the four – Tymoshenko, Lyashko, Hrytsenko, Tihipko – would have been better?
Or maybe one of the following five – [Party of Regions member Mykhailo] Dobkin, [businessman Vadym] Rabynovych, [Dr. Olha] Bogomolets [M.D.], [Communist Party leader Petro] Symonenko, [Svoboda party leader Oleh] Tyahnybok? Which of these do you prefer? They could have done more and better?
In general, the question of the role, place and powers of the president is a very important and difficult issue that our country hasn’t completely solved for itself. All the while there is a struggle.
The topic of the limitations on presidential authority arose even under Leonid Kuchma, and it has been the subject of negotiations and even bidding at the time of the ‘orange’ revolution in the appointment of a ‘third’ round of presidential elections. So it is not about the role of Petro Poroshenko, but the role and importance of the President of Ukraine, as an institution of power.
As we have noted, we have a PARLIAMENTARY-presidential republic.
Remember how it was during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko’s premiership, what kind of ‘super-speeches’ and breakdowns occurred between the President, Cabinet and Parliament. Sometimes it became ridiculous.
So, Petro Poroshenko is now in the same ‘position.’ We blame Poroshenko for everything, no matter what happens. After all, it’s so convenient. No need to think and delve into the reasons.
Some assert that he has usurped power. And these same people say: Poroshenko, help! Poroshenko, you must! Poroshenko, it’s your fault! Poroshenko, do it!
This is the best recognition that Poroshenko is a strong personality. But that does not excuse the fact that we are still ‘fixated’ on one person. Moreover, the tendency persists.
Or maybe everything is easier – in the minds of our people, decentralization hasn’t occurred yet, we continue to pray for the ‘tsar-priest’ and wait for manna from heaven from him. Or is Poroshenko to blame for that too?
The author doesn’t know the definite answer to the question. History will give the answer. But one thing is certain – Petro Poroshenko is UKRAINIAN. And he has a PRO-UKRAINIAN position, and he himself is a PRO-UKRAINIAN president. Perhaps this is the main thing.
Putin – having discarded the global chessboard – has awakened the West. But on the path through the valley of tears, Ukraine will have to rely primarily its own endurance.
The collective West has been unable to force the Kremlin to abandon the subversion of the Ukrainian state. The leaders of the US and the EU have failed to provide Ukraine with defensive weapons and are opening their wallet – with a groan – for financial assistance.
Ukrainians have every reason to ask the question of how liberal democracies are ready to support the country’s movement to Europe. On the other hand, if it were not for the position of the West, Kharkiv and Odessa could be among the occupied territories. Apparently, the final conclusion can be formulated only in the future, because the story is only now unfolding.
The West could neither foresee nor respond in time to the Kremlin’s turn toward ‘besieged fortress’ and militaristic patriotism. And the reason is not only in the premature conclusion of Western politicians about the end of the Soviet Union, but also the crisis of the current model of liberal democracy. Add to that the paralysis of the European Union and the withdrawal of America from Europe. In this context, the shock and dismay of Western leaders – faced with the threat of the destruction of the world order to which they are accustomed – are understandable.
The paradox is that Putin, casually flinging away the world chessboard, has awakened the West. Of course, if Western capitals had awoken earlier, perhaps there would be no Russian aggression in the Donbas. Consequently, the Russian system of autocracy would not have crossed the line, beyond which halting is already very difficult.
Yet the West has started to recover from the shock, forming a new doctrine of deterrence of the Russian Federation based on strengthening Europe’s eastern flank and pursuing military de-escalation in Ukraine. The first vector is reflected in increasing the defensive capabilities of the frontline states of Eastern Europe and the Baltic states through the restoration of the viability of NATO and the return of a notable American presence in Europe. The second is in an attempt at diplomatic pressure and the imposition of sanctions to compel Moscow to stop (but not to return to the status quo ante).
At the same time, Ukraine is still in a grey zone of uncertainty. In Western capitals, not indifferent to the fate of Kiev, there is a hope that as the situation in the country stabilizes and real reforms are implemented, Ukraine will be drawn into the European orbit. But the truth is that, without support, the country still lies within the sphere of risks and threats.
Kiev has been promised the solidarity of NATO member countries; but they have still not decided on what the content of this solidarity will be. The Minsk package, in essence, means legitimization of Russian influence not only over the situation in the Donbas, but also over the constitutional format of the Ukrainian state.
