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Violence, Coercion and Escalation in the Ukraine Crisis, Parts 1-5: November 2013 January 2014


photo Ukrainian-Revolution

by Gordon M. Hahn

In order to understand the unfolding of events that led to the Maidan revolutionary coup and Ukraine’s civil war, it is necessary to examine the key turning points. This is the first in what I hope will be a series of brief analyses of several coercive and violent turning points in this ongoing crisis.

Coercive and violent incidents are particularly powerful turning points in crisis politics. The play the vanguard role in polarizing, mobilizing and escalating actors and groups operating in the structure of strategic action attending any political or revolutionary crisis. Therefore, I will endeavor to determine the dynamics of escalation through coercion and violence and which sides initiated and escalated the level of coercion or violence at several key turning points in the Ukrainian crisis sparked in mid-November 2013 by then Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to delay the signing of the draft EU association agreement.

None of this is to say that non-coercive and non-violent actions do not play a role in the polarization, mobilization and escalation inherent in political crises. Research shows that rhetoric and insult raise the temperature in any developing or ongoing conflict. However, it is almost always true that coercion and violence play the lead role in the development of conflictive dynamics.

Escalation Point 1: The First Violence

Typically, the first violence mentioned in most media and even academic reports on the Maidan demonstrations is that ostensibly carried out on Yanukovich’s orders by the Berkut police in the early morning dark hours of November 30th. At that time, an attempt was made by the Berkut special police forces to clean the Maidan square of demonstrators during the sleeping hours when the crowd thinned down to a few hundred.

In reality, the first violent clash between police and the demonstrators occurred on the evening of November 24th. Several reports in non-mainstream but far from alternative Western media report that demonstrators attacked police in the early morning hours on the evening of November 25th “for the second night running” as police “struggled to keep order.” Business News Europe reported: “In the morning of November 25, police used tear gas and batons to disperse a crowd around the government headquarters after numerous protestors hurled rocks and tried to tear off officers’ helmets.”[1] The independent and pro-democracy Russian daily Nezavisimaya gazeta also reported that the demonstrators initiated the violence by throwing objects at the police and that there were numerous aggressive youths calling on the crowd to storm already the presidential palace, turn over buses or engage in other such violent acts.[2] The pro-Kiev Kyiv Post reported that more clashes broke out that evening when demonstrators attacked a police van, which turned out to be a police mobile eavesdropping post. Police moved in to retaliate and more violence ensued.[3]

Also, it appears that photographic evidence that would support the print reports cited above were cleansed from the Internet, presumably by the pro-Maidan, now pro-Kiev Kyiv Post. The Kyiv Post removed an article, which is cached on the Internet; only its accompanying photographs remain, but only 7 of the original 14 photographs. One of the seven remaining photos shows members of the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party front and center at the demonstrations.[4] The evidence that originally there were originally 14 pictures and that 7 have been removed comes from a mobile phone freeze frame still accessible on the Internet.[5]

Most Western sources did not identify which side initiated the violence, but tended to mention the police response first.[6] Therefore, the claim made by Western governments and media that the demonstrations were peaceful was already proving falsehood. The demonstrators had escalated the situation from a political confrontation to a more tense and violent conflict.

The likely perpetrators of this first violent episode were younger members of the ultra-nationalist, even neo-fascist Svoboda Party or perhaps the Social-National Assembly (Right Sector would be founded a few nights later). No casualty figures are available for this first violence, and it appears no one was killed, wounded, or hospitalized.

Escalation Point 2: November 30th Berkut Crackdown

The next data point for violent escalation was the November 30th late night attempt to clear the Maidan of demonstrators by the Yanukovich regime’s Berkut special riot police. For the first time, Ukrainian riot police first used force against peaceful protesters on 30 November 2013, when they refused to disperse, resulting in dozens of injuries and the brief detention of 35 peaceful protestors on charges of hooliganism.[7]

