18 February 2014

The thugs move in -- updated

After three months of ongoing protest in Kiev against the Viktor Yanukovych government's shift away from the European Union and towards Russia, today the government sent in several thousand heavily-armed police to attack the protest encampment at Independence Square.  Initial reports in these situations are always murky, but so far at least fourteen protesters and seven police have been killed, and hundreds of people injured, including dozens of police with gunshot wounds.  The Guardian is running live updates on the situation here.  Protesters have attacked government and police buildings in several other Ukrainian cities, notably Lviv and Ivano-Frankivsk in the western part of the country.

I have felt some degree of shock at seeing pictures like the one above from places I personally remember, having been there just a few years ago.  My earlier post summarizing the current conflict is here.

It seems unlikely that the government expected the degree of resistance the protesters have mounted.  There are about 25,000 of them in the square; many of them have guns and firebombs and they have been using them.  The situation now looks more like a civil war than a protest.

Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko has met with Yanukovych in an effort to reach a peaceful solution, but the talks broke down without result.  It seems likely that Wednesday will bring more violence.

While the Putin regime in Russia has lately grown increasingly shrill in its condemnation of the protests which threaten his efforts to drag Ukraine into Russia's orbit, I doubt that he is behind the Ukrainian government's action.  Putin is very concerned with the success of the Sochi Olympics, which still have several more days to run; the last thing he wants is a bloody mess with his fingerprints on it competing for media attention right now.  No doubt he wants Yanukovych to crack down on the protests -- but not until the Olympics are over.

The weekend saw anti-government demonstrations in Kiev which drew 350,000 participants, the largest turn-out to date.  My guess is that it was these events that spooked Yanukovych into acting.

While both Russia and the West are stepping up their efforts to influence the situation with rhetoric and threats of economic sanctions, their options are limited.  In contrast with, for example, the Russia-Georgia clash of 2008, military intervention is probably infeasible.  Ukraine's population is 47 million, about one-third the size of Russia's own; its army, including reserves, has more than 1,200,000 soldiers, larger than the armies of Britain, France, and Germany combined.  Russia's army is even larger, but Ukraine would be a formidable opponent if its army resisted, as it probably would.  Russia would win eventually, but it would be a full-scale bloody war.  Putin might even have problems with Russian soldiers being reluctant to fight a people so closely related and so culturally similar to the Russians themselves.

It's the attitude of the Ukrainian army which is likely to prove crucial.  Tens of thousands of armed and determined protesters, supported by hundreds of thousands more people in the capital city and millions in the rest of the country, are probably too big of a problem for the police to cope with.  If Yanukovych takes the next step and calls in the army, will the soldiers open fire on their own people at his command?

It's a question many of those soldiers themselves are probably pondering at this moment.  The revolutions of the Arab spring showed how important the answer can be.  In Egypt, the decision of soldiers to shift their allegiance to the people allowed Mubarak's regime to be brought down with only a few hundred casualties; in Libya, where the army largely remained loyal to Qaddhafi, the result was a full-blown civil war which cost an estimated 25,000 lives, in a country far more sparsely populated than Ukraine.

Let's hope that if Ukraine's soldiers face the same choice, they make the right decision.

Update 1:  As I write this, it's just after 11:00 AM Pacific time, which is 9:00 PM Kiev time.  So far the government forces have not launched a renewed attack.  Perhaps they're re-assessing the situation, or perhaps they intend to attack at night.

The Guardian has a new live update feed, and Julia Joffe explains why Putin has reason to fear what's happening.  "If it can happen in Kiev.....it can happen in Moscow."  Know hope.

Finally, the protesters have posted this video:

Слава Україні!

Update 2 (Thursday morning):  Fighting has erupted again, with the Guardian reporting that protesters "have gained the upper hand" and "have captured dozens of policemen".  Also that "the common riot police lines dissolved as they were bussed away, to be replaced by “Berkut” (police special forces)" -- perhaps the government is afraid regular police can't be relied on to fight against the people?  The situation remains confusing.  All I can do is wish the best to these people who have the guts to fight for their freedom.