Of course, the Western doctrine of deterrence has forced the Kremlin to revise its tactics and try to find a less painful means of military-patriotic mobilization. In addition, during the conflict something incredible has happened: Germany has emerged from its recent role as the economic and political partner of Moscow, becoming the European hegemon and offsetting the weakness of the EU. The implications of this breakthrough are difficult to interpret, but they will lead to a new balance of power. And this fact alone is already a blow to the international agenda of the Kremlin, which was confident that Berlin would swallow all the Muscovite ‘initiatives.’
But with no real return of America to Europe it is difficult to expect that Berlin, to which the Americans have ‘outsourced’ the Ukrainian conflict, will be ready for new, groundbreaking steps. Ukrainians have to take into account both the political fatigue of the West over the crisis, and the lack of understanding in Western capitals of what to do, and their fear of engaging in an open, armed conflict with Moscow.
It seems that European leaders – feeling hopelessness – are inclined to heed the Kremlin’s proposals to withdraw from the war. This means local elections in the Donbas and affording ‘special status’ to the separatist enclaves within the framework of Ukrainian statehood. Apparently, the West tends toward either freezing or almost freezing the situation at all costs. But the question is this: does this conflict lend itself to freezing?
What can make the West take a more active and large-scale role in the strengthening of Ukrainian statehood? Two factors: the new overt aggression of Moscow, which cannot be disguised as the actions of separatists, and (or) a convincing policy of the Ukrainian authorities to reform the country. It was precisely reforms and the populations’ support for them that allowed the Baltic states to become part of Europe. It is possible that in the latter case, the path through the valley of tears could be shorter and less painful.
The West has begun to focus. This process is moving, but it will take years. So Ukraine will have to rely primarily on its own endurance.
(This column was published in Novoye Vremya on July 17, 2015.)
20 July 2015
The pro-Russian separatist region of Transnistria (known in Russian as the ‘Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic’) lies on Ukraine’s southern border, between Ukraine and the small ex-Soviet Republic of Moldova. The product of a war in the early 1990s, Transnistria remains unrecognized by any UN member-country – including Russia – but is a de facto independent state with its own armed forces, president, parliament and cabinet of ministers. The district had perhaps over 600,000 inhabitants at the time of the USSR’s break-up, and while that number has decreased drastically, its population split roughly equally between ethnic Romanians (Moldovans), Russians and Ukrainians.
A ceasefire was signed in July 1992 between the ex-Soviet Republic of Moldova and the self-declared PMR, leaving Transnistria with de facto independence from Moldova. The Operational Group of Russian Forces (OGRV) – successor to the Russian (once Soviet) 14th Army once based in the Soviet Odessa Military District – remains in the enclave, now consisting of around 1,350 troops. An ‘official’ international peacekeeping force of Russian, Transnistrian and Moldovan troops serves as window-dressing for world consumption: peace is enforced on the Kremlin’s terms.
In terms of its political culture, Transnistria exists in a no-man’s land of extreme reverence for both the Soviet past and Russian imperial glory. Joseph Stalin is revered as a great man, while Russian Orthodox priests perform elaborate baptismal and other ceremonies in renovated churches. Statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin co-exist with those of the legendary Russian generalissimo and Count of the Holy Roman Empire, Alexander Suvorov, who defeated the Turks and suppressed Poland in the late 18th century. Much as in Russia, patriotic nationalism with a heavy religious flavor melds with the images of the prison of nations.
This peace has become especially precarious in the period since a popular upheaval overthrew former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and fomentation of armed separatism in eastern Ukraine has led to the worst relations between Moscow and Kyiv in nearly a century. Part of this has entailed Ukraine’s attempts to address potential border threats, including Transnistria. In addition to the military danger, Transnistria represents a source of unregulated cross-border trade, including arms and other contraband. When a territory is unrecognized by the international community, all its economic activity is deemed illegal, and all its international commerce as smuggling. Yet the old maxim of ‘no smoke without fire’ clearly applies to Transnistria: reports of trade that would be considered illegal even in Russia are too frequent to ignore. But Transnistria is not toothless, and the heightened economic isolation of the territory – a heavily armed sliver of land with no coastline – has given rise to a potential powder keg for the region.
