Maidan Ukraine: War, Mobilization, and the Failing Ukrainian State

Photo General Poroshenko
By Gordon M. Hahn
While the US and much of the West continue to encourage, even urge Kiev to continue its suicidal and potentially genocidal ‘anti-terrorist operation’ (ATO) against the Donbass’s separatists, the Ukrainian state continues to melt down and drive wedge between it and what remains of its population. One of the basic functions of viable state is its ability to possess a monopoly over the means of coercion. This requires maintaining a standing army to defend its sovereignty over the state’s territory and establishing police forces to enforce the law. Moreover, having ‘lost’ its Crimeans and Donbassians, the Maidan regime now led by Ukrainian President Pyotr Poroshenko is alienating much of rump Ukraine’s remaining population by pressing forward with the civil war it initiated in April under the ATO label. To be sure, he appears to be a moderate nationalist, but he is under immense pressure from the national chauvinistic National Front and Fatherland parties and the neo-fascistic Radical Party, Right Sector and Social-National Assembly. Members of these radicals party man the various volunteer battalions and are 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 of respondents (73 percent) wanted an end to the ATO. Only 19 percent supported its continuation, and 8 percent were undecided. This reflects a major shift from the beginning of the ATO when 50.4 percent fully or mostly supported it (http://vesti-ukr.com/donbass/83196-bolee-70-ukraincev-hotjat-okonchanija-ato).
Despite growing opposition to the war, Kiev nevertheless did little to cease it. It insisted that the Minsk Memorandum placed Donetsk’s Segei Prokofev Airport – the only locus of low-scale fighting that remained after the ceasefire initiated in autumn – on its side of the ceasefire demarcation line and left hundreds of troops in parts of the airport sparking occasional fighting. However, after full-scale fighting erupted last week in large part because of this step, the protocol or addendum (prilozhenie) to the memorandum signed by Kiev that defined the demarcation was published for the first time clearly revealing that the airport was delegated to separatists of the Donbass (which includes the Donetsk People’s Republic or DNR and the Lugansk People’s Republic or LNR) controlled territory (http://vesti-ukr.com/donbass/86106-memoran and http://vesti-ukr.com/storage/asset/file/untitled.pdf).
In mid-January the tit-for-tat sniping and small skirmishes escalated into larger-scale fighting at the airport, and Kiev’s forces resumed artillery strikes by inaccurate Grad rocket systems on cities such as Donetsk. The renewed full-scale fighting scuttled a planned meeting of the Minsk Memorandum group of negotiators scheduled for January 16th. On the same day Russian President Putin sent a message to Poroshenko suggesting that all heavy artillery be pulled back beyond striking distance, so the already escalating small-scale fighting would not escalate again into full-scale civil war, but, according to Putin, Kiev rejected the proposal (www.kremlin.ru/news/47505). Kiev has not commented. Fighting then spread alone the front and briefly emerged in the south at Mariupol, where an apparent DNR artillery barage hit a residential area killing 30 and wounding 100 on January 24th.
In response President Poroshenko announced an additional mobilization of 100,000 fighting age Ukrainians, prompting a wave of draft evasion. Subsequent events showed the regime’s inability to enforce its draft law and society’s growing disengagement from the war and Maidan regime. Villages have revolted against attempts by draft officials to bring in draftees, and thousands of potential draftees are fleeing to Russia to hide from the mobilization. One village in Transcarpathia hired 26 buses to transport its sons to Russia (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/86584-birjukov-vozmutilsja-rezultatami-mobilizacii-na-zapadnoj-ukraine and http://vesti-ukr.com/lvov/86182-vlasti-zajavili-o-sryve-mobilizacii-na-zapadnoj-ukraine). In another, only 3 of 105 draftees stayed around to be handed their notices. Mass evasion is also in evidence in considerably nationalist and pro-Kiev provinces. Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, 57 percent failed to respond to their draft notices, and 37 percent had fled abroad. In Volynsk Oblast, 19 percent of draftees are refusing to serve for religious reasons, when in the past such religious refusal never exceeded 0.7 percent (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/86584-birjukov-vozmutilsja-rezultatami-mobilizacii-na-zapadnoj-ukraine). According to Eurpean Institute of Political Culture Director Alexander Bulavin more than a million Ukrainians have evaded mobilization (www.ng.ru/cis/2015-01-28/2_donbass.html), presumably throughout the course of the war and several mobilization campaigns.