Four nights previous, several neo-fascist parties even more radical than the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party joined to form the Right Sector as a Maidan defense force and shock troops for a nationalist revolutionary takeover. The formation of Right Sector was part of the quasi-militarization of the Maidan that would escalate the conflict between regime and opposition and lead ultimately to the revolutionary seizure of power in February 2014. On the evening of 26-27 November 2013, four ultra-right and neo-fascist groups joined forces to found Right Sector: Stepan Bandera’s Trident, named after the head of the Ukrainian nationalist leader who allied and carried out massacres of Poles and Jews in league with the Nazis during World War II; the Ukrainian National Assembly; White Hammer; and the ultra-fascist Social National Assembly (SNA). The SNA’s program gives a glimpse of its ideology: “nationocracy.” It proposes banning all political parties, organizations, associations and ideological groups. The elite of the Ukrainian ethnic group or nation will hold full power: “Political power is wholly owned by the Ukrainian nation through its most talented, idealistic and altruistic national representatives who are able to ensure proper development of the nation and its competitiveness.” “Supreme power (executive, legislative and judicial) of the Ukrainian state will be in the hands of the head of state, who is personally responsible to the nation’s own blood and property.” Capitalism is to be “dismantled” and democracy is to be “eliminated.” All actions that fail “to comply with obligations to the nation and the state will entail the restriction of civil rights or deprivation of citizenship … The ultimate goal of Ukrainian foreign policy is world domination.”

The Berkut police found out about the formation of Right Sector and were put on high alert beforehand. Indeed, the decision to attempt clearing the Maidan was almost certainly motivated at least in part by the news of Right Sector’s formation. Almost all of its members are committed to seizing power, including by force of arms. Right Sector leader Dmitro Yarosh has been relentless in calling for a “nationalist revolution” both before and ever since the Maidan seizure of power.

The failed attempt to clean the square of demonstrators was executed by unleashing several hundred baton-weilding Berkut and hired-hands or titushki, who brutally beat apparently defenseless demonstrators. This was a significant escalation in violence but not a major one, having led to no fatalities or use of firearms. Moreover, the incident further mobilized both democrats and nationalists in Kiev and in other parts of the country, especially in the more pro-nationalist and anti-Russia western provinces. The result was the radicalization and the beginning of the militarization of Maidan and a vindication of the creation of the sotniki and Right Sector.

It needs to be said, however, that mobilization in the provinces began earlier, indeed on the same evening, November 25th, which saw the protesters’ initial violence against the police. Ultra-nationalists of the Svoboda Party and other Galicians in Lviv (Lvov) called the population to the city center to mobilize for a march on Kiev. Declaring Lviv’s secession from Yanukovich’s Ukraine as a “free European city”, the mayor hailed the Galicia’s European messianic mission in the east:  “We have always been Europe. Today, our task is to ensure that this European spirit prevailed all over Ukraine.”[8]

Escalation in coercion and violence was coming to a new broader turning point that would have implications far beyond Kiev’s city center.

Escalation Point 3: First Fatalities and Use of Firearms, 22 January 2014

Tension and conflict between police and Maidan demonstrators gradually escalated through December, with the nationalists’s use of Molotov cocktails against police and the police’s beatings of demonstrators. Although President Yanukovich condemned the November 30th Berkut beatings and promised an investigation, much of Kiev and all of western Ukraine and the Western media were convinced that he had ordered the crackdown. As a result, conflict between police and demonstrators escalated but remained at a manageable low-intensity level.

Coercion and violence on the ground in any local conflict are not the only sources of potential escalation. Foreign influences can push conflicting sides to escalate in the belief they have powerful foreign backers and support being or to be provided can tip the scales in their favor. In mid-January, ill-fated Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich was set to travel to Moscow for discussions on Ukraine’s possible involvement in the Eurasian Economic Union and a desperately needed financial rescue package from Moscow. In response, Washington stepped up its involvement in the Maidan protest and would-be revolution. On Wednesday, December 12th, US Deputy Secretary of State Viktoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Kiev Jeffrey Pyatt encouraged the demonstrators to stay the course by walking through Maidan Square and handing out cookies. In a press conference during her visit, Nuland said she had a “tough but realistic” conversation with President Yanukovych and believed it possible to save Ukraine’s “European future” if he showed “leadership.”

At the same time, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki suggested the US might impose sanctions on Ukraine, and the US government-funded think tank Freedom House called on Yanukovych to resign immediately and declare early elections as “the only non-violent way to end the standoff with demonstrators.” Like Nuland, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle toured the Maidan protest camp with two Ukrainian opposition leaders and asserted that “Ukraine should be on board with Europe.”[9] The Polish Foreign Ministry set up a tent on Maidan Square, according to some reports.[10] Taken together or simply in its essential parts, the above constituted nothing less than a violation of the Helsinki Final Act’s clauses banning the interference of member-states of the OSCE in the domestic politics of its other member-states.

