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19 March, 2014  ▪  Dmytro Krapyvenko

Viktor Chumak: “Crimea can be used as a base for further intervention in south-eastern regions of Ukraine”

Viktor Chumak, MP, Head of the Parliamentary Committee for Fighting Corruption and Organized Crime and Major General of Justice, who served in the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Border Service for over 20 years, talks to The Ukrainian Week about Ukraine’s defence capability, ways to localize Russian aggression and protection of Ukraine’s eastern borders

U.W: How can the blockade of Ukrainian army units in Crimea be lifted?

We simply do not have the power to conduct a military operation and the approach itself provokes a lot of questions. Withdrawing our troops from Crimea is also not an option, since they are on their own land, in their own garrisons. So why should they leave them? I see one way out: a political decision, the withdrawal of Russian troops from Crimea, a return to the previous status quo and the situation that existed prior to March 3.

Fortunately, there is an international community today that is capable of stopping armed aggression. There is a system of economic and political sanctions, as well as military agreements. If Putin explains his intervention in Ukraine as the protection of the Russian-speaking population of Crimea, then where is the guarantee that he won’t decide to expand to the Baltic States, where there are also a considerable number of “compatriots”? The issue is as follows: either stop the aggressor now, or wait for his next step. So today, the most important thing is for the guarantors of Ukrainian security to use military, political and economic pressure to force Russia not to conduct such intervention.

U.W: If the so-called referendum takes place and Crimea is declared part of the Russian Federation, the Kremlin and its puppets will view our troops as occupation forces and demand their withdrawal from the Autonomous Crimean Republic. What can Ukraine do in such a situation?

Some kind of opinion poll may be conducted in Crimea, but it will be difficult to call it a referendum. The following question immediately arises: who will recognise such “expression” of the will of the people? Certainly not Ukraine. But after it has been conducted, a decision will have to be made regarding our military units in Crimea: either relocate them to mainland Ukraine together with their equipment and armaments, or leave them on the peninsula with continued access to them.

I have great doubts that there will be a decision on Crimea becoming part of the Russian Federation immediately after the “referendum”. In addition, Russia does not necessarily need Crimea in the condition in which it now is. It can be used as a base for further intervention in south-eastern regions of Ukraine. But today we should not accept the international-legal agenda, which Russia is so actively foisting on us.

RELATED ARTICLE: Mykola Melnyk: "Putin will not stop. In fact, we should expect military intervention everywhere where we see attempts to destabilize the situation"

U.W: Quite a few volunteers have already come to military registration and enlistment offices, but is the government capable of arming a large number of people?

When talking about small arms, there are no problems. But as far as the latest types of weapons (armoured military vehicles, army aircraft, mobile air defence systems) are concerned, the situation is quite complex. You have to understand the following: if in previous years the government simply did not pay adequate attention to the army, then in the last four years, it has systematically destroyed Ukraine’s military potential. Of course, it is possible to arm people, but these will be old models of arms, which do not meet today’s requirements. When talking about the ratio of fighter planes in the Ukrainian and Russian army, it’s at a level of 1:98. This is approximately the same ratio as for tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. So talking about any ability to fight against Russia today – is to lie to oneself. But it should be understood that current wars are not simply conducted by frontal attacks and tanks, and a huge “military machine” can malfunction if the population arises against it. Mobile sabotage groups are capable of being more effective than large military formations. This has been proved in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Chechen Republic. Military statistics cannot be used to explain everything here.

U.W: The creation of a National Guard has been initiated. Is it relevant to form it on the basis of internal-security troops?

I don’t think so. Doing so will break the existing structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, since first and foremost, the National Guard should protect the territorial integrity of a country, not conduct law enforcement functions. Clearly, the issue of its formation must still be discussed at the level of the military command and the leadership of internal-security troops, but the basis for it could be the Self-Defence detachments, which currently exist throughout the country. This would not require a great deal of time to set up because it already exists. An option is to reformat it into separate military units, provide them with arms and conduct relevant training.

