Monday, January 17, 2005

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Behind the scenes in Ukraine

Back on November 25th, at the beginning of Ukraine's Orange Revolution, I blogged the following:

When a government facing a popular uprising, there is a moment when all of Burke's "pleasing illusions" about power fade away, and the rulers face a choice between using raw coercion or backing down. At this juncture, there is one of three possibilities:

1) The leadership backs down;
2) The leadership cracks down;
3) The leadership tries to crack down but the coercive apparatus splits.

That moment is rapidly approaching in Kiev.

In the New York Times, C.J. Chivers has a riveting behind-the-scenes look at Ukraine's security services during the election campaign, suggesting that in the case of Ukraine, it was a combination of options (2) and (3). Here's one key moment:

The state was leaking power. The next day, Nov. 27, Mr. Kuchma summoned [S.B.U. chief] General Smeshko to a meeting at Koncha Zaspa, a government sanitarium outside Kiev.

In a conference room were Mr. Yanukovich and politicians from eastern regions supporting him, with the leader of the Interior Ministry, or M.V.D., Mykola Bilokon, one of Mr. Kuchma's loyalists, who made no secret of his support for the premier.

Mr. Yanukovich confronted Mr. Kuchma, asking if he was betraying them, four people in the meeting said. Then came demands: schedule an inauguration, declare a state of emergency, unblock government buildings.

Mr. Kuchma icily addressed his former protégé. "You have become very brave, Viktor Feyodovich, to speak to me in this manner," he said, according to Mr. Bilokon and General Smeshko. "It would be best for you to show this bravery on Independence Square."

General Smeshko intervened to offer the S.B.U.'s assessment of the situation, warning the premier that few of Ukraine's troops, if ordered, would fight the people. He also said that even if soldiers followed an order, a crackdown would not succeed because demonstrators would resist. Then he challenged Mr. Yanukovich.

"Viktor Feyodovich, if you are ready for a state of emergency, you can give this order," he said. "Here is Bilokon," he continued. "The head of the M.V.D. You will be giving him, as chairman of the government, a written order to unblock the buildings? You will do this?"

Mr. Yanukovich was silent. General Smeshko waited. "You have answered," he continued, according to people in the meeting. "You will not do it. Let us not speak nonsense. There is no sense in using force."

Mr. Kuchma left the room to take a phone call, then returned with a state television crew. Mr. Yanukovich slammed down his pen and left.

The government's position was set: there would be no martial law. It was formalized the next day, on Nov. 28, when the National Security and Defense Council voted to solve the crisis through peaceful means.

"This was the key decision," Mr. Kuchma later said. "I realized what it meant to de-block government building by force in these conditions. It could not be done without bloodshed."

Read the whole thing.

posted by Dan on 01.17.05 at 10:26 PM


This is too weird. The prime suspect in Yuschenko's poisoning was subsequently put in charge of his security???

...General Smeshko left the meeting with Mr. Kuchma and headed to a S.B.U. safe house in Kiev for a secret liaison with Mr. Yushchenko, the opposition leader. The meeting had self-evident ironies. Mr. Yushchenko, nearly incapacitated after being poisoned by dioxin in the summer, a crime that remains unsolved, had publicly linked the poisoning to a meeting with General Smeshko and another S.B.U. general.

...Mr. Yushchenko requested more security for his campaign. General Smeshko agreed to provide him eight specialists from the elite Alpha counterterrorism unit - a highly unusual step - and to arrange former S.B.U. members to guard the campaign.

WTF? If Yuschenko believed he was poisoned at the previous meeting, why is he enlisting his would-be-assassin's help? And why -- when it was proven that he was poisoned -- was he so generous to his attempted-murderer?

"I don't want this factor [i.e. his poisoning] to influence the election in some way — either as a plus or a minus," Yushchenko said in Russian as he left the clinic and headed back to Kiev. "This question will require a great deal of time and serious investigation. Let us do it after the election — today is not the moment."

So will he bury the investigation, now that Smeshko was so helpful?

posted by: Carl on 01.17.05 at 10:26 PM [permalink]

"So will he bury the investigation, now that Smeshko was so helpful?"
Assuming that Smeshko turned on the then government, then why not? While it might leave a sour taste in most ppls mouths, it's better to let the dictators go free than have a dictatorship.

posted by: Factory on 01.17.05 at 10:26 PM [permalink]

On Friday's WSJ, there was also another article (sorry, no links) about the role of SBU (Ukraine's successor to KGB) in the uprising. The colonel in charge literally ran circles around his Interior Ministry (bakcers of Yanukovich) opponents legally and sometimes illegally. The protestors knew of draft order by Interior Ministry to send in troops to crack down before Interior's own troop.

posted by: BigFire on 01.17.05 at 10:26 PM [permalink]

Gen. Smeshko might not have been aware that his cook was the assassin, I doubt the General prepared the food with his own hands.

posted by: Ted B. on 01.17.05 at 10:26 PM [permalink]

Current thinking is that dioxin poisoning takes several days to work. So it wouldn't have been the cook. (Though it might have been the thief, his wifer or her lover.)

posted by: Doug on 01.17.05 at 10:26 PM [permalink]

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