In June, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili as the governor of Ukraine’s Odessa Region. In his short time as governor, Mr. Saakashvili has carried out several bold policy moves, including a purge of the regional administration. But, importantly, Saakashvili has also vowed to strengthen Ukrainian defenses along the border with Transnistria in an effort to prevent both smuggling and possible military incursions. Odessa Region borders Transnistria along most of the latter’s length. At the same time, during his political career Mikheil Saakashvili has proven remarkably consistent in one aspect of his behavior: loudly and insultingly criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin. Some observers have suggested that Saakachvili’s incessant public insults motivated Putin to launch the 2008 invasion of Georgia that resulted in two separatist territories – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – gaining full recognition from the Kremlin.
Saakashvili’s geopolitical sense is borne of experience. He also evidently has a map in his head of the region in which he is currently holding public office. Reportedly, he wanted to be the governor of Odessa precisely because he perceived genuine threats to the region’s security. But he is also a volatile and controversial figure. As such, the question inexorably arises: will he once more provoke Putin into large-scale military action – this time from Transnistria?
The following report from the Russian website Lenta.Ru states that the Transnistrian authorities have started an official call-up to military service of all males aged 18-27. It is unclear whether this is consequent to an order from the Kremlin, and indeed Moscow may have already decided that resource-poor Transnistria is not worth the trouble. [See Transnistria: A Bridge Too Far for Russia?] In that case, the Transnistrian call to service may be an act of desperation by the local authorities themselves: with their backs to the wall, they may feel they have nothing left to lose. The implications are startling…
Lenta.Ru ~ 20 July 2015
The authorities of the unrecognized Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR) have announced the mobilization of men aged 18 to 27 years. The corresponding decree of President Yevgeny Shevchuk, dated July 16, was made available on the portal of the PMR chief.
‘Called into the armed forces, border guards and internal troops are citizens (…) registered or obliged to register in military records and not serving in the reserves,’ says the document.
The decree applies to persons who have ‘lost their right to deferment of the call to military service, and also those subject to the call to military service and those being prosecuted for violation of the rules of military registration.’
Reports of worsening relations between Kyiv and Tiraspol have appeared periodically since the beginning of the year – in particular in connection with Ukrainian troops conducting regular exercises on the border with Transnistria, said the head of the PMR in an April interview with the newspaper Kommersant. [Note: In the interview, from April 2015, Shevchuk claims that Transnistria is ‘not preparing to go to war with anyone.’ ~ Ed.]
In May 2015, the head of the State Border Service of Ukraine Viktor Nazarenko stated on the air on ‘Channel 5’ that a series of military threats emanated from the direction of Transnistrian.
Later, the head of the Odessa Regional State Administration Mikhail Saakashvili announced his intention to strengthen the border with the Transnistrian republic.
On June 11th, Kyiv sharply exacerbated the situation when President Poroshenko signed a number of laws denouncing agreements with Russia in the military sphere. The opportunity for the transit of Russian troops via the territory of Ukraine was unilaterally blocked: the potential for the movement of the Russian peacekeeping contingent to Transnistria and back was put in doubt.
On July 19th, the Ukrainian extremist organization ‘Right Sector,’ which is banned in Russia, announced the installation of checkpoints in the Odessa region on the border with Transnistria to combat smuggling. [Note: Russian media typically refers to the Right Sector as ‘extremist’ and ‘neo-nazi.’ ~ Ed.]
The Operational Group of Russian Forces (OGRV) – successor to the 14th Combined Army – currently remains in Transnistria. The OGRV consists of 1,350 soldiers.
The peacekeeping operation in Transnistria is carried out by a joint peacekeeping force of 402 Russian servicemen, 492 Transnistrians, 335 Moldovans and 10 military observers from Ukraine.
12 July 2015
A story from the Russian press that has already been picked up by Western media concerns deserters from the Russian army who claim to have reasonably feared they would be sent to eastern Ukraine to fight in the war there. The most interesting factor in this story is perhaps not whether the beliefs of these soldiers were well founded, but rather, whether the rumors of formal Russian military participation in Ukraine have spread so widely within Russia itself that they are affecting the effectiveness of the Russian armed forces and will lead to a breakdown of order and discipline. When the rank and file of any army ceases to trust its commanders, can widespread mutiny be far behind? Similarly, could an overt ‘conscientious objector’ movement develop in Russia today over the Ukraine conflict, as it failed to do in the USSR during the Soviet war in Afghanistan?
