The advance of Russians in the Donbas has halted the movement of the Ukrainian army eastward and intensified the panic in our rear. However, the shock will soon pass, and society may have no option but to prepare for a cold winter and a lengthy military confrontation
Discussions about the Russian invasion in Ukraine are somehow reminiscent of mass auto-training or a spiritualist seance. When the Russian army seized Crimea, only the lazy in Ukraine didn’t talk about the fact that the Kremlin launched military aggression. And almost immediately, there were rumours in the form of expert opinions: that they are supposedly moving to the other side of Perekop, and that Kyiv will be seized from the northern direction of Chernihiv. In other words, an invasion seemed imminent. Then there was a mass seizure of police stations and local authorities in the Donbas, organised by the “little green men” (read: Russian special forces). Then – a full-fledged war, which was once again characterised as Russian invasion. And when its regular units filled the territories controlled by separatists, the words “Russia has begun military aggression” rang in Ukraine from high tribunes and in family kitchens. There is no need to look far for examples: at the time when Russian soldiers seized Novoazovsk and its outskirts, killed our soldiers in the Ilovaysk cauldron, even President Petro Poroshenko dared to say that “the point of no return will be (that’s right, in the future tense! – Ed.) war with Russia”. So it emerges that the events of the last six months were not yet war. So what was it – international training with the participation of Batallion Task Forces of the Russian Army?
Every new wave of Russian incursion provokes the “prophecies” that Putin needs: a corridor to Crimea and Transnistria, eight “Novorossiya” oblasts, Kyiv as “the mother of all Russian cities”, Ukraine in its current borders, the former republics of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries. Judging by the ambitions and “imperial grandeur” of the Kremlin leader, he needs the world, preferably the whole world. And he will seize just as much as he is allowed to. How is a different matter. If the takeover of Ukraine is a matter of tanks and planes, he could already have conquered it in April. He had all the necessary resources and grounds, including legitimacy added in his eyes by the pretext of protecting “fellow countrymen”. But obviously, Putin is not interested in “Ukraine at any cost”, he needs a loyal territory, where the Russian World will be welcomed and the Russian flag will be kissed. The experience of the last war with Georgia, when Russian tanks came to a halt 60 km from Tbilisi, but finally withdrew to the territories of the “independent” South Ossetia and Abkhazia, also teaches us this. Of course, there were sufficient tanks to cross the whole of Georgia to Batumi and reach the waters of the Black Sea. However, even such a relatively small, but extremely disloyal country was not of interest to the invaders.
Putin has quite a few other means to keep Ukraine in the orbit of its influence (this is where a good few European politicians see the place of Kyiv). The breakdown of the ratification of the Association Agreement with the EU is also his victory. It is true that with this victory, the immediate membership of Ukraine in the Customs Union is not a given, but it is time won for new manoeuvres and schemes, and not only on the Donetsk front. Destabilisation in the rear is also a plan that has been implemented quite successfully. Moscow did everything for Ukraine to suffer an economic knockdown, and with winter nearing, its consequences will become ever more noticeable. This could result in mass dissatisfaction among the people and social protests. This is probably what the Kremlin is counting on. There are frequent attempts to organise a so-called Utility Tariff Maidan, the slogan of which is supposed to be the struggle against the impoverishment of the population, but as the experience of the first such actions showed, they transform into a manifestation of solidarity with separatists either directly or indirectly. The organisers of the systematic anti-war movement are dancing to the same tune, so do chaotic rebels who confuse actual lustration with the settling of scores with the authorities. Fortunately, such manifestations are currently marginal. However, with generous sponsorship, economic downfall and the protraction of the war, all of these protests could have the effect of a delayed action mine, capable of exploding hundreds of kilometres from the front.
Actually, in the current war, its line is not very clear. Yes, we have a map of the Donbas and the dislocation of hostile forces on it. But is everything okay in our rear? Is Kharkiv so safe, where anti-Ukrainian actions remain open, where the Mayor does not hide his support of Putin and terrorist acts near the city are no longer a rarity? Is it a coincidence that the separatist card is being played (currently on the level of just media buzz) in Zakarpattia? Have the Family-owned mass media stopped their operations in Ukraine? No, they continue to spread their publications, preparing the grounds for their owners to get either revenge or spread disinformation and escalate panic.
Ukrainians, both regular citizens and politicians, should already have learned the enemy’s habits. Putin has a great fondness for distracting manoeuvres, or, as he himself says, asymmetrical responses. After the loss of Crimea, we began to build reinforcements at Perekop, while Russian weapons have flowed like a river in the Donbas; the whole world, waited with bated breath for “peaceful solutions in Minsk”, and in the meantime, tanks from Russia were crossing the Ukrainian border en masse. Naïve and peace-loving citizens breathed a sigh of relief after the announcement that Poroshenko and Putin had agreed to a ceasefire in the Donbas. At the same time, the Kremlin once more reminded us that “it is not a party to the conflict”. The “seven point” plan for the peaceful regulation of the region, proposed by the Russian President is also, in all likelihood, a smokescreen, to be followed by the yet another military provocation.
The army, even the whole of Ukraine is forced to go on the defence. It is important that, as they say in the military, it goes deep. In other words, defence must be firm enough for the opponent to still risk being encircled and to stop the advance, even if it uses great force to break through. Military leaders have probably already learned this from their experience on the border with Russia, which is full of gaps. It appears that the political leadership has also understood this – Premier Arseniy Yatseniuk announced the start of the “Wall” project, the purpose of which is to protect the Ukrainian border from Russia. Actually, defence is everyone’s private matter. You can undergo preliminary military and medical training without waiting for a call-up: there are currently such opportunities in large cities. It is foolish to count on the government “giving” us something. We must prepare for the winter, when problems with heat and electricity could emerge, as is generally the case in countries at war. It is also worth maintaining information defense, because the advance of the enemy is as noticeable in this sphere as it is in the Donbas right now. It is also sometimes necessary to defend ourselves from the government, the actions of which can be not very professional and insufficiently decisive. It is necessary to put pressure on it. But we should still refrain from “Maidan” methods: today, a burned-out or destroyed administrative building plays directly into the hands of the enemy.
Happy patriotism and yellow-blue colours on fences can “wither” under the influence of numerous external circumstances, and autumn-winter defence will not be as emotional and enthusiastic. We will have to practice patience and nerves more than courage and patriotic slogans. All of us have already had a chance to see that “beautiful” wars can only be found in the cinema, generally made by mediocre directors.
Serhiy Zakharov is an artist from Donetsk known for his plywood caricatures of “Novorossia” leaders installed on the city streets in 2014. The installations resulted in his captivity in Donetsk that year. In his interview with The Ukrainian Week, Serhiy speaks about his complex relations with his city and the attitudes of the creative crowd to politicians
The Ukrainian Week talked with Acting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, Eurasia in the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy on the act of aggression in the Kerch Strait and the military assistance to Ukraine.
A court in Kyiv is expected to consider a request from Ukrainian prosecutors to detain a high-ranking regional official suspected of organizing the killing of anticorruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk last year