The best president Ukraine ever had, if there was no war. Photo: president.gov.ua
Article by: Thomas C. Theiner
A year ago Russian snipers under orders of Putin’s aide Vladislav Surkov opened fire on demonstrators in Kyiv’s central Maidan square to force Yanukovych into at long last using the Ukrainian Armed Forces to crush the Euromaidan democracy movement. Finally, on 19 February 2015, Ukrainian authorities admitted this truth known to insiders and foreign embassies in Ukraine since last April.
Such extreme delay in honesty, action, and reaction has become the hallmark of Poroshenko’s rule. Poroshenko truly cares about the people of Ukraine and wishes to prevent any further sufferinbrg brought upon them by the ruthless, bloody junta ruling from the Kremlin, but in war such care is a weakness that only suits the enemy. Poroshenko is the best president Ukraine ever had, and would be well suited to rule a Ukrainian nation at peace and to heal the wounds of war, but as marauding Russian hordes brought war upon Ukraine Poroshenko’s compassion and humanity have become a burden and danger to his country as he is overwhelmed by the task to fight the war as cold-hearted and ruthless as Putin. However even in the field of fighting corruption, the main reason for the toppling of the corrupt Yanukovych regime,the current administration has only a dismal record to show.
But others have an excellent record to show:
- 16th February 2014: “If the people of Ukraine succeed in liberating their country from the mafia clan that has plundered it, Russia will stoke civil unrest in the southeastern regions and on the Crimean peninsula and will use the ensuing civil strife as a pretext to invade these regions.” (Article)
- 20th February 2014: “It’s time the EU and the US realize that Putin’s Russia is not a partner, let alone a friend: it’s a hostile regime. Now Putin is about to supply the weapons to slaughter Ukrainians. A confrontation with Russia was just a matter of time. And that time has just gotten a lot shorter.
“There’s no time to waste and no sense in placing hope in negotiations with Putin. We either confront Putin now—or at the gates of Warsaw. It will be better for everyone, especially Russians, if we confront him now.” (Article)
- 13th April 2014: “Ukraine has been invaded. Anyone who still doubts that a foreign power has begun a war to carve up Ukraine and annex parts of it and then bring the war to Moldova and later Estonia is living in fool’s paradise.”
“Peace talks and the Russian threat to pull out only serve to dilute a Western response, while Russia takes over more and more territory.” (Article)
Yet my warnings and those of others have not led to Ukraine’s leadership taking Putin’s war against Ukraine’s existence and people seriously. Not even the death of thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers led to this war being taken seriously. Tough talk is never followed by the required actions in Kyiv, and even worse, part of Ukraine’s political and military leadership is continuing the corrupt practices ingrained by over two decades of corrupt oligarch rule. During peace, corruption robs people of their future. During war, corruption kills.
Three wars need to be fought: the one against Russia, the one against corruption, and the information war
Yet Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk continue to take a slow, casual approach to the three wars that need to be fought: the one against Russia, the one against corruption, and the information war. The Debaltseve disaster, a massive defeat only mitigated a bit by the ability of most troops to flee the pocket, is a prime example how corruption, inept leadership, and braggadocio lead to defeat after defeat, sap Western support and weaken morale of the Ukrainian people.
Holding on to the Debaltseve salient after its Northern defenses were breached and thus its supply lines cut was idiotic. Instead of an orderly retreat, Poroshenko insisted the Ukrainian troops at Debaltseve were not encircled and sent convoys with supplies, which were ambushed and destroyed. This is not how you fight a war of attrition. Putin wants to conquer more territory, so let the Russians attack and slaughter them with artillery. If there is a risk to be cut off, retreat, then let the Russians come again and slaughter them again with artillery; bleed them dry! If Russian forces break through, cut their spearheads off and annihilate them. Don’t cling to indefensible positions like Debaltseve and risk losing thousands of troops for nothing. Ukraine can’t risk losing men in senseless battles and it must never again abandon troops as it did at Ilovaisk, Donetsk Airport and Debaltseve. Maybe Poroshenko doesn’t understand this, but ALL soldiers understand. And if they feel abandoned and betrayed by Ukraine’s leadership, their morale saps and this war will be over in no time.
