What made the Crimean developments possible? What mistakes did the government make? Will Russia continue advancing on the southeastern part of Ukraine? How appropriate the reaction of the West was? Is it possible to bring Crimea back? What does Ukraine have to do today? The answers to these questions are provided by a person who played a crucial role in the solving of two Crimean crises: during early 1990s and in 2003. Ukrainian statesman Yevhen Marchuk recently delivered a report Lessons for Ukraine at the Forum “Challenges of Time: Expert Opinion” at the Kyiv International Institute of Management (MIM-Kyiv). The speech of the former prime minister caused a stir among the audience, which reacted with numerous questions. We offer the main theses of Marchuk’s report and answers.
“NOW THE INTELLECTUAL-INTENSIVE STAGE OF THE CRIMEAN CRISIS IS COMING”
“It can be said today that it was possible to fully prevent the invasion of Crimea, without shootings, airplanes, tanks, if decisions had been made in due time and corresponding measures were taken. We must admit that our country was in a complicated situation after the events on Maidan. Russia used this moment to its advantage: it had been long preparing political, military, and informational operations, supported by the activity of secret agencies. For example, it is impossible to instantaneously organize the procedure of issuing Russian passports for Crimean residents. The new government ended up in a complicated economic situation, besides, state bodies were disorganized, and incumbent leaders had no experience of reacting to such critical events.
“But nevertheless, it was possible to avoid the gravest errors. Why do I think so? I had to handle two Russian-Ukrainian crises. The first one was related to similar events in Crimea in 1993-94. The second crisis was about the Tuzla Island conflict in 2003. The first conflict almost escalated to shooting, but we managed to prevent it.
“Everything started in a similar way in 1994. At first, the informational attack on the population was launched, then Kuban Cossacks appeared at a festival in Simferopol, then Russians alerted retired naval special forces, surveillance and propagandist activity of the Russia’s Black Sea Fleet was activated, a team of marines was summoned, a local separatist appeared, so-called president Mieshkov (now this function is performed by Konstantynov and Aksionov), a referendum with similar questions was being prepared, etc. The Ukrainian special agencies and military structures at the time were in a better shape than they are now, and we managed to reveal and localize Russian plans rather quickly. Despite the problems, it would have been possible to do the same in the current situation too.
“The first phase of the intervention of 2014 in Crimea was 95 percent similar to what happened in 1994. That is why now, when Russians started implementing their operation on the peninsula, not only me, but many other experts publicly warned the Ukrainian government about Moscow’s further steps. For example, Admiral Kabanenko was nearly screaming: take ships farther away from Donuzlav and the Bay of Sevastopol into the open sea, because there will be a blocking operation. Nobody listened. At least it is good our border guards managed to rescue their equipment.
“The second stage of the operation started when the ‘little green men’ appeared in Crimea. At the same time, one could figure out Russia’s plans from the fact they decided to start the largest military exercise in the last two decades near the Ukrainian border, with the involvement of large numbers of personnel and equipment. In this situation, Ukraine could have announced its own exercise right away, and this would mean the strengthening of borders and of the ferry in Kerch, reinforcement of guards at all military sites and facilities in Crimea, etc. Of course, even after this, the intervention of Russian troops to the peninsula could happen, but it would have definitely been an offensive one, and blood would have been shed. In such case, Russians would openly show themselves as aggressors.
“Another problem is the so-called quota principle of appointing heads to the power structures, which is absolutely unacceptable in a crisis. While posts were distributed in Kyiv, Russia was wrapping up the first stage of the operation. One faction was not satisfied with the quotes it received, and therefore it blocked the appointment of the governmental structure. The defense minister and head of the General Staff were not appointed. What quota principle can we talk about, when a huge military structure enters the peninsula? Russia has already started activating its military compound, and the still acting head of the General Staff of Ukraine, appointed by Yanukovych, sits in Crimea and gives out orders that help the invaders. And even after he was finally dismissed, a new head of the General Staff was not appointed right away.
“I am convinced that a nationwide investigation regarding the Crimean tragedy and the tragedy of our fleet is inevitable. Not now. Later. Second by second, millimeter by millimeter, in all vertical and horizontal structures, according to all resolutions and orders, and their absence, on the Cabinet of Ministers and the parliament, on factions and their leaders, on the Verkhovna Rada Committee on National Security and Defense, on the acting president. Everything will be turned inside out. The people will firmly demand it. Nobody can stop this investigation. It will not be about vague speculations, but about specific actions or inactivity of specific people according to the laws of Ukraine, regulatory acts, and official instructions. Especially, in the first phase. For example, why were ships not withdrawn when the threat was obvious? This was publicly demanded by naval experts. Who withheld the order to take them out to the roadsteads and why? Why was it done by the border guard? I know what they justify themselves with in their backstage discussions. But their arguments are childish babble.
