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Nikolai Holmov

Ukraine: When Aiders Become Invaders

There is a lot – quite rightly – being written about the military tactics being employed by both Kyiv governmental and anti-Kyiv forces in eastern Ukraine.  People find such military maneuvers interesting after all.  

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This blog could generate such an entry – but such entries are not the norm for this blog.  Normally issues are written in broad policy brush strokes rather than intricate overly detailed composite parts – enthralling as they may be. Added to that there are no requirements to meet editorial time lines with articles that jump from one exciting  incident to another in order to pull in readers and revenue.

So rather than concentrate on one bloody incident after another, it is perhaps time to look at the rationale behind some of those prepared to spill their blood for a cause – and in this entry, those who are prepared to lose their lives (or limbs) for the anti-Kyiv cause.

Amongst that number there are indeed locals who believe they would be better off as part of Russia.  Unfortunately for them, The Kremlin does not seem to have any plans to annex The Donbas or Luhansk.  Why would it?  The heavy industry in those eastern Oblasts is substantially subsidised, and always has been since Ukrainian independence.  Having illegally annexed a financial back hole in Crimea, why annex two others?  (Despite some domestic pressure to do so within Russia.)

However some locals are but a small part of the anti-Kyiv forces.  As the deaths mount up, dozens of bodies are being repatriated to Russia.

So who or what makes up those from Russia?

There will be those of the “Orthodox Cossacks” and other religiously annotated groups.  Some indeed ultra religious and on a crusade – and others far less so.

There will be Russian GRU operatives who at the very least will be feeding human int back to The Kremlin, as well as having some communication with various anti-Kyiv forces, and a logistics ability.

There are those from Crimea supporting the locals in their thus far ill-fate cause for annexation.

There will be the criminal gangs for hire.

There are also the Chechens, Ossetians etc.

In short there is a situation with many individual groups and many different leaders therein, with a seemingly common cause – or not.

There may also be several different paymasters behind several different groups with several different outcomes desired for their money.

The inherent problem with external insurgency is that whether paid or not, they tend to have a slightly different outlook to that of the locals who will ultimately be left live with the results – whatever that outlook may be.

That this is a problem for the Ukrainian authorities – right verses left, Russian Orthodoxy verses any other denomination or faith, East against West, language verses language etc – goes without saying when it comes to how to tackle the problem and find solutions.

It is also a problem for the local anti-Kyiv forces too.  The uniting ideology of some locals may not be the same as that of those who come to their aid – and eventually one will need to impose itself on the other.  This is now becoming apparent in eastern Ukraine.  The Chechen Vostok Battalion now clearly more powerful than the original and local People’s Republic formations.

Perhaps somebody has decided to try and give the feuding warlords some parameters via the Chechens.

Eventually this may  lead to a resentment by the locals – be the armed or otherwise – unless the People’s Republic’s leadership can convince the local people that a future as decreed  Chechen style – or by whomever they are working for/being paid by – would be better than the life those that voted in a very flawed referendum thought they were going to get under the People’s Republic – or indeed one under Kyiv.  A big ask.

A problem arises when the aiders become perceived as the invaders, and the liberators perceived as lords, by those who initially supported them.

It also makes any dialogue aimed at reaching an end to hostilities and acceptable compromise extremely difficult for both sides, when one side is at odds with itself over what is indeed acceptable by way of outcomes.

Regardless of the hardware and personnel numbers on the ground – which are obviously very important tactically – the diversity of those groups already involved makes reaching an end to violence rather difficult.  And more groups will come as The Kremlin turns a blind eye to its “border security”.

President-elect Poroshenko will have his work cut out to end the military action successfully in the east in a matter of hours as he stated he would, when it seems that with more and more Russian groups entering eastern Ukraine with a variety of drivers for being there, the more complex finding any solution will be.

Even if a solution is found with the majority of paramilitary actors, there will be those (or their sponsors) who will not recognise it for one reason or another.

Whilst those currently in eastern Ukraine may decide – or be instructed – to stop wandering the streets with guns en masse eventually, it leads to a possible Ukrainian future that cannot discount a PIRA/Basque/ETA/Brigade Rosse terrorist styled campaign for many, many years to come.  It would certainly seem to be the modus operandi most favourably considered for the moment by the radical few from Odessa – or just beyond.

Fortunately it is not the only possible future ahead of Ukraine.

First, however, we must see if the president-elect can find a peaceful outcome over the next weeks and months.  His claim of doing so within hours seems entirely beyond reach today – but tomorrow, who knows?


This post was originally published here

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UK citizen living in Ukraine since 2005 after working 15 years for The Crown. Actively engaged in civil society, blogger, Chatham House member, policy wonk, contributer to numerous Eastern European PhD papers, books and papers.

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