In the days that followed, the barricades that had been disappearing from the square were returned by the demonstrators. On Sunday, December 15th, a rally of some 200,000 supporting Ukraine’s ‘European choice’ was feted by two US Senators – Chris Murphy (Democrat from Connecticut) and former Republican Party presidential candidate John McCain (Arizona), well-known for his anti-Russian and bitterly anti-Putin. His words seemed calculated to whip up an anti-Russian sentiment. McCain declared: “We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe. We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe. We…want to make it clear to Russia and Vladimir Putin that interference in the affairs of Ukraine is not acceptable to the United States. People of Ukraine, this is your moment. The free world is with you, America is with you, I am with you.” Warning Putin not to interfere in Ukrainian politics from Maidan Square in central Kiev seemed blatantly hypocritical and designed to antagonize Moscow.[11] While in Kiev McCain also met with ultra-nationalist Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyagnibok, whose followers had been and would continue to play a leading role in the violence on Maidan and the ultimate coercive seizure of power in February. Russian officials in fact expressed their dissatisfaction with this American interference.[12]

The EU seemed to move in the opposite direction from the Americans, simultaneously undermining its Ukraine integration efforts and Yanukovich’s incentive to pursue them when it announced it was terminating all further efforts to convince Kiev to sign the agreement. Yanukovich’s trip to Moscow ended in the Kremlin’s purchase of $15 billion of Ukrainian debt and a cut in the price of natural gas for Kiev.

By early January, it seemed that the American gambit had failed Maidan largely emptied out. The Catholic Christmas, the New Year, and the Orthodox Christmas emptied the Maidan and revolutionary activity all but ceased. One pro-Maidan Western media outlet lamented “Why Did Ukraine’s Eurorevolution Fail?”[13]

Through mid-January, as the holiday hangover passed, some demonstrators returned to the Maidan, but they were initially few and limited to the ultra-nationalists from the Right Sector and other radical groups. Since the New Year, demonstrators had been storming and occupying government buildings, the ultra-nationalists’ began to systematize and intensify their use of bricks and firebombs, catapulting them with improvised devices. This was one of several lulls in the crisis when the Yanukovich regime had a chance to divide the parliamentary opposition and the Maidan demonstrators and secure an agreement for a peaceful resolution for the crisis as would happen for but a moment a month later. Instead of negotiating with the troika of Fatherland (Batkyvshchina) party leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Udar party leader Klitchko and Svoboda’s Tyagnibok, Yanukovich adopted a series of draconian laws. Passed by the rada on January 16th, they seriously restricted the rights to public protest and the activities of nongovernmental organizations and cracked down on independent news media, and the laws were adopted with no advanced notice and no debate in the Rada.

The new laws breathed new life into the Maidan movement. The numbers of demonstrators again rose to many thousands on the weekdays and tens of thousands on the weekends. Moreover, the Right Sector and other radical groups escalated their use of Molotov cocktails, chains, metal bars to attack police. During the week of January 12th pro-Maidan protestors seized scores of regional and city administration buildings in western Ukraine. On January 19th, a Sunday, demonstrators seized the Justice Ministry building and barricaded themselves inside, preventing access.[14]

On Wednesday, January 22nd, the next violent escalation point came with the first deaths and use of firearms. On January 21st On January 21, Ukrainian Yuriy Verbytskiy became the Maidan protest’s first fatality. Having been abducted, his body later found in woods outside Kiev with signs of torture. However, no one witnessed the abduction or torture, and the perpetrators were never found. Three demonstrators were killed on that day; 25-year old Belorussian Mikhail Zhiznevskiy from Belarus, Yurii Verbitskii from Ukraine were shot and Sergei Nigoyan from Armenia were shot. At least one of them was reportedly killed by a police sniper, but in the chaos of the street violence no eyewitnesses could pinpoint the source of shots no less the perpetrator.[15] The opposition contended that they were shot by police on Kiev’s Hrushevskiy Street, where demonstrators had been throwing bricks torn from the pavement and improvised firebombs at riot police for several days running. The government, however, claimed the two demonstrators were killed with hunting rifles, which police do not use.[16] Video later emerged showing demonstrators from the Right Sector, Svoboda Party and other groups – including Svoboda Party parliament deputy Ruslan Koshulynsky – carrying and using hunting rifles at various periods during the unrest in January and February, in particular during the February mass sniper attack.[17] The shootings sparked an escalation of neo-fascist demonstrators’ attacks on police forcing the January 28th repeal of the draconian laws passed less than two weeks earlier and the resignation of Prime Minister Mikhail Azarov the same day.