One should not assume that the draft resistance is purely a phenomenon driven by liberal democrats or ethnic Hungarian, Romanian or Rusynian Transcarpathians opposed to the increasingly ethnic Ukrainian nationalistic Maidan regime. Poroshenko military advisor Yurii Biryukov raged in anger about the people’s false patriotism: “It snoutishly cries ‘Glory to Ukraine’, and each tells everyone what a patriot he is. He is 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, his profile is filled with national symbols. He is a resident of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Transcarpathia, and Volyn regions. He despises the weakness of the Kiev authorities and relishes criticizing the president. He foams at the mouth to prove that the use of the Russian language is a sign of the work of the moskals (deragotory term for ‘Muscovites’). And yet he is cowardly bastard. Tail between his legs, he hides from the commissar, changes his phone number, collects his belongings and hides in Romania, Hungary, Slovakia or Poland. And he sits there, so pleased with his genius” (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/86584-birjukov-vozmutilsja-rezultatami-mobilizacii-na-zapadnoj-ukraine).
Thus, it appears that many nationalistically-oriented Ukrainians are defecting from the new system, as indicated by the failure of the mobilization in places like Ivano-Frankivsk, as noted above, and in Ternopil Oblast (http://vesti-ukr.com/lvov/86554-v-genshtabe-zajavili-o-massovom-pobege-voennoobjazannyh-za-granicu). This is understandable given the numerous reports of poorly armed and supplied new recruits sent to the Donbass to fight a highly motivated separatist force equipped with Russian arms and by the industrial base located in the region.
In response the regime has banned draft age men from leaving their home districts, so military committees can track them down (http://vesti-ukr.com/odessa/86398-nezhelanie-ukraincev-sluzhit-grozit-sryvom-mobilizacii). In addition, Chief of the Mobilization Administration of the Defense and Mobilization Planning Administration of the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff Oleg Boiko stated that because “those of draft age are emigrating by whole villages” in a “mass exodus abroad”, new legislation is being drawn up to change the rules for travel abroad by those subject to the military draft (http://vesti-ukr.com/lvov/86554-v-genshtabe-zajavili-o-massovom-pobege-voennoobjazannyh-za-granicu).
Observing these trends Putin offered on January 26 that Russian laws be amended to allow Ukrainians of draft age to stay longer in Russia than the presently allowed limit of 90 days within any 180-day period in order to draw potential draftees from Ukraine. In quick order – a mere two days later – Russia’s rules were changed to allow Ukrainians subject to the military draft back home arriving in Russia to remain in the country untilt the end of the “crisis” (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/86663-kreml-reshil-pomoch-ukraincam-otkosit-ot-armii).
The inability of the regime to enforce mobilization no less inspire most draft age men to support its war effort suggests an incapacious state and increasingly an unpopular regime. So far there have been no 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 (http://vesti-ukr.com/donbass/86250-debalcevo-ugrozhaet-kotel). Today, Ukrainian media is reporting that Poroshenko is preparing to fire Ukrainian Armed Forces Chief of the General Staff Viktor Muzhenko and replace him with his predecessor Gennadi Vorobev, who was removed as a result of the lustration intended to clean out potentially pro-Russian or pro-Yanukovich officials from the Maidan regime (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/86703-smi-soobwili-o-planah-poroshenko-uvolit-glavu-genshtaba-muzhenko). This is likely to ruffle feathers among the nationalist and neo-fascist parties.
Some of them have threatened to overthrow Poroshenko, and one, the Right Sector, has refused to subordinate to the Defense Ministry its armed members fighting in so-called battalions. Luckily, its leader, Dmitro Yarosh, was recently wounded in fighting at Donetsk’s Prokofiev 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 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 Maidan regime and the Ukrainian people it supposedly came to power to serve. In sum, the Ukrainian military and Maidan regime are in increasingly dire straights both at the front and in the rear.

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About Gordon M. Hahn