by Michael HammerschlagYAHOO
Updated April 19
Kiev: Vladimir Putin’s return to the brutal politics of his predecessors didn’t come as a complete shock- we had ample warning the KGB strongman had a pining for the USSR and murderous tendencies: the hundreds of thousands erased in Chechnya, the crackdown on anyone hinting of opposition, the apartment bombings that inaugurated his ascendency; it was pretty obvious Kiev’s bloodbath on Feb 18-20 was ordered by Putin in his Sochi meeting w Yanukovich: everything pointed to a full settlement only 1 day before the blowup on Feb 18th- the release of Gov. bldgs, the relaxation of sieges, the Opposition jetting off to Germany as if they already were the Gov ... except Putin's surprising release of the next $2 billion of his 15 bil bribe to Yanukovich. Even the Hotel Ukraine snipers (and 3 other Maidan rooftop) slaughtering medieval protesters in their homemade shields were supposedly directed and aided by Russian FSB. The Crimean Invasion was predictable- under his cool KGB exterior, Putin was white hot at the collapse of his imperial reconstruction project.
The 97% Soviet “vote” for Crimean annexation is typical- Russians cheat and lie so badly their results and explanations are like a bad comedy routine- reportedly 123% of Sevastopol residents voted in an election without a “no change” option (join Russia or revert to the outlawed 1992 Crimean Independence Constitution), about double the number of actual voters: 474,137 votes vs. only 385,462 citizens (or as they said in 2000, a significant overvote). An 82% turnout is nonsense too- the 250,000 Tatars (13%) insanely boycotted (I asked Tatar leader Umarov why) and probably most of the Ukrainians stayed away, intimidated by armed thugs at polling places. Polls put real support for Russian merger at 41-42%. I said jokingly Russian citizens would be allowed to vote- that was the case, with a Russian reporter voting.
Now the question is whether Ukraine can hold the restive East, roiled by Russian “tourist” subversion. Reports aren’t good- after reg. Gov admin buildings in Donetsk, Lugansk, Kharkiv were invaded and occupied by Russian subversives; then cleared 3 times, they incredibly let them do it again on April 6th- now to stay. This was to be expected after the 3 month training film of EuroMaidan- they knew 2 days before Unity separatists were stockpiling tires. I asked Klitschko and former Defense Minister Hrytsenko March 15+17 if anybody had sent some loyal (Western) militsia and/Internal Ministry troops East to purge the Separatists and Russian loyalists among the local militsia, who stood by passively when a large crowd ransacked and destroyed a building housing a Pravy Sector office, or seal the borders against busloads of Russian “tourist” infiltrators. Klitschko totally ducked the question; Grytsenko said he’d recommended doing that and mobilizing the military 2 weeks before, but nothing was done.
seemed Kiev was getting the upper hand in the East- the extremist separatists
had split apart and the Center was hunting some leaders down. Some 9000
Russian suspected provocateurs were denied entry at Ukraine's borders as the
guards seemed to finally get their act together. Likewise the last ministers I
questioned- foreign, dep. defense, econ. trade and development, dep. foreign...
spoke flawless English, seemed to have a good grasp of the problems and
some solutions, and answered questions frankly. Obviously (as I said on NPR)
it’s 10x easier to protect a building than dislodge violent occupants who’ve had
many days to fortify the place- in Kharkiv, home of Int. Min. Avakov, the SBU
cleared and arrested them in a lightning raid, but in Lugansk, the enemy
invaders at the SBU got their hands on hundreds of guns inc. machine guns, then
again at the plice station and SBU station in Slovyansk, and nothing was done in
Donetsk. Any action needed to be taken in 1-2 days; now it’s likely to be a
protracted mess. Only 1-2 thousand were involved in the takeovers, and now only
100-300 hundred congregate outside; of the occupiers
that talk, they aren’t even
local, they come from extremist Russian Unity groups in Mariupol and Kherson –
undoubtedly recruited and paid by Moscow; they claim to not have Russians among them, put to lie by
TV report. More takeovers of 7
dissension has also smashed the Opposition with a fatal
police raid on Pravy Sector’s
notorious radical Olexander Myzechko, who had fought Russians in Chechnya, and
starred in famous videos terrorizing Gov officials (the prosecutor deserved it,
allegedly freeing a brutal rapist for a bribe). PS’s leader Yarosh, now a Pres.