However, a year after the first lethal use of firearms on the Maidan, the new regime’s own Ministry of Internal Affairs cast doubt on the Maidan’s version of the events that had escalated the regime-opposition confrontation closer to a revolutionary outcome. MVD deputy chief Vitaliy Sakal now reports that Zhiznevskiy was shot with a pistol and Nigoyan with a hunting rifle, noting that police do use such weapons. Sakal adds: “The investigation is also considering among other versions a killing in order to provoke an escalation of the conflict and justify the use of weapons by protestors. It is confirmed by numerous materials from public sources, where people with firearms were recorded.” “It was also found that the dead bodies were removed, and the witnesses of the murder weren’t found.”[18] This gives creedence to the Yanukovich regime’s rejection of the charge that the police had committed the first killings of the Maidan revolution.

A third version that also lacks any supporting evidence is that one of the infamous titushki, using his own firearm or other weapons (against Nigoyan) killed one or more of the first victims of the revolutionary upheaval. The titushki were allied or paid, mostly young thugs, the regime transported to Kiev from the provinces who participated in counter-demonstrations or engaged the Maidan demonstrators in running street battles.

Although the circumstances of each of these first three killings remain unclear and if anything appear more likely to have been a settling of unknown scores between demonstrators, the Yanukovich regime was and continues to be blamed by most in central and western Ukraine and in the Western media. This would not be the last case in which questionable, unsubstantiated, and even false attributions of crimes would be made against the corrupt and venal, albeit, Yanukovich regime.

Escalation Point 4: LOCAL REVOLTS

The next escalation point – the wave of regional revolts in western and central Ukraine in support of the Maidan uprising – was both violent and coercive, sometimes producing injured and wounded, sometimes not. Contrary to the now accepted view, the local revolts in the Crimea and Donbass, that seemed to spark the civil war, were modeled not only on the seizure of power in Kiev but also on separatist-tinged takeovers of regional administrations in the country’s pro-Maidan, nationalist western regions. As the division, instability, and violent conflict began to grip the capitol, these dynamics began to spread across the entire country. It is important to emphasize that the pro-Maidan regional takeovers in the west occurred earlier than the anti-Maidan takeovers in the east and south and held the potential for secession or latent separatism. Thus, it was western Ukraine that set in motion the tactic what would rip Ukraine apart along its eastern and southern edges.

Indeed, as early as November 25th, revolutionary dual power and, more importantly perhaps, latent separatism emerged in the west first. As the very first violence began on Maidan in that evening, ultra-nationalists of the Svoboda Party and other European-messianic Galicians in Lviv (Lvov) called the population to the city center to mobilize for a march on Kiev in support of the Maidan demonstrators. Declaring Lviv’s rebirth as a “free European city”, the mayor hailed the Galicia’s European messianic mission to transform not just the country’s political practice and geopolitical orientation but to impose western Ukraine’s culture and ideology on the east: “We have always been Europe. Today, our task is to ensure that this European spirit prevailed all over Ukraine.”[19] This attitude, reflected in the first post-revolutionary act of repealing Russian language rights in Russian majority regions in the east, along with the threat of neo-fascist violence helped to spark secessionism in Ukraine’s east and south months later.

In mid-January, dual power and potential for secession intensified in the west. Radical, mostly ultra-nationalist, pro-Maidan demonstrators began storming government buildings in central Kiev housing various ministries and other government offices. On January 19th, for example, Maidan demonstrators seized the Justice Ministry building in central Kiev, further establishing this model.[20] Days later, pro-Maidan protestors began seizing dozens of regional and city administration buildings across western and central Ukraine, including the regional or oblast government administrations of Lviv, Ivan-Frankivsk, Ternopil, Rovno, Khmelnitskii, Lutsk, Sumi, Chernovets, Poltava, and Zhitomir. There were even attempts to do the same in the central province of Cherkassk and the mid-eastern provinces Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhe regions.[21] These were modeled on the Maidan demonstrators’ seizures of government buildings in the country’s capitol.

