The USA and much of the West continue to encourage, even urge, Kiev to continue its suicidal and potentially genocidal “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO) against [Novorossiya], but the Ukrainian state continues its meltdown, which drives wedges between it and what remains of its population. One of the basic functions of viable statehood is an ability to have a monopoly over the means of coercion. This requires a standing army to defend sovereignty over state territory and police forces to enforce its laws. However, having “lost” the Crimea and [Novorossiya], the Evromaidantsy junta led by “President” P A Poroshenko alienated much of the rump Ukraine’s remaining population by pressing forward with the civil war it that initiated in April (the “ATO”). To be sure, Poroshenko appears a moderate nationalist, but he’s under immense pressure from national-chauvinistic elements such as the National Front and Fatherland parties and the neo-fascist Radical Party, Right Sector, and Social-National Assembly. Members of these radical blocs form the various volunteer battalions, but they’re now breaking with the state and going rogue. In short, the Ukrainian state could be coming undone.
In a December public opinion survey conducted by Kiev’s “Social Monitoring” group, an overwhelming majority (73 percent) wanted an end to the ATO. Only 19 percent supported its continuation, and 8 percent had no opinion. This reflects a major shift from the beginning of the ATO, when 50.4 percent fully or mostly supported it. Nevertheless, despite growing opposition to the war, Kiev did little to end it. It insisted that the Minsk Memorandum placed the Donetsk Airport… the only site of low-level combat that remained after the autumn ceasefire… on its side of the ceasefire demarcation line, leaving hundreds of troops in the airport, sparking occasional fighting. Last week, after full-scale fighting erupted, in large part because of this step, the protocol or addendum (prilozhenie) to the memorandum signed by Kiev defining the demarcation was published for the first time, clearly revealing that the airport was in the [Novorossiyan] zone (which includes the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Lugansk People’s Republic (LNR)) (see this and this).
In mid-January the tit-for-tat sniping and small skirmishes escalated into larger-scale fighting at the airport, and junta forces resumed shelling by inaccurate Grad MRLs on Donetsk. The renewed full-scale fighting scuttled a planned meeting of the Minsk Memorandum group scheduled for 16 January. On the same day, President Putin sent a message to Poroshenko suggesting that all sides withdraw heavy artillery beyond striking distance, so that the already-escalating small-scale fighting wouldn’t escalate into full-scale civil war, but Putin said that Kiev rejected his proposal. Kiev hasn’t commented. Then, fighting spread along the front and briefly flared in the south at Mariupol, where an alleged DNR artillery barrage hit a residential area killing 30 and wounding 100 on 24 January.
In response, Poroshenko announced an additional mobilisation of 100,000 men, prompting much draft evasion. Subsequent events showed the junta’s inability to enforce the draft and society’s growing disengagement from the war and the Evromaidantsy junta. Villages revolted against attempts by the Voenkom to enrol draftees, and many potential draftees fled to Russia to hide from the Voenkom. One village in [Podkarpatskaya] hired 26 buses to transport its sons to Russia (see this and this). In another, only 3 of 105 draftees were there to accept their notices. Mass evasion is also in evidence in significantly nationalist and pro-junta provinces. In Ivano-Frankovsk Oblast, 57 percent failed to respond to the draft, 37 percent fled abroad. In Volyn Oblast, 19 percent of draftees refused to serve for religious reasons; in the past, such refusal never exceeded 0.7 percent. According to European Institute of Political Culture Director Aleksandr Bulavin, more than a million Ukrainians evaded mobilisation, presumably throughout the course of the war and several mobilisations.
One shouldn’t assume that one only finds draft resistance amongst liberal democrats or ethnic Hungarian, Romanian, or Rusins opposed to the increasingly ethnic Ukrainian nationalistic Evromaidantsy junta. Poroshenko military advisor Yuri Biryukov raged in anger about false patriotism, “He snoutishly cries ‘Glory to the Ukraine’; each tells everyone else what a patriot he is. He’s the best strategist in the history of our time, able to destroy a battalion tactical reconnaissance group of the enemy by the mere force of thought. Of course, national symbols fill his profile. He’s from Ivano-Frankovsk, Ternopol, Podkarpatskaya, and Volyn Oblasts. He despises the weakness of the Kiev authorities and relishes criticising the president. He foams at the mouth to prove that the use of the Russian language is a sign of the work of the Moskali (derogatory term for ‘Muscovites’). Yet, he’s a cowardly bastard. Tail between his legs, he hides from the Voenkom, changes his phone number, collects his belongings, and hides in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, or Poland. He sits there, pleased with his genius”.
Thus, it appears that many nationalist Ukrainians defect from the new system, as indicated by the failure of the mobilisation in places like Ivano-Frankovsk Oblast, as noted above, and in Ternopol Oblast. This is understandable given the numerous reports of poorly armed and supplied new recruits sent to the Donbass to fight highly motivated patriot forces equipped with Russian arms and with equipment produced by the region’s industrial base. In response, the junta banned draft-eligible men from leaving their home districts, so the Voenkom can track them. In addition, Oleg Boiko, Chief of the Mobilisation Administration of the Defence and Mobilisation Planning Administration of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff stated, “those of draft age are emigrating by whole villages” in a “mass exodus abroad”, so, the Rada is drawing up new legislation is to change the rules for travel abroad by those subject to the military draft. Observing these trends, on 26 January, Putin offered that Russian amend its laws to allow Ukrainians of draft age to stay longer in Russia than the presently-allowed limit of 90 days within any 180-day period to draw potential draftees from Ukraine. In short order… a mere two days later… Russia changed its rules to allow Ukrainians subject to the military draft back home arriving in Russia to remain in the country until the end of the “crisis”.
The junta’s inability to enforce mobilisation, not to mention its inability to inspire most draft-age men to support its war effort, suggests an incapable state and an increasingly unpopular system. So far, there hasn’t been any mass demonstrations against the war, but as the situation on the front continues to deteriorate, this remains a distinct possibility. Recent reports indicate that the Donbass forces are about to close an encirclement surrounding some 7,000 Ukrainian forces at Debaltsevo. Today, Ukrainian media is reporting that Poroshenko is going to fire Ukrainian Armed Forces Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko and replace him with his predecessor, Gennady Vorobiev, removed due to the lustration intended to clean out potentially pro-Russian or pro-Yanukovich officials from the Evromaidantsy junta. This is likely to ruffle feathers amongst nationalist and neofascist elements. Some of them threatened to overthrow Poroshenko, and the Right Sector refused to subordinate its armed members fighting in so-called “volunteer battalions” to the Minoborony Ukrainy. Luckily, recently, its leader, Dmitri Yarosh, was wounded in fighting at Donetsk Airport; perhaps, delaying any subversive plans he and his allies might be hatching.
Continued failure at the front, first witnessed in the rout at Ilovaisk in September, and the consequently growing pressure on the population to support the effort by supplying its sons and treasure from its declining income are bound to drive the wedge deeper between the Evromaidantsy junta and the Ukrainian people it supposedly came to power to serve. In sum, the Ukrainian military and the junta are in increasingly dire straits, both at the front and in the rear.
28 January 2015
Russian and Eurasian Politics: Gordon Hahn