candidate and decked in a suit at a recent press conference, threatened Interior
Minister Avakov (who replied in kind), and demanded his ouster. After a Mar 31 Kreschatuk shooting of 3 by a Pravy
Sector guy, inc. a deputy Mayor,
police ringed their
At his press conference, Klitschko, stressed, took a boxer’s stance and refused the translator earphone, he repeated the mantra of not reacting to provocations and that “events would be decided in Moscow”… when they actually need to defeat the active subversion of Russian invaders; while the latter is a stunning admission of impotence. In a stunning development, Klitschko withdrew from the Presidential race March 29, throwing his support behind chocolate/shipping billionaire Petro Poroshenko (who was significantly leading Pres. polls now), amazing since he wasn’t even a candidate and has barely existed at Euromaidan. He did however help Maidan enormously, and his victory would prevent the divisive populism of Tymoshenko. "I always said it should be the candidate who people support the most and who has the highest chance of winning. Petro Poroshenko is such a candidate,” said Klitschko. Indeed he is polling twice as high as Klitschko. Entrusting the country to another oligarch may be the Ukrainian version of the Russian “strong leader” syndrome, ironically used to excuse Putin’s excesses, but it could enrage Russia more, who already have stolen his factory in Russia. Poroshenko has at different times been allied with the Kuchma, the Party of Regions, and Yushchenko’s Party. Many had serious hopes on Klitschko unifying the country- he earned his money honestly, had no need to steal, and was respected in the East- had no need to prove his toughness. Sadly for Opposition unity, Klitschko is running for Kiev Mayor, already being contested by primo anti-corruption crusader + Rada Deputy Lesya Orobyets. "I will make Kyiv a truly European capital," promised Klitschko. “I have my lists of who took what and how much,” Orobyets had threatened, whose husband had to get Czech asylum from Yanu persecution.
Billionaire + Pres candidate Petro
Billionaire + Pres candidate Petro Poroshenko-
And in a seemingly desperate move to consolidate power in threatened areas, the Oppo Gov also appointed oligarchs Kolomoisky and Taruta to run Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk regions, figuring their endless resources could pay for whatever muscle is needed to combat the Russian invaders (fake citizens that are fueling the protests). But is this why 100 people died, to appoint crooked oligarchs who will game the whole region for their advantage? Kolomoisky, head of biggest bank Privat, has been linked to many of the raider attacks, where 100 thugs with clubs and zip guns invade a company, beat up and throw out the employees, and take it over, armed with a decision of some corrupt judge that THEY are the owners. Many other governors have also been linked to oligarchs- the protestors were right to be suspicious- the last thing they wanted was the same old faces that have chiseled so much lucre from this country; and it frankly makes cleaning up the pervasive corruption impossible. Rada Deputy Lesya Orobyets, embarrassed, said in an interview (@3:03m) Mar 8 that they were only "interim appointments" because of the pressures of the situation and would be changed relatively soon. To his credit, though, Kolomoisky has come up with bounties for the capture or elimination of Russian insurgents- $10,000 for each Little Green Men (reacting to Putin's slights).