Anonymous Zosimus the Heathen said...

Depressingly (though probably not surprisingly), there're already a bunch of wackaloons claiming that the current protests in Ukraine are all a CONSPIRACY, one being orchestrated by the members of a nebulous and sinister organization called "The Cathedral" (see, for example, this blog post: http://blog.jim.com/war/cathedral-imperialism-revealed.html).

Related to the above point (and given your general interest in right-wing cranks), have you heard of the neo-reactionary movement? It's some weird movement (that also goes by the hilarious name "the Dark Enlightenment") that (despite many of its adherents' vehement claims to the contrary) looks a lot like fascism. It seems to attract a lot of MRAs, PUAs and other folk like that (indeed, it was through the blogs of such individuals that I learned of its existence myself), and likes to blame everything that's allegedly wrong with the world today on the aforementioned "Cathedral*" (which, as far as I can tell, is simply everyone who doesn't subscribe to their nutty belief system).

*Which is a pretty ironic name for them to use given that many of them are hardcore Catholics!

19 February, 2014 18:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Zosimus: I've seen the predictable claims that the protests are being orchestrated by the Jews or the CIA -- efforts by one-note conspiratards to impose a familiar narrative on events in a place of which they know nothing.

I hadn't heard of "The Cathedral" or "The Dark Enlightenment", although I read right-wing crank sites a fair bit -- there are so many variants out there (and a good thing too, since it keeps them divided). Maybe it's because I don't read the MRA/misogynist stuff very much -- it's awfully monotonous.

Thanks for visiting!

20 February, 2014 01:42  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

I been seeing alot of this in the media's ... they are really kicking as over there, and I know your familiar with the town. I still have a computer video disk you sent me from there. I was a lil confused while listening to this as to who is who and who want's what? Nor do I have any idea what is "best" for these folk's (even though as an American I should keep my nose out of their business I reckon)... I hear some say they want to be with European's and some Russian's(?). Some other protest's goin on around the globe too, but this is the big one right now it seem's ... Thanx for the read Infidel ....

20 February, 2014 13:42  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: Thanks. The situation keeps changing, but the government's position is weakening; today the parliament voted to demand that Yanukovych pull back the police, though who knows whether he will or not. Rebels in other cities have started seizing military depots including guns and ammunition. It's looking more and more like a revolution. I wonder how many Americans would have the guts to do this in a similar situation.

20 February, 2014 14:34  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Infidel: As far as how many American's have gut's or whatever? ... I sure as Hell havent a clue. But ... what I do know (or at least have wrote about since the start of my blog/ journal) is that many in various nations at various times, are going to have to resist to THAT "common enemy" that we DO HAVE that is contaminating our cultures, government's, media's, etc (this is simply part of what I wrote in past about these resistance forces moving in "waves" across the globe). American's havent been pushed to this point either yet, and our circumstances have their own unique qualities that need to be addressed, so these resistances will also come in various form's and various level's of rebellion is the way I see it. "IF" America continues on the path that our political leadership is taking us through corporate manueveriung and such ... it wont be a matter of "if" or "who" has gut's ... the bottom line will be that there need's to be some sort of action, whichever method that the people decide on ... it will be a matter of having no choice. I dont see it as a matter of "gut's, as much as I see it as simply a "job" that need's to get done. But ... enough from me though on this. Thank You ....

21 February, 2014 06:46  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

Thanks for the reports and updates.

"I wonder how many Americans would have the guts to do this in a similar situation."

If you're referring to the threats of insurrection against the gun-confiscating Kenyan Usurper mouthed by weasel "patriots" in the Tea Party, I'd say none. They're all about calling the president a "subhuman mongrel," but doing nothing that would actually, y'know, place their skin in any danger.

21 February, 2014 07:35  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

It's not that I think we're very likely to ever be in the position of having to resist a tyrannical government. But with some of the crazies on the far right, it's something I do think about sometimes.

21 February, 2014 08:41  

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