Western media and governments have long disseminated the conviction that Russian military units are active inside Ukraine, and indeed this seems incontrovertible in light of satellite imagery and other information, including first-hand testimony of military personnel captured within Ukraine’s borders. But the following story is from the Russian online newspaper Gazeta.Ru, which attempts to show both sides of the story by quoting representatives of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council…
Maykop contractors who feared being sent to Ukraine – on trial for desertion
Gazeta.Ru / 11 July 2015 ~ Andrei Koshik (Maykop), Vladimir Dergachev, Yelizaveta Mayetnaya
Several dozen contract soldiers from Military Unit № 22179, the 33rd Motorized Rifle Brigade (Maykop Intelligence Brigade), escaped from the training grounds in the Rostov region, fearing they would be sent to Ukraine. Criminal charges have been brought against them, and they face up to ten years in prison for willful desertion. The soldiers and their relatives told Gazeta.Ru that they had been living in subhuman conditions, and that they had been urged by propagandists to go as volunteers to Donbas. Gazeta.Ru conducted its own investigation of the events.
23-year-old soldier Anatoly Kudrin from the Maykop Intelligence Brigade [Maykop is the capital city of the Republic of Adygeya, in Russia’s Caucasus region – Ed.] has already been convicted for abandoning his post. He received a sentence of six months in a penal colony. Two other soldiers are in custody, and investigations of other contract soldiers who left their bases are ongoing. According to lawyers, the soldiers left the ‘Kadamovsky’ training ground in the Rostov region, fearing they would be sent to fight in the war in Donbas.
According to investigators, the contractors left the ‘Kadamovsky’ base ‘not wanting to endure the hardships of military service.’ Now, all these contractors – a few dozen people – are under investigation under Article 337 of the Criminal Code (‘Unauthorized Abandonment of Unit,’ carrying a sentence of up to five years in prison) and Article 338 of the Criminal Code (‘Desertion,’ carrying up to ten years).
‘I did not want to take part in the fighting on the territory of Ukraine.’
We are meeting with the mother of 20-year-old rocket launcher Ivan Shevkunov in a cafe in the center of Maykop. She is a short, very excited woman.
‘My son served as a conscript in Armenia in the Air Defense Forces. In July 2014, he returned and immediately wanted to continue serving in Sevastopol, in the village of Privolny,’ Svetlana Nikolayevna [Shevkunova] tells Gazeta.Ru. ‘We went to the draft board, and he wrote a statement and began to undergo a medical examination. In the recruiting office he was given a blank contract, which was to be sent to Sevastopol for signature by commanders. Already in the ‘9th’ (control-assembly point in Krasnodar – Gazeta. Ru) they turned him around, saying he could only serve in the Maykop Brigade. He came here on September 17th and enlisted.’
In late September, Ivan Shevkunov was sent with his unit to ‘Kadamovsky’ for military training in the October district of Rostov region. The base is located near Novocherkassk. This is the place of assembly of the Southern Military District. It is about 80 kilometers from here to the border with Ukraine, and this adjacent territory is divided between the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics [LNR and DNR, respectively – Ed.].
‘He said that he was going to the border with Ukraine, on a trip that would last until December. He called every day to complain about the conditions: he was sleeping on boards that had been abandoned on the ground, and for the first three days they were feeding themselves from what they could get from the rebels located nearby,’ says Svetlana. ‘It turned out that he had to sign some kind of document in the unit, and he asked for money for the trip and returned to Maykop.’
There, Ivan was assigned to another company, where he continued to serve, housed in barracks. When his company returned from ‘Kadamovsky,’ according to his mother, they started to pressure Shevkunov. As a result, he wrote three letters of resignation. And he did not receive a single response.
Svetlana Shevkunova claims that her son was afraid of being sent to Donbas.
‘He told me that the soldiers were being forced to go as volunteers,’ says the woman. ‘When I was with my son in the lobby of the chief of staff of Unit № 22179, Maj. Kambarov, he began to shout that Vanya now had only two options: jail or the ‘Kadamovsky’ training ground. There were no other choices.
On June 10th, in the matter of Ivan Shevkunov, a criminal case was opened under Section 1, Article 338 of the Criminal Code (‘Desertion’).
From the decision to institute criminal proceedings:
‘On 30 September 2014, conscript I. N. Shevkunov, being a serving soldier under contract, being a member of his unit on a working excursion at the ‘Kadamovsky’ base, stationed at the October (rural) district of Rostov region, being dissatisfied with the fact that he was sent on a mission outside of Maykop and the Republic of Adygea, and not wanting to endure the hardships and privations of military service, with the intent of completely evading military service … willfully abandoned his place of service – the Kadamovsky training base, and left his place of residence.’