Mariupol Ukr base cars after
Mariupol Ukr base cars after attack
There was little initially to inspire confidence, no Ukrainian leader has stepped up to rally the people and put forth concrete steps, politicians seemed way out of their depth in this crisis. They seemed utterly paralyzed. Worse, they just whine how mean the Russians are, how the world has betrayed them (true by Budapest Memorandum), then how they are avoiding provocations, instead of actively resisting. Yatseniuk was doing this repeatedly, repeating “sky is falling” alarms that he learned from Yulia. 8 have been killed in Crimea and the East now, including SBU and Alpha Commandos by Ruusian commandos and agents who say "Wipe them out.", yet every Gov. Minister still says that, “the highest priority is to avoid deaths.” If an invading enemy is killing your people at will, and you won’t kill in defense.. you will lose. (Dep Foreign Min. Lubkivsky Video @11:52). Finally, after the incredibly humilating stopping of 21 APC's by "citizen" protesters (15 returned to Dneitropetrovsk), and a takeover and defection of 6 in Kramatorsk by admitted Russian professional Green Men... Ukraine struck back in the increasing violent Donetsk port city of Mariupol- attackers (shooting) at a Ukr military base were shocked by an armed response- 3 of them were killed and 16 wounded; 60-odd taken captive. Some Ukr soldiers actually remembered their craft, and took exception to being violently attacked. With more such displays the beseiged and humiliated Ukr majority in all these places will begin to assert themselves. But armed men took over a TV antenna that reaches 2 million northern Donetskans, and pulled 2 of the pro-Maidan Ukrainian channels, and renewed the Russian channels blocked by Kiev. Said Vadim, a Lugansk translator in frustration, "If you control all the TV networks and hold a referendum on joining Antarctica, you can get people to vote that way." Indeed the rote repetition of "Kiev fascists" by the Russophiles is a product of the steady diet of Russian propaganda on their channels; predominant in the East. Honestly though, during all of Maidan, I wondered what the Easterners thought of all the madness, when they would weigh in with their own rage. A supposed landmark settlement was reached during heated 4 party debates in Geneva, exchanging disarmament of extremists and return of occupied buildings in exchange for amnesty- amazing Russia agreed to that- Kerry must have unsheathed some big guns and big carrots.
Incredibly, venal separatist and titushky-hirer Kharkiv
Mayor Kernes has been allowed to keep power, Putin-pal hardline Russian
subversive Medvedchuk hasn’t fled or been detained, and
Russian Unity separatist orgs haven’t
been outlawed and disbanded, their members deported to Russia and passport
revoked. They want to live in Russia:
make them. Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh gave a terse 7 min
press conference Mar 17 before literally running out; Grytsenko had said he
wasn’t up to the task. Reports said only a pitiful 6000 troops were combat-
ready in this 46 million nation - Tenyukh was fired by Parliament Mar 24. Dep.
Defense Min. Polyakov admitted March 29 that
Yet in this Imperial Overreach, I think Putin is committing a grave blunder- himself unleashing titanic forces that could ultimately sweep him from power in 4-5 years. From providing an example to Russian separatists in Chechnya/Dagestan/Tatarstan/Tyumen/Yakutia/Petersburg by both the Crimean Invasion-Secession and the victorious Maidan, to energizing the nascent anti-imperialist anti-Putin middle class that rose up in 2012 (just what he's trying to forestall with this 19th century display), to crippling the Russian economy from sanctions- inc. funding the now-crippled Crimean tourist economy, to drawing attention to his own ill-gotten wealth as he broke his oligarchs (heard $40-60 bil), to risking the hundreds of billions of money held + shipped offshore (which has now become a flood- $80 bil this year, more than all of 2013) .… the long-term effects for Russia are dire. In the Cyprus meltdown, Western banks thought little of just appropriating 40% of “dirty” Russian money, without proof. He is a creature of his upbringing and training as a KGB plotter and killer, and simply can't transcend it.
total costs to Russia will be massive: Ukraine is not distant obscure Georgia
(Atlana?); the organization, courage,
and perseverance of the medieval Maidan warriors captured the imagination of the
world: 3 Marathon months of blood, sweat, ice, tears, attacks, pain,
brotherhood, exhaustion, loss, death, and hope. After all that, to deal with the
plunder of their province by their former master is a cruel blow. “I’ll be 18 in
a week,” sobbed normally perky Olga in the
In 5 years
the West may buy only half the natural resources they do now, Russia’s only income- military invaders are not
reliable suppliers or partners. Russia could be thrown out of International Orgs
from G8 to UN groups. Countries don’t respect such imperial takeovers now, they
are alarmed and repulsed by them.
