Kremlin Tries Out New Tactics: Hostage Cities and Feudalization

April 16, 2014
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Kremlin Tries Out New Tactics: Hostage Cities and Feudalization

Connection between the local and the global is a crucial and eternal issue. However, sometimes the depth of our understanding of the local events on limited (or seemingly limited) areas has a direct impact on our ability to perceive both the broad horizon and the little marks upholding the constructions that serve global plans. For instance, those of the northern neighbour of Ukraine. Inattention to details most often leads to a further dangerous accumulation of risks, and the absence of a proper reaction to local subversive technologies of the Kremlin beats the way from local inaction to criminal treachery of authorities at different levels. Inattention to details is the way to catastrophe.

To me, this is a personal tragedy. My hometown, my Ukrainian hometown Slavyansk, in which the Ukrainian family of my father has been living for almost three hundred years, became a dot on the map where the global plans of the northern neighbours unfold. At present, the Ukrainian citizens of Slavyansk have found themselves prisoners of villains, terrorists and occupants, and they are expected to fend for themselves: the central Ukrainian state authorities claim to remember about them, but would rather forget, resorting to loud statements and refraining from real actions.

The seizure of the municipal police department and the building of the Security Service of Ukraine in Slavyansk (Donetsk region) on Wednesday, April 12, started a wave of similar seizures over the whole region. After the Crimean events, nobody would be surprised by the actions of unidentified fighters who arranged a press conference in the administration building later, on Monday, and did not conceal their foreign origin, were seen abusing the Ukrainian national flag, attempted to proclaim a “people’s mayor” who explicitly asked Putin for help. Illegal self‑proclaimed separatist organizations in Donetsk were supported by small groups of locals, while the local rebels primarily addressed the lowest and the most demoralized strata of the city residents. By the way, the latter, having bonded with the criminals, have been chasing around the city for the last couple of days, threatening the average citizens and local businessmen with expropriation, and those who try to publish the evidence of the lack of mass support of the terrorists among the local population with bodily harm. Indeed, we have seen the certain aspects of these in the “experimental Crimean project.” On different scale and with varying levels of success, the same tactic played out and continues to be played out in other cities of the Donetsk region.

But – mind the details! – in Slavyansk, on top of all that, the saboteurs and terrorists blocked the city further by many blockhouses and checkpoints, and virtually put the whole city under control of the rebels. The officers of the Security Service were killed and wounded at the entrance to the city and Ukrainian law enforcement officers made unsuccessful attempts to unblock Slavyansk from the outside, while the bandits and terrorists expanded their control of the city and the adjacent villages, which they have blocked off. This provides ample evidence that, despite the surface similarities between the actions of the storm squads in the Crimea and Slavyansk, this is a different tactic. A quick look at the map proves that Slavyansk, located on the border between several regions, is almost equidistant from Donetsk, Kharkiv, Lugansk and the Dnipropetrovsk region.

The rebels destabilized the situation, to varying degrees, in a number of other bigger or smaller towns of the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk regions, but only Slavyansk became a hostage city. Add a “whimsical” mayor who keeps vacillating between supporting Ukraine or the self-proclaimed Donetsk republic, “strange” joint patrols of the police and those who advocate the armed seizure of the city, scant (percentage-wise) numbers of “peaceful” supporters of either federalization, Viktor Yanukovych, or accession to the Kremlin Russia on the central square of Slavyansk. The outlandish antiterrorist operation purportedly carried out by the Ukrainian armed forces on Sunday, which was both invisible and ineffective, made even the most patriotic citizens, the ones who cannot bear the thought of accession to the Kremlin Russia, suspect that they have been “handed over” to armed foreigners from either Russia or the occupied Crimea, nothing but terrorists. Meanwhile, a considerable arsenal of arms was seized both in the city and in its vicinities, and was successively distributed among those who were willing to support the terrorists.

While the central Ukrainian authorities proved ineffective, in two scant days the city got isolated and almost inaccessible to the Ukrainian security agencies from the outside. It is under strict control of the terrorists and occupants. The actions of the representatives of the local law enforcement bodies is a separate and sad story.

Add one more necessary touch. Throughout March, the local centre of the Communist Party organized regular yet scant (percentage-wise) rallies in favour of accession to Russia, federalization, or the Customs Union, or simply anti-Ukrainian protests. The communists have yet again skilfully played the part of provocateurs, while their actions did not elicit any interest from those who should have monitored such important details and taken the possible consequences into account.

