Combative precautions

1 December 2018, 08:45

We are not used to this. Usually, every sector in our country – from state security to public services – works by fighting fires wherever they start. When the enemy attacks, mobilisation is announced. When a pipe bursts, a load of equipment and local officials are sent to the scene. There is no other way – all decisions are made by heroically overcoming difficulties. When our ships in the Sea of Azov were attacked, it was logical to expect that in response the Navy would be put on alert while all warships and coastal defence facilities are inspected. Instead, Kyiv reacted with the introduction of martial law in ten regions.

There are more than enough arguments behind this decision. However, those who in 2014 called for the immediate introduction of martial law are now afraid of restrictions on the rights and freedoms of citizens and are kicking up a storm on social media. Panic-mongers, plunderers, speculators and traitors are also part of the fauna of war, and they clearly identified themselves during the aforementioned events. It was worth implementing the presidential decree just to stir up this swamp. It looks like the government has done a good job of learning from its 2014 mistakes. Then, there was an attempt to rely on the power vertical, above all the security services in the Donetsk and Luhansk Regions. The result is well-known. Now, there is an appropriate opportunity to check whether those who, in the worst-case scenario, will first have to repel the Russian aggression are ready to work in close to combat conditions. This is not so much an issue for the Armed Forces of Ukraine as for the local elites who are already used to the idea that the war is somewhere far away and they have a peaceful border with Russia, self-proclaimed Transnistria or the annexed Crimea. Smuggling, peaceful coexistence with the enemy and dormant cells of future militants are a good foundation for the next separatist rebellion. This is well understood by the Russian intelligence services and, given the slightest chance, they will try to destabilise the regions that were at one time overcome by the "Russian Spring". It is now possible to check whether we are immune to such scenarios. And whether local leaders can demonstrate their true patriotism not through slogans and traditional embroidered shirts, but by directly strengthening defence capabilities.

Kyiv's statements that Russia is preparing a full-scale invasion are also far from pre-election rhetoric. With its resources and capabilities, the Russian Federation is potentially able to invade Ukrainian territories at any moment. Declaring that an attack is possible, among other things, warns the enemy that we are familiar with his intentions. Once exposed, no one usually tries to put them into practice. In war, the element of surprise is often half the battle. The southern and eastern regions are where, according to Kremlin spin doctors, the largest number of their "compatriots" live. Moscow could deploy a large army if it meant "saving" them. However, without a convincing picture from Ukrainian cities and cries of "Putin, send in the troops!", organising such a scenario will be quite problematic. If during the coming month the Ukrainian security services implement high-quality preventive measures, the threat of pro-Russian insurgencies in these areas will be substantially minimised.

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Some particularly militant critics of the government make accusations that this is not "real" martial law. But there is also a reason that such a soft decision was made. The 30-day special regime in border regions is a kind of warm-up. There is no doubt that the National Security and Defence Council has a tougher and more comprehensive plan to introduce martial law all over the country. However, before doing this, it is logical to do a "practice run" in what are potentially the most vulnerable areas. It is necessary to follow the example of the military: brigades coming back from the front-line do not spend so much time in their bases – between rotations, they mostly participate in manoeuvres of varying scale, because there is a need to constantly improve the combat capability of units. Other security services and civilian authorities should have a similar regimen. In the summer of 2014, when a Russian offensive seemed quite probable, it became fashionable to reopen bomb shelters and mark their location. Then enthusiasm began to fade and safety measures gradually started to be forgotten. Preparation for the elections is another thing entirely – there is no need to remind officials about that.

Martial law has certain sobering effects for the country as a whole. Reservists have started to prepare for possible mobilisation (they do not need a lot of reminders – one order is enough) and volunteers have become more active, because citizens have once again felt the need to help the troops. The decree that some are trying to use to intimidate is actually bound to increase solidarity in patriotic circles, which traditionally become embroiled in quarrels and intrigues prior to elections. Indeed, this is also a rather useful step for fostering understanding between citizens: now, residents of at least eight regions will get on better with those who live in the liberated Donbas – the common sense of a threat should unite them.

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Information warfare is also becoming important once again: alarmists and fake news factories on social networks, as well as openly and covertly anti-Ukrainian media outlets, will, of course, not miss their chance to hype up the topic of martial law. Denying rumours and raising awareness is always harder than whipping up waves of "betrayal" and discontent. However, it must be said that official communications got off to a rocky start. There was confusion in government bodies as to the simple matter of when exactly martial law would be introduced: some said 26 November, while others talked about the 28th. The latter date, in the end, prevailed, but uncertainty in such elementary things is very serious ammunition for the fearmongers and tale-tellers who claim to know "more than they should". It was the same with the number of captive sailors: at first, 23 prisoners of war were mentioned, but in the end the government admitted that there was 24. This kind of blunder is not trivial – we are already well aware that our enemies are able to skilfully make mountains out of molehills, so our task is to not make any of these molehills to start with. This will make it much easier for us to get on with our real work.

The Azov incident is also another litmus test for the international community. We have yet another opportunity to check who cares about the Ukrainian issue and how much, who is ready to provide support, who will limit themselves to general phrases about the "need for de-escalation" and who will go as far as to defend the "Russian territorial waters". Will the pirate-like seizure of our ships and the capture of prisoners of war give rise to a new wave of sanctions? The West must once again take an exam on its political maturity and objective understanding of the Russian threat.

Translated by Jonathan Reilly

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