- Bosphorus Straits
Sanctions, esp trade, and widespread pullback from Russian business will have a painful effect- the Russian market and ruble are already crashing, and Putin’s pals punished. Another measure that would really hurt (and could have had a strong prophylactic effect earlier) is closing the Bosphorus to Russian warships- the Montreux Convention gives SU the right to transit warships, but also absolute control to Turkey, who are worried about discrimination against their Turkic brethren (Jemeliev audio@11:00 min)- the Tatars, who already suffered deportation and genocide at Stalin’s hands; and the collapse and theft of their joint Crimean/Ukrainian investments. The 100 km long Turkish Straits are impregnable- even the Nazis never crossed through them, and Turkey being NATO, untouchable. Russia’s warm-water fleet is of limited utility without access to warm water. And beleaguered Erdogan could use some foreign policy stroke to display his waning authority. MH Questions Grytsenko/Klitschko on BOSPH - 3/14 Turkey WARNS Russia 3/17
Russia, in its massive land grab, does gain billions
upon billions of spoils, including perhaps the crucial Black Sea shale leases in
the Black Sea owned by the Crimean div. of Naftogas, necessary for Ukraine to
break its dependence on Russian gas. Shell, in suspiciously bad timing, just
cancelled negotiation over them. One thing the
Black Sea Fleet -
Black Sea Fleet -
Since Obama was limited to his bookish “grave concerns”,
there was little to stop Putin’s plans… the over-extended US had only 2 of 10
Carrier Battle groups deployed, and nothing near the Black Sea on Feb 27-28,
when a dozen US ships cruising around Sevastopol or a few Mach 1.1 F18
over-flights of the Simferopol Parliament may have made Putin reconsider this
adventure (though Ukraine could have also done overflights). The CVN George HW Bush carrier group crossed
Gibraltar Feb 27, and only reached Greece Mar 4; only the guided missile cruiser
Truxton (which I once toured) and now
Aegis missile cruiser Donald Cook
have crossed into the Chorny Morye,
the French have just sent in the most advanced naval intelligence
ship, an anti-sub frigate, and a cruiser; more devastating to Russian
modernization, they were going to cancel the 2
Mistral helicopter carrier/assault ships for Russia, already half paid for.
A truce over the besieged blockaded Ukrainian bases to give them free passage
was passed Mar 16, but Russians were threatening Ukrainian forces only a few
days later. After 2 were killed in attacks on a mapping center in Simpheropol
Mar 18, naval commander Haiduk kidnapped in Russian storming of his naval base
(released Mar 20), and the holdout Belbek Airbase being stormed Sat., Ukrainians
are withdrawing all forces from Crimea, 1/3 are evacuating to the mainland, 1/3
changing sides, 1/3 quitting and staying, said Polyakov. 2 more: a soldier and
an officer were killed by Russians and another officer kidnapped (likely dead),
chased into their dormitory by drunken Russians from the seized entrance.
Invader honor was on display as they took over Ukr bases using a first wave of
Russian “protesters”, inc. women and children to rip down the fences, then a
second wave of self-defense vigilantes, with Russians in the third. If the
Ukrainian soldiers wanted to resist, they would have to shoot “civilians”. In a
chilling echo of Soviet brutalization of the victorious Red Army (sent to the Gulag because they had seen the
West),, Polyakov said Ukr turncoat soldiers may be sent to
Ukraine was hopelessly outmatched, and the Crimean takeover already a fait accompli within 4 days- the moves on the Eastern border seem an apparent feint, but if Putin can achieve de-facto Eastern secession with his tourist guerillas, he will. Ukraine’s soldiers showed remarkable restraint as they suffered Guantanamo-ish tortures in Crimea (“Are they shooting yet”, complained a frustrated VVP). All Crimea water and electricity comes over the Isthmus from the Mainland- Ukraine could cut them off, but that would punish Crimean Ukrainians and Tatars and maybe provoke the invasion of all of Ukraine- Russia has already sent probe forces into Kherson on the mainland, and taken over a gas plant on a long spit just off NE Crimea. This is partially a long term result of Yushchenko's attempts to evict the Black Sea Fleet (NPR aud @ 29:10`min) and flirtation with NATO- no doubt Putin started considering it then- and feared the new Government might repeat them.