The first casualty in any revolution is legality. Revolutions often consume not just the old regime but the country and people it ruled. As the ideological and administrative centers implode, politics polarize and institutions dissolve into hyper-dysfunction and the breakup of the state. This is particularly problematic for the territorial integrity of multi-communal states. Ukraine was such a state; it is somewhat less so now.

When such states undergo revolutionary forms of regime transformation, they are highly vulnerable to break up. Those that undergo negotiated or ‘pacted’ transitions or transformations imposed gradually ‘from above’ under the control of the old regime and elite are able to weather the storm of revolution maintaining their territorial integrity. A few examples, representing different types of revolutionary regime transformation, make the point.

In 1990-91 Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s revolution from above thoroughly weakened the Soviet communist party and state apparati. To be sure, Gorbachev had begun to separate the two apparati as he semi-democratized the country in 1989-1990, and the Soviet Union saw a series of separatist movements and inter-ethnic conflicts emerge. But it was Yeltsin’s efforts to fully separate the Party from the state inside the Russian Federation and support politically some of the separatist movements in the 14 union republics during the months before and after the August 1991 failed hard-line coup that led to the fall of the ‘perestroika’ Soviet regime. The implosion in Moscow and the death blow it dealt to Gorbachev’s attempt to negotiate a transition to democracy and a new federative and truncated version of the USSR caused by the failed coup sparked the collapse of the USSR along the administrative-territorial borders of the union republics. The process did not stop at the union republic level. Six autonomous republics broke away from several of the former union republics, now independent ‘post-Soviet’ states: Abkhaziya, Ajariya, and South Ossetiya from Georgia; Nagorno-Karabakh from Azerbajan, Transdniestr from Moldova; and the Chechen half of Checheno-Ingushetiya from Russia.

A similar outcome – revolution leading to state collapse and secession – occurred in communist Czeckoslovakia in 1989. The peaceful ‘velvet’ revolution from below led to the partitioning of the country in two. Similarly, in Yugoslavia the demise of communism led to the rise of several nationalisms and successor states.

A seemingly contrary dynamic in revolutionary modes of regime transformation is rare: re-unification rather than dissolution. A prominent example is the reunification of Germany after the peaceful revolution from below in East Germany in 1989. It was natural for Germans to re-join in a single state after the removal of the ideological divide and Soviet occupation that drew the artificial border between them.

Usually, cases of state collapse during revolution are the result of the breakdown of administration and institutionalized politics along with the emergence of revolutionary dual power first in the central capitol, then in the periphery. These processes are prone to spark separatism in ethnic, linguistic and/or religious minority-dominated regions.

The pivotal role of revolutionary modes of regime change (whether from above or below), as opposed to transitional modes, in state breakups is demonstrated by the contrasting results of two late Soviet era referenda. One held before and another after the revolutionary moment when Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s defeat of the August coup and the collapse through the autumn of negotiations on a new Soviet Union Treaty and political system that would have led to a transition to democracy rather than consummation of the revolution from above. In the March 1991 referendum on preservation of the Soviet Union under a new treaty, 71.48 percent of Ukrainians voted in favor. In December, 90.3 percent of Ukrainians voted for independence from the USSR.

Ironically, Ukraine – the union republic that put the last nail in the coffin of the USSR in December 1991 – was beginning to suffer a similar fate as a consequence of its own post-Soviet revolutionary upheaval. Once the political game moved outside legality and constitutionality, all bets were off and anything could and would happen. Ukraine would experience both the dissolution and reunification scenarios of revolutionary breakup simultaneously.

There are potential alternatives to any political outcome, despite the ‘objective’ political processes that might be underway. Political leaders’ decisions and free will can redirect a nascent revolutionary transformation towards a pacted or imposed trajectory that reduces polarization and facilitates compromise and eschews coercion which pushes politics outside the framework of institutions into the uncontrollable realm of mob-riven streets. A less volatile pacted or imposed transitional mode of regime transformation would have brought Ukraine more organic, evolutionary institutional change and inter-communal mediation.

