Russian President Vladimir Putin has failed to take over Ukraine in his attempt to resuscitate the former Soviet Union. But he hasn't given up, and nobody knows where his tanks will stop, Andriy Parubiy, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine told EurActiv in an exclusive interview.
Andriy Parubiy is a former commandant of Euromaidan. He spoke to EurActiv’s Senior Editor Georgi Gotev.
We are speaking in Brussels on 20 May, just days ahead of the Presidential elections in Ukraine next Sunday. What brings you here? Who have you met with, and what are your messages?
I came to participate in a session of the Ukraine-NATO working group. The problems Ukraine is facing today reveal that a lot of tactical questions need a solution, while in a strategic sense the entire security and defence sector in Ukraine needs an overhaul. This concerns not only the Ministry of Defence, but also the National Guard and the Ministry of Interior.
Ukraine has been faced with a new way of waging war. This is the so-called hybrid war, which was developed by experts in the USA, but was adapted by the Russian Federation. According to the mechanism of hybrid warfare, the army only plays the role of intimidation and containment. The main role is played by diversion groups, by criminal groups, by the support they may get from ethnic groups in one region or another.
One important aspect of hybrid warfare is the information war. The classic military methods against this type of warfare cannot always be effective. The way that the army and the police behave often leaves them helpless when confronted with such tactics. In Ukraine, 20 armed people seize a building, and in front of it stands a group of some 50 people. From this moment on, all the classic ways of conducting a police or an anti-terrorist operation fail. You need to evacuate the people. But in this case you cannot, because armed people can shoot at them. When I was in Luhansk, I saw it myself.
That’s why my main task with the NATO meeting has been (explaining why) their experts should come to Ukraine and prepare the much-needed reform of our security and defence sector.
But Russian propaganda says that the Americans are already in place in Ukraine’s security and defense forces, and that your intelligence and special services are run by the CIA...
…and by Polish snipers. [Polish foreign minister Radoslaw] Sikorski told me that Russians have almost convinced him that the Right Sector in Ukraine is trained by Polish snipers…
You were the commandant of Euromaidan, so you must have first-hand information?
[The allegation about Polish snipers is] absolutely absurd. We are facing Goebbels-type propaganda [Joseph Goebbels was the Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany] which is unbelievable, but people listen to Putin and some consider that such a point of view is also legitimate. This is complete nonsense.
Talking about Maidan, there was nobody there except Ukrainians on our side. Now that we are conducting investigations, we have found that 18 Spetsnaz [Russian special commando forces], including snipers, were in Maidan. The investigation will reveal from which points they were shooting, but I can already say that they did everything they could to spill blood and provoke civil unrest. What happened on Maidan and what happens now [in Eastern Ukraine] is part of the same plan conducted by Russian special forces, aimed at taking control of Ukraine.
What I can further say is that had we been unable to oust [the then President Viktor] Yanukovich, he would have called the Russian army and a completely different scenario would have unfolded. We know that Russian snipers shot at both sides. It is not by chance that Russian troops have stood at the borders of Ukraine since the days of Maidan.
So you recognise that you ousted Yanukovich?
Yes. He ran away.
But he ran away because he was afraid for his life?
Yes of course. After so many deaths and such national tension, he understood that if he didn’t run away, the personal consequences could be very bad.
But let’s return to the issue of US assistance. Five billion US dollars have reportedly been spent by Washington to bring about this transition, to prepare Maidan, to finance it?
This is complete absurdity. Forget about the USA. The Ukrainian political parties weren’t even ready for Maidan. I was at Maidan from the start. With a megaphone, I started a rally on Maidan. At that time, political parties had no idea about what was about to begin. If someone believes that such streams of energy as Maidan can be planned or prepared, he is completely wrong. There was no preparation for Maidan, none whatsoever, neither material, nor ideological. Maidan started as a force of nature. First came the journalists. Then came the students. Maidan started as a force from below, as a force of the people.
But what was Maidan? A pro-European revolution or a putsch by fascist forces, as Russian propaganda says?
To have a putsch by fascists, you need fascists first. Nobody saw any fascists on Maidan. That’s one more Russian propaganda cliché, aimed at discrediting Maidan. What kind of fascists?
They say the Right Sector are fascist.
There were so many journalists. I have guided Western journalists to where the Right Sector were located. Right Sector is a wing which is radical indeed, but they always strongly stood against fascism, against Nazism. But you see, the fact that you ask me this question is a result of Russian propaganda. What they say is absurd, and by commenting on it, we serve their purpose. People on Maidan were students, journalists, middle class people. How could they be called fascist?
But you are also accused of having sympathies for Stepan Bandera, a controversial figure during World War II.
But what has Bandera to do with fascism or Nazism? The Bandera brothers were killed by Nazis. [Stepan] Bandera was in a Nazi concentration camp, as many patriotic leaders were. The line “you advocate for Bandera, therefore you advocate fascism” is Russian propaganda. It has nothing to do with reality. Indeed, in the 1940s there was a nationalist movement. These people fought for Ukrainian statehood. Actually they fought equally against the Nazi system and the Soviet system. As a Ukrainian patriot, I believe they did a lot for our country, and that their memory should be preserved. By the way, the first who took arms against the Nazis were Ukrainian patriots in Trans-Carpatian Ukraine, at a time when Hitler took Austria and Czechoslovakia without anyone opposing him. But this is a historic discussion.
Regarding the snipers at Maidan, you say the investigation is ongoing. How about this tragedy, this carnage in Odessa on 4 May?
This is a classic example of how Russia provokes, aiming at unleashing civil unrest and bloodshed. On that day, there was a football match. The fans had gathered and when they started marching with Ukrainian flags, a group of people started shooting at them with military guns. A few people were killed on the spot. In this group were citizens of Russia, which had come from Transnistria [a Russia-controlled breakaway territory of Moldova].