Russian jets near Ukr border -
Russian jets near Ukr border -
Ukraine is trembling under the threat of serious Russian buildup along the
of jets at empty airfields, 50,000 soldiers, columns of tanks, field
hospitals, and a US assessment that an invasion is more likely (not likely)- I don’t think so: the cost for
invading ALL Ukraine (or just the East) would break Russia. It is a feint to divert
attention from Crimea, make it a fait-accompli, and make EVERYBODY happy when
Vlad is reasonable and doesn't invade the East. Meanwhile nobody cares about
It is shocking that both houses of the Russian Parliament voted unanimously for this outrage, including my former editor at once liberal Moscow News (which had 3 editors executed by Stalin; now Kremlin owned), Alexei Pushkov- now Duma foreign relations chair. Only one MP voted against annexation. Ironically one absurd Russian charge against Ukraine’s new Government is their nationalism. There isn’t a threat to one hair on any Russian’s (speaker’s) head in Ukraine, but the Putinists know that- they are experts in this subversion - the protect endangered citizens ploy has been used in multiple Russian/Soviet invasions, even Hitler’s.
Ukraine is really a different place than Russia: less
brutal, less aggressive, less paranoid at imagined slights- it is profoundly
corrupt, but when the people scream enough, Government-connected criminals are
punished. In Russia, the complainers are. Russians have a deep affection for and
connections with Ukraine- it is imbedded throughout their history, literature,
language… but Ukraine didn't "join"
Russia, the Cossacks were slaughtered on their last island redoubt - Russian
overlordship started with great violence, which reached it's apogee in the 20's
and 30's, when the Bolshevicks-Cheka-KGB killed 10-16 million in their purges,
famines, and psychotic schemes. These genocidal killings, which
Ukr cop beaten by pro-Russians in takeover in
Ukr cop beaten by pro-Russians in takeover in Horlivka
While Russians think of Ukraine fondly as their little brother, many Ukrainians think of Russia as a sadistic elder sibling: bullying, arbitrary, carelessly cruel. Russians have also been master, teacher, trainer, in the USSR and later. In fact, Ukrainians maybe psychologically unable to fight Russians, they haven't even closed the border to these tourist thug rioters till recently (who have killed 4 in Donetsk region –in an armed foreign insurrection) or replaced the Russian-sympathizer police and security forces with those loyal to the Center. After the incredible courage and fortitude of the Maidan fighting, Ukrs are returning to their former passive behavior, and it's maddening- some new security Ministers aren't professional military, but amateur Maidan revolutionists. Ukrainians and Russians share a common heritage- I even coined the word Rukrainians to identify many behaviors common to both, yet even most Russian transplants to the East consider themselves Ukrainian and don’t want to switch nationalities- only 33% of Donetsk, 24% Lughansk, and 16% of Kharkiv would merge with Russia: most Easterners are loyal Ukrainians with enough nationalists to fuel a vicious insurgency should Putin invade- Ukrainian-speakers dominate even Donetsk and Kharkiv regions.
Yet Russians hammer the tired Soviet slander of “Nazis, fascists, extremists” taking charge in Ukraine- it moves Western hearts and minds, whose media just love Nazis- it still sells papers. I’ve watched German journos bubbling with joy that they dug up some crazy RW loser to appease their editor- Germans love Nazis because most of the neo-Nazi events in the world happen in Germany. But it is nonsense- perhaps under 7% of Svoboda or the newer right groups harbor racist or anti-foreigner views… far less than comparable groups in Russia, who are accepted because they are usually fervent nationalists. I have worked next to and interviewed these people over 3 months, and haven’t seen a speck of anti-foreign/Semitic behavior. Mostly they are nationalists: this protest was largely fueled by their courage and energy- the real reason for their hatred.