“There will be not a Temporary Investigatory Commission at the parliament, but a nationwide large-scale investigation.
“That is why questions emerge: what should be done now, who should do it, and how? Firstly, state authorities should involve military theorists and practitioners. We have them.
“The fact that Ukraine signed the political part of the Association Agreement with the European Union is positive. In this way all of the EU countries recognized the government in Kyiv, which Russia does not want to do by constantly emphasizing the illegitimacy of the Ukrainian government.
“The second positive moment is that the realization has finally come to global players that the situation with Crimea is extremely grave, and it is not only Ukraine’s problem. But we must understand that nobody will wage war on our territory for us. Firstly, we are not a NATO member, secondly, all of the UN peacekeeping operations are held according to a different political and legal procedure than the one existing in Crimea now. Aid can come, for example, from America in the form of equipment, surveillance activities, etc.
“It can be predicted that the situation in Ukraine will not improve until the presidential elections. The next task for Russia is to disrupt the May 25 elections. Any provoked conflict, for example, in Kherson or Donetsk oblast, is a ground not to recognize the future government. That is why thorough work on the preparation of the negotiation team with Russia must be started now (negotiations still have to be held), despite the fact that today Russia rejects all contacts with Ukraine. The Russian negotiating machine is very powerful. The negotiators must be professional and expert individuals, rather than loud patriotic figures. At first, a mediator must be found. Who can it be?
“For example, we know that Mustafa Dzhemilev talked to Russia’s president Putin, met with Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan and NATO Secretary General Rasmussen, and he will speak at the UN soon. The factor of the Crimean Tatar people is very serious and important for Ukraine. I want to emphasize that during a recent meeting of experts at the Verkhovna Rada, I offered the Ukrainian government to nominate Dzhemilev for the Nobel Peace Prize. This is fair and will be a serious signal for the Crimean Tatar people from the Ukrainian government. There are more grounds than you need: Dzhemilev was a prisoner of Stalin’s camps, he made a significant contribution to the regulation of the acute Crimean crisis of 1993-94, and I am ready to help with providing substantiation, because I am familiar with those events and his role in them. Also, Dzhemilev puts in a lot of effort for the peaceful regulation of the conflict in Crimea. Today it is crucial to see what kind of policy towards the Crimean Tatar people the Ukrainian government will develop.
“Individual international structures can be mediators, too.
“Despite the fact that Russia has virtually completed the annexation of Crimea, we must not panic. Now the intellectual-intensive stage of the Crimean crisis is coming. This is a moment when the concentration of the whole intellectual potential of the country might take place. And we have a high potential in this respect. We have to involve all the resources within the country, as well as the international community. For example, now is a very convenient situation for Ukraine to write off its national debt. Given Ukraine’s economic plight and the fact that the nation has just survived Maidan followed by Russia’s invasion on our territory, we could demand the abolition of the national debt. And there are a lot more opportunities we can use to Ukraine’s advantage.”
“DEMONSTRATIVE UNIFICATION OF THE NATION IS OUR POWERFUL FACTOR”
The Ukrainian government’s indecisive policy towards our troops in Crimea looks like treason. What do you think should be done?
“Today’s situation with our troops in Crimea is disgrace for the leadership in Kyiv.”
Will Ukraine be able to return Crimea?
“It is possible. I will not reveal the details.”
Do you think Russia will realize its “Crimean scenario” in the south and east of Ukraine?
“Just a month ago we could not even imagine that Russia could invade Crimea. After it became a fact, Russia’s true intentions were revealed once and for all. That is why people should realize it, and be prepared for anything. If Russia begins a full-scale comprehensive war (which is not excluded), massive casualties among the civilians will follow. I do not want to believe in it. I assume serious provocations, not full-scale warfare.
“What does Putin’s growing popularity rating (thanks to his aggression in Ukraine) reveal? That we must revalue many things in Ukraine-Russia relations, our perception of each other and of our cooperation. Nolens volens, we will have to start deep and comprehensive work on collective security.”
Taking into consideration the revolution in Ukraine and the previous regime’s behavior in general, a question arises: who did Yanukovych work for?