In Ukraine, unfortunately, this did not happen. On 19 February 2014, Lviv went beyond its ‘mere’ latent separatism of November, moving towards a declaration of independence from Ukraine in a decree establishing a monopoly on sovereignty in the oblast and an alternative government to Yanukovich’s then crumbling regime in Kiev. The local legislature established itself as a “People’s Rada” or “National Rada” and declared its full sovereignty over Lviv Oblast. The document also referred to the chairman of the Lviv Oblast Executive Committee Petro Kolodiy as such but also later in the document as the “chief of staff of the national (or people’s) resistance” and “President of the National Rada.”[22] The next step would clearly be secession.

Meanwhile, in the weeks following the mid-January pro-Maidan regional takeovers, radical demonstrators would go on to seize even more government buildings in Kiev and ultimately the presidential administration and Rada buildings in the revolutionary seizure of power on February 20th. But before that fateful step, a major outbreak of violence on the Maidan itself would tip the scales in favor of a full-scale violent revolution from below, institutional destruction, inter-communal civil war, and state breakup.

Escalation Point 5: The Bulatov and Chornovol Affairs

In July 2014 Russian state television was raked over the coals for issuing a report that Ukrainians had crucified a boy in the Donbass which was rapidly exposed as false.[23] But this was not the first false report of a crucifixion or torture in the Ukraine crisis. On the same day as the first casualties and use of firearms occurred, a similar atrocity allegedly carried out by Yanukovich’s Berkut occurred and was reported widely in the Ukrainian, Western and even Russian media. A Maidan activist named Dmitriy Bulatov disappeared on January 22nd and supposedly was kidnapped, tortured and crucified but ultimately released when thrown from a vehicle on the outskirts of Kiev by his captors on January 30th. Bulatov was the leader of the AutoMaidan, which was a movement of motorcade demonstrations. The last days of January and the first days of what would be a fateful February were filled with talk of this next alleged crime of the Yanukovich regime.

However, beyond a few bruises, the only sign of serious injury to Bulatov came in one photograph where the top of his left ear appears to have been clipped off. His attempt to prove crucifixion was completely unconvincing since damage to his hands was barely visible.[24] Doctors who examined Bulatov saying there had been no damage to his internal organs, and some were claiming the affair a fake.[25] The authorities suggested Bulatov’s disappearance might have been a ploy to exacerbate the already highly tense crisis. The opposition spoke of death squads operating in Ukraine and demanded an international investigation.[26] Bulatov was visited in hospital by future president Poroshenko before being sent to Lithuania and Germany ostensibly for treatment.[27] One week after the Maidan’s overthrow of Yanukovich, Bulatov was rewarded by his appointment as Minister of Sport and Youth.

Months later, this event appeared to be something other than that claimed by Bulatov and other Maidan activists at the time. In November 2014 Bulatov’s then deputy and now leader of AutoMaidan, Sergey Poryakov, said in a radio interview that the kidnapping was faked and those in AutioMaidan had known from the start it was so. Moreover, he described Bulatov as “rude” and suffering from a “star complex,” who had been kicked out of the group three days before his alleged kidnapping.[28]

A similar pattern occurred in the case of the alleged beating of Ukrainian journalist Tatyana Chornovol in December 2013. She was in fact beaten, but the motive remained in question. Opposition members and Western officials saw a Russian hand, but the prosecution’s investigation found a simple case of raod rage. Accordingly, the perpetrators claimed Chornovol, driging from Borispol to Kiev created a dangerous situation by cutting off their car. A chase ensued, and the cars bumped several times before Chornovol stopped her car and was dragged from the car and beaten.[29] In April 2015 after a long trial a Maidan regime court upheld the apolitical version of the crime as hooliganism and aggravated assault lacking any political motive whatsoever. Chornovol is now a Rada deputy elected to parliament on the ticket of Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s National Front party.[30]