pro-Russians attacking police
pro-Russians attacking police Donnetsk -
reality, right wing anti-Semitic extremists are far more common in Russia, as evidenced
by the Serbian Chetniks, Russian Cossacks, disgraced Kiev Berkut, titushkis and
other motley extremist groups invading Crimea (Donetsk Jews were
just warned to register by the "self-defense" neo-Nazis defending
Russians). Russians despised the Ukrainian independence movements because they
were the only peoples in the SU who resisted their monstrous slaughters, so
they've been trying to discredit them since the 1920's. Crimea (+ pro-Russian
rallies) has become a
frightening place, with journalists, activists, Ukrainian military under
assault by the vigilante rabble Moscow has assembled- even Russian journalists
are beaten, one US doc crew in Mariupol (Ukr, the port of Donetsk) barely
got away with their life; another Ukr doc producer whom I worked with was
chased down with gunfire by self-defense/Russian militia in Crimea and badly
beaten (6 ribs broken); equipment smashed, along with 3 other journos, then
denied treatment in a Simpheropol hospital where they couldn't
see anything wrong on the x-rays. Another attendee at a Kharkov
EuroMaidan concert was
beaten and tortured for almost an hour by pro-Russian thugs. A girl I’d
interviewed, Katya Butko of AutoMaidan, was kidnapped at the border, tortured,
and held 3 days in Sevastopol with her 2 travel mates. Their crime? They had a
Ukrainian flag in the trunk. Passage into the Peninsula by car is harrowing,
people have even been kidnapped off trains for having photos of Maidan on their
phone, and the only flights through
The Maidan protest was indigenous – it wasn’t funded (much) by the CIA or EU (maybe the Parties, or an Oligarch) - it was about the biggest thief outside of Africa- a kleptocrat who stole an est. $40 billion in 4 years in a poor country- the entire deficit. Even Easterners were disgusted at the scale of Yanu's theft, whom he told for 3 years- We are going West! "He changed alot of minds in the East and South," said UDAR Kiev City Councilman and Protest leader Andrei Stranikov. Maidan was composed of people from every corner of Ukraine, Jews, foreigners, I even had 4 very pro-Maidan Russians in my hotel 1 block away. I asked many Protesters what they were paid- they didn’t even understand the question: millions of Ukrainians have donated food, money, cooking, clothes, apartments; spent weeks handing out sandwiches or soup.. to support this; whereas the Anti-Maidaners (inc. thugs) were all bussed in and given $30-65/day. I’ve watched Mercedes’s and BMW’s stop and disgorge trunkloads of supplies and hand out money- even rich who might be hurt by egalitarian Maidan felt they had to help.
- ex Mafiosa Goblin and Crimean PM Sergei
- ex Mafiosa Goblin and Crimean PM Sergei Aksyonov
Putin has a tendency to back criminals, natural KGB
allies : Yanukovich was a greedy thief, an 2 time ex-con who beat people
unconscious, now a despised escaped traitor; Crimea’s “PM” Aksyonov was a brutal
former Mafiyosa (Goblin) repeatedly linked to contract killings (who owes banks
millions); Chechnya’s Kadyrov is a savage dictator. Mr. Putin isn’t acting like
a ruler even of the last century, but of the 18th with his initial
attempted royal restoration of the Yanukovich line (though he later
acknowledged Yanukovich is a political corpse.. who can never leave
Ukraine had a real chance now- Russia could have been a real big brother, and kept the money and support flowing, using Ukraine as a bridge to the EU. Ukraine will never lose its links and love of Mother Russia- common currents run swift and deep. But this bullying takeover will likely destroy the Ukraine economy, trembling on the edge, and create decades of bitterness. Ukrainian and Tatar refuges, threatened by the motley thugs running Crimea, could reach a flood. Division of property, possessions, the supply of Ukrainian pensions, utilities, wages will cause losses, pain, and conflict for decades. There was no need for this imperial takeover- it was entirely punitive, Russia will gain little and lose a lot.
Empires and emperors are destroyed much more by arrogance and overreach, than caution and conservatism- Hitler knew a 2 front war was suicidal and no one had ever successfully invaded Russia since the Mongols. He did it anyway. With his unshakeable mission to recreate the empire (as Putin advisor Ilarionov called it) Putin may have done something as stupid and disastrous, and may actually provoke the overthrow he hoped to prevent.
Michael Hammerschlag's articles
(HAMMERNEWS.com) have appeared in NYT, IHT, Seattle
Times, Providence Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, Hawaii Advertiser;
Moscow News, Tribune, Times, and Guardian, Novaya Gazeta; Kyiv Post & Weekly, Politics in
Ukraine, and Business Ukraine. He's spent 8 years over the last