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Thoughts from Kyiv – More Violence to Come?

[infobox title=’Thoughts from Kyiv’]Thoughts from Kyiv is brought to you by Mychailo WynnyckyjAssociate Professor of the Department of Sociology and Kyiv-Mohyla Business School, Director of the Doctoral School, National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”. Below are his thoughts and writings on the situation in Ukraine. [/infobox]

Yesterday I posted a prediction as to upcoming events in Kyiv that now needs to be corrected. Just as the violence was unfolding on Hrushevskoho St. I predicted that Yanukovych would use this event as an excuse to declare martial law. I was wrong, and now (thanks to two former Kyiv-Mohyla Academy students) I understand why.

It seems that a poll of Ukraine’s regular army officers and NCO’s was recently conducted by the Ministry of Defense. Commanders of all ranks were queried as to their feelings of prime responsibility in a defensive role. Without getting into too many details, over 70% saw their prime responsibility as “defense of my home and my family”, and less than 15% saw their responsibility as “defense of my state”.They were then asked “whose interests do you believe the Ukrainian state represents today”. 35% answered “rich peoples'”; 27% answered “bureaucrats and state officials”; 15% answered “the people of Ukraine”. What can we conclude? only 15% of army officers see their role as being defenders of a state that represents its people whereas 85% are completely disillusioned and likely demoralized.Furthermore, the survey asked “to what extent do you trust officials from the Ministry of Defense?” – over 2/3 gave negative answers.

When I presented this data to another former student of mine who has had a great deal of contact with Ukraine’s officer corps, he criticized the very methodology of the survey – apparently, one should not question loyalty among officers; they’re loyalty is to their immediate commander, not to ephemeral values and ideals. But nevertheless, this ex-student’s conclusion was the same: if Yanukovych attempts to engage Ukraine’s regular army into the current battles, this will spell the death of his regime. Officers and NCO’s are demoralized, and simply will not follow orders to shoot their own people. Personally, I’m prepared to accept this as an “expert” opinion.

So, who can Yanukovych count on in case of a crackdown?In broad terms, the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior has 5 categories of units (I’m generalizing for the sake of simplicity):

  1. Traffic police – generally highly corrupt, and not fit for fighting, but can be (and have been) used to block cars, buses, supply trucks, etc. Presumably they could be used to enforce a curfew as well, although long term loyalty is highly questionable.
  2. Regular local police – tasked with investigating burglaries, domestic disputes, and local law enforcement. Their loyalty is clearly with the local population and not with the regime.
  3. Internal troops – generally young (often conscripted) men serving for 2-3 years, and trained to guard government buildings and officials, and to defend against rioters (if necessary) rather than attack. These are the men who are currently under fire from protesters on Hrushevskoho St., and more could (theoretically) be bused from the regions into the capital to enforce order. Attempts at moving these troops from western Ukraine have been so far unsuccessful – protesters have barricaded them in their barracks. According to official sources, 33 000 men serve in Ukraine’s Internal Troops throughout the country, but no more than 20 000 are available for duty in Kyiv because regional government offices need guards etc.
  4. Berkut riot police – approximately 4000 men throughout the country, trained to disperse crowds (as we saw on Nov 30 and Dec 1)
  5. Internal Ministry Special Forces (Tiger, Bars, Omega, Jaguar, etc.) – approximately 4000 men in total throughout the country, primarily trained to deal with organized crime.

IMHO, in the case of a crackdown, Yanukovych can (at best!) count on about 5000 Berkut + special forces attack troops and an additional 20 000 Interior Ministry guards. Kyiv is a city of over 3 million people… Somehow I just don’t see how 25 000 men can control a population of that size for long – particularly when that population is hostile to the regime.

Maybe I’m mistaken, but it seems to me that the “king is naked” – a forceful resolution to this conflict is just not in the cards. Or rather, if tried, it will lead to the regime’s downfall due to mass defections and disobedience. Of course, all of the above does not mean that Yanukovych-the-maniac may not try to use force to resolve the current crisis. Certainly any attempt by the regime to do so will lead to grotesque casualties, and in the end, it will fail.

Advisors around Yanukovych seem to understand this – rather than trying a frontal attack on the Maidan, targeted arrests of activists have been reported today. It seems that while “negotiations” are ongoing, the regime will try to impose a reign of terror during the coming days – to use the draconian laws passed by Parliament on Jan 16, and officially published tonight, to legalize a targetted crackdown.

But given the determination of the Maidan, and its level of self-organization, even a targetted crackdown will inevitably fail. Any attempt (for example) to arrest the leaders of the Avtomaidan will lead to more protests. Any attempt to quash students will simply galvanize more young people. And so on…

So what’s my message (or prediction)?

Ukraine’s revolution will end in regime change (I’ll chance this one – by Easter?), but more violence and casualties are yet to come. Sadly, Yanukovych will not give up without a fight…

God help us!

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