The story of 27-year-old Sgt. Pavel Tynchenko from the very same unit is similar. His mother, Valentina Ivanovna [Tynchenko], said that Pavel had served for seven years in the Northern Fleet – on the atomic cruiser ‘Peter the Great.’ For family reasons he returned to Maykop and tried to obtain a contract in a reconnaissance brigade.
‘The command delayed the document process, but then they called unexpectedly in early August from the recruiting office and told him to urgently get his documents together. Over the course – I think – of three days, he did the physical training, received his rations and went on to the Ashuluk training base in the Astrakhan region,’ recall relatives of the soldier arrested under Sec. 4, Art. 337 of the Criminal Code (‘Unauthorized Abandonment of Unit’).
Tynchenko returned in late September from exercises, at which he had spent nearly two months. He spent the weekend at home and was then transferred to the ‘Kadamovsky’ training ground.
‘Previous exercises were held in appalling conditions, although my son had already served under contract and was ready for hardship. But what happened in Ashuluk was unbelievable,’ says Valentina Tynchenko. ‘He filed a letter of resignation. They gathered them – a few people – on the parade ground of the unit, and in the presence of guards read out the decree on the mission, forced them into a truck and took them to the Rostov region.’
The sergeant told his mother over the phone that they had taken them several times by military truck from the border area to fields where they guarded combat artillery units. They were there for a week to ten days, sleeping on blankets thrown on the ground. Tynchenko returned to Maykop with pneumonia. Officially, he spent a month at military training in the Rostov region, from October 15th to November 14th.
‘Having reviewed the ruling, I concluded that my testimony was not reflected in the ‘Failure to Obey an Order’ decision. I did not carry out a criminal order, as I did not want to go against the oath that I had taken, and I did not want to take part in the fighting on the territory of Ukraine. Please note this in the court order,’ wrote Tynchenko.
8,000 rubles a day and veteran status offered for trip to Donbas
Tatiana Chernetskaya, deputy general director of ‘First United Union of Lawyers of the Kuban’ LLC, representing the interests of five contractors against whom criminal cases have been brought, told Gazeta.Ru that, according to her information, there are dozens of criminal cases against military personnel who left the training ground. ‘According to these guys, the commander of the unit says that the military-investigation department can’t cope with so many criminal cases,’ says Chernetskaya. ‘The guys are assigned numbers – 101, 137 – in the queue of criminal cases, and they get a number and wait to be summoned to an investigator.’
According to official statistics, the Maykop garrison court issued 62 rulings under Article 337 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation Sec. 4 (‘Unauthorized Abandonment of Unit’) in the first half of 2015. In the previous five years – from 2010 to 2014 – it had issued almost two times fewer resolutions – only 35.
According Chernetskaya, several dozen contractors being prosecuted under the ‘Desertion’ and ‘Unauthorized Abandonment of Unit’ articles are in identical circumstances: at exactly the same time, from late September to mid-November, they left the ‘Kadamovsky’ training ground, explaining that they had experienced inhuman conditions and intrusive proposals to serve as volunteers on the territory of the LNR and DNR.
‘No one wants to fight a war in the Donbas either for 8,000 a day, as promised by the recruiters, or for 28,000. The soldiers fled from ‘Kadamovsky’ – someone asked for money from relatives, while others traveled as vagabonds, hitchhiking. When they arrived at their unit, they filed letters of resignation, but they were simply disregarded,’ says Chernetskaya.
About what happened at the base, she adds that 22-year-old Jr. Sgt. Alexander Yenenko is under house arrest.
‘After compulsory military service, which I performed in the same unit, I stayed there under contract. The contract was signed on 26 November 2012 for three years,’ Yenenko explained to Gazeta.Ru, serving as commander of a transport department.
‘I went to ‘Kadamovsky’ on October 14th. The guys were gathering ‘gobies’ at the site. They were digging holes pointlessly for whole days and then burying them. They were talking about how [the authorities] wanted to send them to Ukraine, and were waiting for the order to cross the border for about a week, but they canceled at the last moment.’
Yenenko says he also saw ‘some people in camouflage clothing with no insignia, campaigning for money to fight in the Donbas.’
‘It was the end of October, there were night frosts, and everyone was coughing like dogs. We were buying firewood at our own expense, and burning stoves directly in front of our tents. The hardest thing was the lack of water: they brought one car to the kitchen, and we were given only a cup of tea a day. Locals arrived and sold mineral water for 100 rubles a bottle,’ says another soldier, who asked not to be named.