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U.W: Russian troops that are currently in the Crimea are mainly mechanised infantry, with automatic weapons and light armoured vehicles. Is this evidence that there will be no offensive against Ukraine from Crimea?

There are airborne mobile units in Crimea, which can quickly be relocated to new positions. They were easy to transport by transport planes or ships. By the way, they are currently having some problems, since the Russian military has not brought in rear units. They need an infrastructure: field kitchens, locations at which to set up, medical units, all of which they don’t have. It is for this reason that Russians are trying to seize Ukrainian military facilities, which our military has strongly resisted.

But the absence of heavy defence technology in Crimea does not mean anything: if the Russian Command decides on a fully-fledged attack, it will be able to do so on any strip of our vast border.

U.W: What do you think about the reinstatement of nuclear weapons in Ukraine?

This is very realistic. There is no need to produce ballistic missiles, but it is not at all difficult to create tactical missile systems. Ukraine has plenty of raw materials. It has missile officers, bases, the relevant scientific and industrial potential. All we need is political will.

U.W: How will the international community see such a step?

The international community is currently facing a huge problem: how can you prevent countries, which have the relevant potential, from developing nuclear weapons? After all, the current planetary security system does not provide guarantees for many countries. The resolution of this issue will also depend on how the world reacts to the crisis in Crimea, because it is no longer simply a Ukrainian matter.

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U.W: Obviously, the occupation will have difficult economic consequences for Crimea. Could this provoke an anti-Russian uprising on the peninsula?

Needless to say, this year’s holiday season has been disrupted. In autumn, people will see that they have not earned anything, and pro-Russian sentiments will weaken significantly. This, in turn, will lead to mass protests. One of the reasons for the Russian occupation of Crimea that cannot be ruled out, is the desire to switch the flow of tourists to Sochi, where vast sums were invested during preparations for the Winter Olympics.

U.W: Has everyone in the Ukrainian government now realised the necessity of strengthening defence capabilities and the reform of the military, or will the army once more be forgotten once the tension in the Crimea dies down?

Everyone now understands that we need a completely different army, which will function on completely different principles. We also need a new territorial defence system. So far, the system in Ukraine is one of a concentration of troops that was inherited from the Soviet era, with most units being located in the west of the country. Just as under the USSR, the Prykarpatskiy District, with its headquarters in Lviv, was and continues to be the most powerful one. No-one created new garrisons in the east. Not a single Ukrainian military doctrine anticipated the possibility of aggression from the Russian Federation.

U.W: How would it be possible to prevent the mass Russian violation of the border?

The State Border Service controls its crossing points. On average, there are two-four servicemen for each kilometre of the border. Obviously, it is impossible for them to maintain this area in the military sense, but it’s also not their job to do so. Right now, it’s possible to strengthen the protection of this section by transferring colleagues from western detachments and the State Border Service’s mobilisation reserves to this region. It is also necessary to move in internal-security troops to prevent provocations.

RELATED ARTICLE: Anatoliy Hrytsenko: "Vladimir Putin is an aggressor. This is a fundamental truth"

U.W: Why do law enforcement officers operate so poorly in the east of the country and why do the police not prevent the seizure of administrative buildings?

You have to understand that the state, in the current format, has only existed for just over two weeks. No new police force, public prosecutor’s office or Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has emerged in this time. Leaders in the regions are taking a passive, waiting position and preparing for a possible change of power. There is no-one with whom to immediately replace all of them and the old law enforcement system is extremely inefficient at this time.

U.W: Its doubtful whether the personnel existing until now will be involved in the fight against corruption, but the warriors of the Ministry of Internal Affairs did indeed learn how to disperse meetings

They now understand, that liability and punishment are the consequence of brutal actions against protesters, and this is a serious deterrence factor. It is necessary to remember that they have never been used to apply force within the limits of the law, but are now afraid to exceed their authority. A huge problem in the Ukrainian police force lies in the fact that throughout the world, law enforcement officers are guided by the law, while until now, the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine was guided by the orders of top leaders.

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