As I write this, Ukraine’s crisis continues to worsen, with the threat of serious violence rising, and today the justice minister hinted that martial law may be imminent. If the Yanukovych regime attempts such a decree, it will divide the police and the army and may quickly cause a bona fide civil war. My hope for a peaceful resolution of this crisis is dwindling. Europe is facing its most serious crisis since the fall of the Soviet Union.
One of the big issues among Ukraine’s opposition has been the nefarious role played by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin in this sad affair. It’s universally assumed by oppositionists that Moscow’s encouragement, at the least, led to the latest round of repression in Kyiv, which has stoked the fires of resistance to their current burning point.
Evidence is generally lacking, since such matters are conducted in secret, but enough has already appeared in the Russian media to indicate Putin is backing Yanukovych’s repression to the hilt. Rumors abound that Russians are involved in the violence in Ukraine, with special operators – what they call SPETSNAZ – from the Russian military or paramilitary police doing dirty work undercover for Yanukovych. Such claims are plausible but yet unsubstantiated.
This touchy subject was recently addressed in an analysis by Lyubko Petrenko in the Western Ukrainian pro-opposition website Zaxid.net – which, perhaps not coincidentally, was down much of this morning – that lays out what Moscow may be up to. Entitled “The Kremlin Scenario: Arguments and Counterarguments,” the piece runs through the allegations that Russian special operators are responsible for killings and abductions in Ukraine on behalf of the Yanuvoych regime. Comparing these “death squads” to Latin American state crimes of the Cold War, Petrenko denounces the “brutal sadism” of the riot police in public, noting that the regime’s thugs don’t seem to treat Ukrainians as their own people, adding, “The last time there was anything of this kind in Ukraine was probably during the Nazi occupation.”
None of this is hard evidence of Russian involvement, of course, but more revealing are comments made by a former officer of the SBU, Ukraine’s Security Service, comparable to Russia’s FSB, with whom the SBU has enjoyed an exceptionally close relationship since Yanukovych came to power. Stanislav Rechynskyy, the former head of the SBU’s public affairs office, stated: “It seems to me that this is no longer a matter of civil war but a matter of invasion. A Russian invasion.” Rechynskyy continued, “More than one source has already reported that there are FSB ‘professionals’ sitting in SBU offices, that there are Russians in Berkut [regime special police] uniforms, who are killing people. (I do not exculpate our Berkut, they are also scum.) Sources also link the kidnapping of [Ihor] Lutsenko and the confirmed murder of [Yuri] Verbytskyy to Russia. If only because everything was done far too cleanly. No traces. The stereoplate greatly resembles the Russian stereotype. Only in miniature so far.” He added that large-scale provocations by the FSB, perhaps in a joint operation with the SBU, such as bombings to discredit the opposition, were increasingly likely.
To anyone familiar with the FSB playbook of violent provocation this seems tragically plausible. Today, opposition politicians have denied any involvement in the seizure of the Justice Ministry, which they claim is – you guessed it – a provocation. Hold on tight, stormy seas ahead …