“Yanukovych had all power in Ukraine. Why did he flee? I do not think he was scared by Maidan. The ex-president had all levers for ruling the state, he need not have fled. Since the Soviet time there have been special shelter complexes in Kyiv, and in Ukraine, in case of a nuclear attack. They are provided with everything allowing to perform the leader’s function: speak on television, take decisions, run the government and the Armed Forces, etc. Yanukovych was well aware of that. It also turned out that the guards were withdrawn from the presidential administration, and the owner left Mezhyhiria in haste, although no one was storming these sites. Not only Yanukovych fled, but also his entourage. A question arises: why does a president of a big European country flee? As a hint, I’ll ask another question: where did he come?”
Was this stupidity or crime?
“This was a voluntary panic flight from his powers as president. In a situation, critical for the nation, its president flees to another country. And from there, he urges the president of the country of his stay to commit an act of aggression against his nation. This is pure treason.”
It is no secret that the Ukrainian developments of the recent months are closely linked to the geopolitical battle, fought by at least two global players for our country. Which advantages has Ukraine in this game?
“Well, there is also a third player, who is so far being very discreet: China.
“Our key argument is explaining and making the international community understand that Ukraine lies in Russia’s sphere of strategic interests. It is quite obvious now: South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Crimea, and next, Transnistria – a belt of military bases along NATO’s borders. In the global security system it means that Russia’s unsinkable aircraft carrier has appeared on NATO’s south-east flank: its strategic military base called Crimea.
“As a reminder, since 1994 Ukraine has participated in NATO Partnership for Peace program. Besides, Ukraine has taken part in all of NATO peace-keeping missions. Which gives us a moral right to demand guarantees of our security from these structures. Despite the complexity and duration of democratic decision-making, Western nations must look for extraordinary methods. What Ukraine is experiencing today is not only our problem, but a matter of European and even global security system.
“The virtual breach of the Budapest Memorandum on the part of Russia put an end to global nuclear safety. I think that after Crimea a lot of effort will be put into nuclear non-proliferation, but the level of negotiations will be absolutely different.
“A demonstrative unification of the nation is our powerful factor. Of course, the differences between Lviv and Donetsk will remain, but serious progress in people’s consciousness has taken place over the recent months, even in what concerns NATO. We have a potential for unification, and it is far from exhausted.”
Do you think our country has factors which might interest Russia?
“Russia has in a way declared these factors itself: the federalization of Ukraine, Russian as the second official language, non-joining NATO. Well, if we can somehow find a solution for a second official language, the situation with federalization is much more complex. Even more complex is the situation with non-joining NATO. Russia speaks of Ukraine’s neutral status. But who can seriously believe in Russia guaranteeing our country’s security at all after what happened just now. These must be really powerful guarantees. All of that must not be imposed by a foreign state, but it must become a matter of composed domestic consideration.
“Today we hear of such an argument as Ukraine’s blocking the gas pipeline, but I will only say that it is sheer stupidity.
“The West’s sanctions against Russia’s politicians and oligarchs, this is what matters. It will take its toll, but we see that a decision is already made at the top level in Moscow to seize Crimea at all costs. I believe that now, despite all Russian promises, Crimea will fully realize what global non-recognition means. Without global investments, Russia will not be able to reclaim Crimea.”
Russia is waging a powerful information campaign against Ukraine. What can you say about Ukraine’s information security?
“I had to very seriously deal with information security problems at a certain point in time. It is not only a matter of informing the people, but also a matter of policies beyond Ukraine’s borders. Today we see that Russia has not only worked its own population into a full-fledged hysteria about the situation in Ukraine. It made a brazen invasion into Ukraine’s information space. Exactly the same happened in 1994. Information security is a real component of a nation’s security. It is precious, it involves a host of experts, equipment, satellites and what not. Ukraine has three intelligence services versed in information security matters, but their policies should be coordinated on the national level. We also have a big pool of good, well-trained journalists. We need a stable budget for this sphere. The top leadership should realize this.”
What positive signs can you see in the current complicated situation?
“We have seen the true signs of a Ukrainian nation being born: not just Ukrainians, but a nation. The presence of Russian troops along our borders is a catalyst. Crimean Tatars are the ‘Banderites’ of Crimea. Thanks God, this nation-forming process is going on, it is not damping. We are in for some very hard economic trials. But I believe that it is those trials that will urge us to implement real, deep market reforms in economy.”