Add one more historic detail: Slavyansk is quite a peculiar city, one of the oldest in Eastern Ukraine. It is no miners’ city. Its potential lies not in the area of industrial speculations of the Communist Party and other followers of the Customs Union or the Ukrainian Choice [pro-Russian organization of Medvedchuk] who have strewn the city with their billboards since 2013. Slavyansk’s long history shows few signs of the industrial pathos so favoured by the Party of Regions or the Communist Party of Ukraine.

First of all, it is a resort city. The recreation potential of its salt lakes and local mineral springs has been exploited on the large scale for almost two hundred years. It has been settled by Ukrainians from along the Dnieper since the end of the XVII century, and became famous for its salt mining enterprises. It is an important merchant city of Sloboda Ukraine which has for a while been a part of the Kharkiv region, and got assigned to the Donetsk region after Holodomor. This eastern Ukrainian city with its adjacent villages, natural reserves and ornithological wildlife sanctuaries possesses a truly European potential for a development of industries, tourism or rehabilitation centers. 

However, now it is being held hostage.

By Tuesday morning the isolation, multiplied by the panic of the local citizens, began to make itself felt. For instance, many small grocery shops closed: they had sold out the majority of their supplies during the Monday craze and did not know when to await new deliveries. Some local shops did not open on Tuesday, since Monday saw the first episodes of looting, masquerading as contributions to the new rulers. Such are the consequences of isolation in a blocked-off city. And these consequences will become ever graver with each passing day.

At the same time, for almost two days various Kyiv-based politicians have been stating that the patriotic residents of Slavyansk who disagree with the actions of the occupants and their accomplices should defend themselves from the villains that began terrorizing the city and do not seem to intend to stop. These statements are felonious and immoral: they compare a hostage city, hurriedly abandoned by the security forces on helicopters during the first days of the siege, after the very first failed operation, to cities that are not held hostage, where help can come freely and the roads are not blocked off by heavily armed terrorists.

I will go over the details of the strategy which the Kremlin has tried out on this territory, so insignificant for Kyiv and so important for Moscow. First, over the weekend the city’s arsenal of arms was seized and distributed among the persons loyal to the terrorists. By mid-Monday, it became clear that the city was really controlled by these criminals. Second, since Saturday all entries to the city were blocked by terrorists, and the local population was repeatedly threatened with bodily harm. Third, the fear-mongering started on Sunday, inadvertently supported by the passivity of the central Kyiv authorities: even if they were doing something “invisible” to ordinary citizens, all city residents remained hostages.

One should also remember that Slavyansk has been a sort of “testing ground” for fear management and new terrorist technologies for beating the locals into obedience for a long time. This is where a local journalist Igor Aleksandrov was beaten to death with baseball bats in early 2000s. Viktor Yanukovych was the head of the region back then. By the way, the present majority deputy from Slavyansk is Oleksiy Azarov. Let us add two more touches to the picture: right after the local youth began gathering at the city central square after the students were beaten in Kyiv, the mayor of the city, who provided the deputy this position, categorically and threateningly stated that she will not allow any “Maidan” in the city, banned the representatives of “Automaidan” from entering the city, and actively participated in the destruction of the flag of the European Union. To get a better idea about local fear management tactics, one just has to think about the characters whom we “gently” called “titushkas” during Maidan. We all remember what they did during the night from February 18th to 19th next to Mykhailivsky Square; we should also remember that all dissenters can be picked off one by one. Imagine finding yourself stuck in a blocked-off city with them.

The scoundrel politicos who call on my patriotic countrymen to rally into self-defence units in a hostage city as good as call for a new unarmed Heavenly Hundred of Slavyansk.

Slavyansk is held hostage by illegally armed persons, its centre became a stage for a few excited supporters of the terrorists, provoked by the representatives of the Communist Party for the last several weeks. However, the other residents of the city have not ceased to be Ukrainian citizens, and they have the right to be protected against terrorists and occupants.

As a citizen of Ukraine, I have one simple question that any honest tax payer may ask, and that is quite often posed by the citizens of democratic states. I can imagine the probable scale of sabotage and defection among the representatives of the regional state power and law enforcement; nevertheless, don’t the patriotic tax-paying residents of the hostage city have the right to be defended from terrorists?

