In an interview for Svobodnaya Pressa on February 18th, I made the following observation: “The number of potential hot spots in Ukraine is growing. I do not rule out that yesterday’s allies on the Maidan will soon hate each other more than the ‘separatists’ from Donbass. Ukrainian society has been split deeply, and this could lead to a civil war in Central and Western Ukraine.”
However, I was and am skeptical as to the prospects of a new Maidan, since the “opposition” forces in the capital are quite weak while, on the contrary, the government controls Kiev. An alternative to a Maidan (a coup in the capital), I said, could be a civil war in the periphery, or rather several localized points of civil war rather remote from the political center.
Now it seems that this alternative is beginning to be realized.
On Monday, special police units subordinated to interior minister Avakov and the SBU dispersed the holdout near Krivoy Torets blocking railway connections with the Donbass republics. Neo-Nazi militants were arrested, but the estimates of their number vary widely: some sources speak of 10 arrested, others of 80. The detainees were soon released so as to not escalate an already explosive situation.
But the fuse was lit. The neo-Nazis accepted the challenge and have answered.
On Tuesday night in Western Ukraine, a wave of seizures of regional state administrations broke out. Supporters of the Donbass blockade – neo-Nazi militants numbering several dozen unarmed but camouflaged men – broke into regional administration buildings. The local police refused to admit that this “penetration” was in fact an occupation of government buildings. Instead, the police claim that the regional administration belongs to local communities, and therefore locals have the right to hold rallies there. Yet this legal sophistry is designed to hide the central authorities’ confusion and fear in the face of the disobedient Western Ukrainian regions.
As a result of extraordinary sessions in Chernivtsi and Ivano-Frankivsk, regional council deputies voted on draft appeals to the central government demanding that the Donbass “blockaders” be freed (which has in fact already been done) and that the criminal proceedings against them be closed. One of the demands includes dismissing interior minister Avakov and the deputy head of Ukraine’s National Police, Vyacheslav Abroskin. In Ivano-Frankivsk, they want the head of the anti-terrorist division of the SBU, Vitaly Malikov, fired. In the Rivne regional administration, protesters have put forth their conditions: the regional government should urgently appeal to the government, Verkhovna Rada, and president to condemn the dispersal of the Donbass blockade, and keep the blockade going.
What’s more, regional council deputies were called on to recognize the “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in Donbass as a war waged by Russia against Ukraine, and adopt a corresponding law on temporarily occupied territory. Interestingly enough, the council session in Ivano-Frankivsk was held right on the street outside the regional administration.
These demands (in fact ultimatums) for the central government were adopted by the deputies of four regional councils in Western Ukraine: Ivano-Frankivsk, Rivne, Volyn, and Chernivtsi. What the government will do in response is not yet clear.
It seems like the actions of January 2014 – when a wave of administrative building seizures took place with the connivance of local authorities and the police – are back. Once again, like three years ago, local “patriots” and neo-Nazis are opposed by forces from the national police (former Berkut) and SBU.
But this is only the outer line of confrontation. Back in 2014, two pro-Western factions in the government opposed one another: on the one hand there were the supporters of a radical leap into the EU and NATO (where no one was or is waiting for Ukraine), and on the other those in favor of a more cautious drift westward at Russia’s expense (President Yanukovych and his supporting groups in the Party of Regions).
There was no group of people supporting a non-bloc, independent Ukraine then, nor are there now. But if three years ago there was at least some semblance of EU integration (albeit illusory, as Ukrainians now understand), then now war with Russia is the perspective. Some (the central government headed by President Poroshenko) de-facto recognize such, while others, the “opposition”, are ready to recognize it de jure.
What would be the result of a victory of the “war party” (those storming government buildings in Western Ukraine)?And not for Ukraine, which already has no future, but for Europe?
In the worst case scenario, this threatens a large European war in which Ukraine and the Baltic countries would play the role of the arena. The armies of Eastern European countries would be the main suppliers of cannon fodder, while the Americans and Western Europeans would distance themselves from active participation and losses in the conflict.
In a plainly bad scenario, there would be avant-garde battles between pro-Russian and pro-American forces in Ukraine with the limited participation of NATO forces and the Russian army. For the West, consenting to losing its supporters in Ukraine would only mean a loss of influence, but for Russia refusing to support pro-Russian forces means losing itself, since NATO would stand on Russia’s western borders and NATO expansion would only continue onwards to Russian territory.
Hence why Moscow will never accept defeat in Ukraine, and will opt for the harshest confrontation with the West if need be. This would not be a war for influence, but a war for Russia’s very survival.
And Russia has never lost such wars.
Originally published on fort-russ.com