When the explosion happened in the House of the Trade Unions, experts have shown that the substance that provoked it had been stored there a long time ago. The House of the Trade Unions was a kind of headquarters for the separatists, it was not controlled by the authorities, nor by the opposition. And the substance that provoked the blaze was brought there during this period of time [when the separatists controlled the building]. I’m not saying that this substance was inflamed on purpose. But when Molotov cocktails were thrown from the fourth floor at the participants of the Ukrainian rally, the substance inflamed.
It is true that the Russian propaganda is very strong today. Because it moves like a tactical corps and looks stronger than the free press, which will always show all points of view. We ask those interested to come and take part in the investigation. We invited international experts to participate in an international committee, so they could base their opinion on facts, and not on what Russian TV says.
Odessa was a classic provocation in which pro-Russian groups had to seize the administration buildings in the same way it happened in Donetsk and Luhansk.
The presidential election will take place on Monday. What can we expect – that things will go smoothly, except in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions?
For the remaining regions there is no issue. Normal preparation for elections is ongoing. But not even the Donetsk and Luhansk regions are a problem, but rather some cities and towns in those regions. In many parts, including in the Luhansk region, there are no separatists, no terrorists. The situation is under the control of the local authorities.
But in Slaviansk, an anti-terrorist operation is ongoing. Yes, there will be locations where it would be dangerous for the international observers to go, and we know that this danger will come from Russia. Because Putin’s major aim is scuppering the 25 May election. That’s why we expect aggression and provocation on that day. But this would happen only in isolated places, and by no means in the entirety of Donetsk and Luhansk. Besides, according to the Ukrainian constitution, there is no requirement as to thresholds of voter turnout. So it’s not a legal problem, but a political and psychological one.
If Russia wants an excuse for not recognising the election result, they will find it. But how many thousands of people will be excluded from the election in your view?
It would depend on the evolution of the situation in the coming days. The firm position taken by Ahmetov [Rinat Akhmetov, the oligarch who controls the coal business in Donetsk region and employs 300.000 people] plays a role. [Akhmetov said yesterday Ukrainians - including his own employees - should stage a "peaceful warning protest" against separatists and that action should continue daily "until peace is established".] More than 80% in Donbass support a united Ukraine, but the infiltrators are instigating fear. That’s why people are silent. But when Akhmetov takes his miners to the street, the situation changes. Miners don’t want Russia, because they know that Moscow will close their mines for being non-profitable.
That’s why we can see very important changes in Donetsk and Luhansk regions. And that’s why it’s difficult for me to answer with concrete numbers.
Why do you call the Russian infiltrators “terrorists”?
We could call then infiltrators, but it’s a mild word, because they are killers.
But Russians call you fascists and it’s a spiral which doesn’t augur for détente?
There is no comparison. If Ukrainians went to Rostov, or to Pskov [in Russia], and seized buildings and killed people, we could make comparisons. We speak of armed forces of Spetsnaz who come to Ukraine, who cynically kill our civils and our military. We cannot be milder.
Coming back to the 18 Spetsnaz troops at Maidan…
… the 18 snipers.
What else can you say about what you know about them?
I think they escaped from Ukraine. We have a working hypothesis which would be confirmed or rejected by the investigation, that in the most difficult days they shot equally – at Berkut [the Ukrainian anti-riot forces] and at the Maidan activists. Their aim was to instigate a more violent civic unrest. That was the tactic. The same tactic was applied in Odessa, in Donetsk, aiming at dividing the society and dividing Ukraine.
And the aim is that Russia could warm its hands at this fire. When we speak about fighting terrorists, the best way is to find their centre of coordination, of financing. In this case, this centre is one person, it is Putin.
That’s why I say – we have no crisis in Slavyansk, in Donetsk, in Luhansk. We have a crisis in Putin’s head.
What is he trying to achieve?
He once said that the worst disaster of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union. His maniac idea is to resuscitate this space, he thinks this is his historic mission. And as Brzezinski [Zbigniew Brzezinski, former National Security advisor to US President Jimmy Carter] said, without Ukraine the Russian empire will not be rebuilt. That’s why after the Georgia events [the brief war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008] he prepared his coup against Ukraine for a very long time.
Our security forces can say today precisely that the groups in Ukraine that interact with Spetsnaz have been prepared by them over the last two years. When Putin prepared his plan for Ukraine, it comprised the whole of the country. But he had to change it when Yanukovich ran away. And his new plan is for the eight regions: Donetsk, Luhansk, Odessa, Kharkiv, Zaporozhie, Kherson, Dnipropetrovsk, Nikolayev. And he was sure that when Russians enter there they will be received with flowers. And the fact that we have limited his influence in such a small part of the country is a major political blow for him.
What did Putin expect?
He thought that those regions would march into Russia waving Russian flags. It must be hard for him to swallow what reality proved. Actually, Putin doesn’t need Donetsk and Luhansk. These are miners’ regions and he knows that he needs to finance those regions if he wants to rule over them. Actually, Putin’s plan for Ukraine has failed. What remains is political objectives: to have a zone of instability in Ukraine, not to allow the further EU integration, to prevent the visa-free regime for Ukrainians to become effective, to not allow Ukraine to join NATO, and to keep a political influence there.
So Putin will continue in this direction. He will try to create another Transnistria, another region of instability, but his major goal and his plan for the eight regions, known as “Russian Spring”, has failed.
What doesn’t the West understand?
The crisis we are talking about is not the Ukrainian crisis. It’s a global crisis. And if Putin succeeds in Ukraine, nobody can tell where his tanks will be tomorrow. His maniac idea I mentioned is also global. To stop Putin is not only Ukraine’s major goal. It should be the goal of the entire civilised world.