Despite surface similarities, the Kremlin tactics at play in Slavyansk are different from the Crimean scenario. If Slavyansk and its Ukrainian citizens are left to fend for themselves, it will show what those who “cashed in” on the achievements of the protest movement in Kyiv are capable of. It will also demonstrate the effectiveness of the Kremlin tactics, unwittingly abetted by some in the centre. Consequently, the Kremlin will drafts new innovative tactics. And we will be doomed to accrue the examples of criminal negligence for the local events and details, while the neighbouring hostile country always thinks globally but acts locally.

I have been through several “Maidans” and well remember the acute disappointment I felt when, almost ten years ago now, the East was once again handed over to the neofeudal rule of the local anti-Ukrainian “elites” who later gathered strength, came to power, usurped the authorities and led to the tragedy of February 20th on the Instytutska Street.

The events in Eastern Ukraine that began developing the previous weekend are too important a symptom to neglect the local signs. Nowadays there is a lot of talk about that. Too little attention is paid to the local, and almost no attention to details. The details point to the fact that the neofeudalism, fighting for its survival, found a new patron for further feudalization of the East in the Kremlin.

One might wonder whether the present Ukrainian government can simultaneously see the global, the local and the very concrete. Can it diagnose the risks before they metastasize into a larger area? While it seemingly understands the actions and aims of the Kremlin, the present Ukrainian government does not understand the short-term risks and long-term implications of the events in smaller towns because it neglects the microlevel of events. Inattention to this local microlevel, as well as the connection between the local and the global, is often a symptom of the dangerous stupidity and thoughtlessness of those who took on leadership. This can result in minor humanitarian catastrophes within cities, regions, or even the whole country.

It is no news that the Kremlin is aiming for a war. However, the war is fought in small steps, through various tactics and micro-scenarios, trying out the reactions and actions of the present Ukrainian government. About a month ago we experienced the “experimental Crimean tactic” that the Kremlin is still carrying out. From the first appearance of the saboteurs on the peninsula, the public widely discussed whether and how much these events resembled the scenario that the Kremlin carried out in Georgia. Once the preparations for the scandalous referendum started, many realized that the “experimental Crimean tactic” differed significantly from Russia’s actions in either Georgia or Transnistria. Small steps and local actions adhering to a certain strategy (or rather a bunch of tactics), set in motion by the Kremlin over last month, were also the test of the present Ukrainian government.

I have lived through several “Maidans,” including the last one, which was the most powerful. However, there were also lesser protests, there was the Maidan of ten years ago, after which the East was once again “handed over” to the neofeudal lords who have run it for at least fifteen years, building up a network of corruption, fear management that relied on the loyalty of local law enforcement officers and criminals, and the demoralization network. Despite all exploitation of the industrial or cultural pathos of the East, regularly employed as mass propaganda in the Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk regions by the representatives of the Party of Regions and the Communist Party, all that served only the primitive enrichment of smaller or larger neofeudals, their vassals and servants. Some tried to warn us, as early as in the 2000s, of the risk that these neofeudal networks might spread through Ukraine like cancer. And yet, they were handed over to those very same neofeudals in 2005-2009. Consequently, in 2013 cancer has spread to the whole Ukraine.

The present risks are larger, since this time the question is even more radical: are we handing the East over to the neofeudals again? are we betraying the citizens who hoped to overcome them? It is also unclear whether these new feudal lords, with their private armies and a network of criminals and servants, will rest content with hiding by moving the border and subjecting themselves to the rule of a president who allows neofeudalism to develop further. Maybe they will use destabilization and terrorism for further development of their society management projects over separate areas through federalisation-feudalization.

Today one may speak of the new experimental tactic of the Kremlin. Once is tempted to speak of the “Eastern experimental tactic.” The majority prefers to think on the larger scale of the “South- Eastern experimental tactic.” Acknowledging the necessity to think globally yet act locally and diversely, each time a bit differently, the small steps and technologies deployed by the Kremlin can be characterized as a series of different experimental tactics with similar yet distinct scenarios. Once we look into the details, it becomes evident that the Kremlin understands the necessity of paying attention to the local level. And the Kremlin wants to toy with those who have not yet realized that.

For example, in Slavyansk the Kremlin is experimenting with a tactic of holding the whole city hostage. The terrorists got legitimized by the neofeudals, vassals, servants, communists and the profiteering “regionals”. It is testing the strength of the Kyiv authorities and of the Ukrainian state as such. Forgiving that would be a crime and a treason.   

From Ukrainian translated by Anna Ray; edited by Iaroslava Strikha.

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