US Ambassador to Ukriane, Geoffrey Pyatt had no doubts about the political nature of both the Bulatov and Chornovol cases, blaming a Yanukovich “enemies list” and a Russian “wet-job team”: “Yanukovych’s guys had an enemies list. A real, honest-to-god list of ‘here are the journalists that we need to go after, and here are the ones that are a threat to us.’ There was the attack on Tatyana Chornovol; there was the attack on a guy named Dmitry Bulatov, who was the leader of the auto-Maidan and who was abducted by Russian-speaking professional interrogators, who cut part of his ear off. They tortured him. The main line of questioning: What has the American embassy told you to do? How much money have you received from the American ambassador? They put nails through his hands. Ugly, ugly stuff. You had a number of disappearances. Everyone was sure that there was some Russian wet-job team, because everybody’s point of reference was the Orange revolution, which was concluded nonviolently.”[31]

It is now clear that Pyatt’s and the West’s understanding of these two events are anything but factual. Both cases were spun to appear political for the sake of the revolution despite the lack of any and all evidence, and Bulatov may have not only spun but entirely fabricated his account from whole cloth. As is too often true in politics, the perception trumped the facts and the Bulatov and Chornovol affairs intensified the Ukrainian conflict.



[1] “Ukraine’s president tries to calm tensions as clashes continue,” Business New Europe, 26 November 2013 and Kyiv Post,

[2] Tatyana Izhvenko, “Yevrointegratsiyu v Kieve travili gazom,” Nezavisimaya gazeta, 26 November 2013,

[3] Brian Bonner, “EuroMaidan rallies in Ukraine – Nov. 25 coverage,” Kyiv Post, 27 November 2013,

[4] Kostyantyn Chernychkin, “Police, demonstrators clash in Nov. 25 evening rally,” Kyiv Post, 26 November 2013,

[5] See Kyiv Post,

[6] See, for example, Luke Baker and Richard Balmforth, “Police, pro-Europe protesters clash in Ukraine, EU condemns Russia,” Reuters, 25 November 2013.

[7] Amnesty International Annual Report 2014/15 – Ukraine,

[8] Maryana Petsukh, “Lvovskii Yevromaidan: messianstvo v raskolotom vide,” Ukrainskaya pravda, 25 November 2013,

[9] Fred Weir, “Russia cries foul over Western embrace of Ukraine’s demonstrators,” Christian Science Monitor, 13 December 2013.

[10] “KYIV BLOG: Yanukovych backed into corner as EU suspends talks,” Business New Europe, 16 December 2013.

[11] The Guardian,; Fox News,; Reuters, and

[12] Weir, “Russia cries foul over Western embrace of Ukraine’s demonstrators”.

[13] Vijai Maheshwari, “Why Did Ukraine’s Eurolution Fail?,” The Daily Beast, 5 January 2014,

[14] CBS News,

[15] Maidan Translations,

[16] CBS News,

[17] YouTube,; and

[18] UNIAN,

[19] Ukrainskaya pravda, 25 November 2013,

[20] CBS News,

[21] RBC, 24 January 2014, and

[22] International Business Times, 19 February 2014, For the view that this declaration had little or nothing to do to with secession, see Ukrainian Policy, 19 February 2014,

[23] “State-Run News Station Accused of Making Up Child Crucifixion,” The Moscow Times, 14 July 2014,

[24] “Bulatova nikto ne pokhishal – lider Avtomaidana,” Korrespondent, 20 November 2014, and “Bulatov – feikovaya figura i ego nikto ne pokhishal,”, 20 November 2014,

[25] “One of Maidan leaders kidnapped, tortured and crucified,” Pravda, 31 January 2014,

[26] “Ukraine Government Says ‘Tortured’ Activist Dmytro Bulatov Is Both Victim and Suspect,” Kiev Ukraine News Blog, 2 February 2014,

[27] “Ukraine Government Says ‘Tortured’ Activist Dmytro Bulatov Is Both Victim and Suspect.”

[28] “Bulatova nikto ne pokhishal – lider Avtomaidana.”

[29] “Na Chornovol napali iz khuliganskikh pobuzhdenii – itogi sledstvii,” Korrespondent, 6 February 2014,

[30] “Sud osvobodil obvinyaemykh v izbienii Chornovol,” Korrespondent, 7 April 2015,

[31] Julia Ioffe and Frank Foer, “Ambassador to Ukraine: The Russian Strategy was Intended to Create Chaos,” New Republic, 20 May 2014,


Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.

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