‘The agitators were arriving – without insignia but with epaulets of major’s rank and above. Other contractors called their comrades, discouraging them by saying that if something happened to them in Ukraine, they would be recorded retroactively as deserters who had fled and accidentally got blown up by a landmine. The agitators were not pressuring them with patriotism, but practically promised to give them veteran status (which entitles you to many benefits, housing and so forth. – Gazeta.Ru) and 8,000 a day. In fact, I know from my colleagues, they reneged on the money and no one consented to pay anything.’
Enlisted tractor mechanic Anatoly Kudrin signed a contract a month before the trip, at the end of August 2014. For leaving his post he was sentenced to half a year in a penal colony, and in early July disciplinary responsibility was attached to him for placing a swastika on social media.
‘People were coming to the base to agitate to go to Ukraine. The main incentive was money: they promised 8,000 a day. It was unbearable at the training grounds, and I also feared that I’d be taken to the Donbas by force. So after four days I went back to Maykop,’ Kudrin explained.
All the contract soldiers responding to Gazeta.Ru agree on one thing: the agitators were not from their unit.
The position of the command can be understood from a video, which relatives of the suspect contractors presented to Gazeta.Ru. In it, the commander of the military unit, Lt. Col. Sergei Kens, answers the mother of Ivan Shevkunov presumably with a lie.
‘Every third day two vehicles left there from the military unit (probably referring to the ‘Kadamovsky’ base – Gazeta.Ru) … I’ll tell you how they do it: they appoint the time of 10 o’clock, and they arrive at 10:30 – only the cars have gone. And those who are seated, they ride in the back of the car – I am personally a witness – they reach the ‘Fontanel’ and leap out. They just jump,’ Lt. Col. Kens says in the video. ‘They run in military uniform, shamefully.’
Speaking about the possible involvement of contractors in the fighting in the Donbas, Kens says: ‘And I say furthermore – these are the words of the contractors, 80 people: we will not go to Ukraine to fight! <…> Moms come – they’ve been in Ukraine seven months. Who was in Ukraine for seven months? What are you talking about? What Ukraine for seven months? What lies are your kids saying to you? And the last place where I stayed for three months, I’ll tell you one thing – those are real men there, 16-year-old peasants, and the women there are the same.’
Gazeta.Ru called the political officer of the 2nd Battalion, 33rd Separate Motor-Rifle Brigade, 1st Lt. Maxim Grankin, who had communicated with parents and identified himself as the assistant to the commander of military unit № 22179. However, after hearing the question, Grankin hung up and refused to take further calls. Lt. Col. Kens could not be reached. The privates and sergeants do not know who has been exercising overall command of the ‘Kadamovsky’ base. The commanders who arrived with them carried out the military training routine, but the overall training leadership at the base consisted of officers whom the Maykop contractors did not know, probably from the Southern Military District.
At the Ministry of Defense, they could not provide comment on operations. However, the Defense Ministry has repeatedly articulated the following official position to Gazeta.ru: reports of the presence of Russian troops on the territory of Ukraine are lies, and rumors of alleged ongoing agitation in Russian units aimed at getting volunteers to go to the Donbas are unreliable.
The Question of the Legality of Agitation
The military statutes state that soldiers must fulfill lawful orders, says the head of the relevant commission of the Council for Human Rights, Sergei Krivenko.
‘It says that the main type of order is written. In case of any doubt, the soldier should demand the order in writing from any of the officers,’ explains Krivenko.
According to Krivenko, sending troops to combat missions abroad is impossible without a presidential decree. Formally sending soldiers [abroad] risks violating articles [of the Criminal Code – Ed.] on ‘Mercenary Status’ and ‘Participation in Illegal Armed Formations.’
Krivenko recalls that, for unauthorized abandonment of a unit, by law 10 days are given for the soldier to appeal to the prosecutor and write a statement of the circumstances that led him to take such a desperate step. ‘If there is real assessment according to the law, the commanders may be held responsible for violation of the order of the unit,’ says Krivenko.
Anatoly Sahlin, a former colonel who has served in two wars and is an expert on the Presidential Council for Human Rights and the Development of Civil Society of the Russian Federation, says that each case of abandonment of unit must be thoroughly worked out, and not all the stories about the administration of the Donbas should be believed.
‘We have pending cases where contractors were dismissed for failure to carry out an order, but which have not given rise to criminal proceedings. One contractor was even restored to service after his dismissal was deemed illegal. Because it is practically impossible to work arrange this wording to any kind of power structure,’ says Sahlin.