Poroshenko’s lies that Debaltseve was a “great victory” and a “planned, well organized retreat” make him look dishonest to all, as everyone, thanks to the internet, can contrast his braggadocio with the images of fleeing troops, vast amounts of abandoned ammunition, and troops speaking of having been forsaken by their military leaders. Furthermore demands for modern weapons from Europe fall on deaf ears if Ukraine’s military is not just incapable to correctly asses strategic realities of when to abandon lost battles, but continues to be incapable of doing the most simple thing when retreating: blowing up ammunition stocks and sensitive equipment.
More damaging to Ukraine’s demand for modern weapons than not blowing up donated equipment is Poroshenko’s current arms procurement program. It’s so corrupt and silly that in my eyes it amounts to high treason. Ukraine could get tanks from Italy, artillery and tanks from Poland and Romania, anti-tank missiles from Sweden and Israel, etc. but Ukraine doesn’t. Currently Ukraine buys weapons almost exclusively nationally: most of it old and crappy vehicles, which are nothing but barely fixed Soviet equipment from the sixties, and other rusty junk. This buying nationally benefits the few owners of these weapons manufacturers, but does not help the troops forced to fight with junk. This morally and literally corrupt practice kills soldiers at the front.
At the same time Poroshenko and his ministers demand modern weapons for free from Western nations, Ukraine has undertaken absolutely no effort to acquire modern weapons by itself, even though nations like Poland and Sweden would allow Ukraine to buy on credit. Either Ukraine’s leadership doesn’t understand how such deals work or it doesn’t want to forfeit this source of corrupt income. Whatever the reasons, it is murder.
Weapons procurement is just one area where Ukraine’s political class shows that it has no intention of tackling Ukraine’s rampant corruption. Yes, Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk keep talking about how much they want to tackle corruption, but they do not act. Every businessperson in Ukraine can attest that there has been no drop in government corruption at all. And the few corrupt practices the government is actually tackling are petty corruption by police officers and the like, but not the grand schemes the political class and government officials profit from. Case in point: Kyiv is about to get a new and supposedly “corruption-free” traffic police, but not a single attempt has been undertaken to reform corruption-friendly public procurement laws. How serious the government is about tackling corruption is best summed up by its plan to create an anti-corruption bureau: announce it to great fanfare, create a commission to find a person to manage it, but never define the bureau’s resources, tasks and legal framework, then watch as the commission struggles to find a candidate willing to head this non-existing bureau.
A simple and effective solution for Ukraine to circumvent corrupt holdouts in parliament and reform-unwilling state bureaucrats would be to copy-paste and then translate the best laws from other countries
The unwillingness to get serious about corruption is just one of the many failings of Ukraine’s leadership and parliament. At a time when Ukraine needs radical reforms, its parliament just sits on its hands and does nothing, while the hyper-corrupt state apparatus resists even the slightest reforms. Greece and Italy have pushed more and harsher reforms through parliament in the last few months than Ukraine. A simple and effective solution for Ukraine to circumvent corrupt holdouts in parliament and reform-unwilling state bureaucrats would be to copy-paste and then translate the best laws from other countries: i.e Ukraine desperately needs a new electoral law. It can either spend years debating a new law, which again would be full of loopholes allowing criminals to buy parliamentary seats, or Ukraine could just copy-paste Europe’s best electoral law, namely Germany’s; translate it into Ukrainian in a few days, enact it and then rapidly move on to the next reform. This simple procedure could be used for all laws: public procurement – copy-paste and translate the corresponding Polish law; tax law – copy-paste and translate the corresponding Estonian law, etc. etc. Besides speeding up and improving the needed reform process in Ukraine this approach would also generate positive press coverage in the nations, whose laws are copied.
Ukraine’s “Ministry of Information” has so far only created bad press in the West
And positive press is something Ukraine needs. At the moment Ukraine’s PR, media and propaganda efforts are disorganized, dilettantish and disastrous. ISIS has a more savvy media campaign than Ukraine, even though the latter has a “Ministry of Information”, whose existence has so far only created bad press in the West. Without volunteers and citizen journalists Ukraine would have had not a single success in the information war: irrefutable proof that the Russian Army shelled Ukrainian troops from Russian territory came from bloggers; conclusive evidence that the BUK missile that downed MH17 came from Russia’s 53rd Air-Defense Brigade was provided by bloggers; Russian television’s absurd lies about Ukraine are exposed by a lady from California; connections between Russian fascists and the new Greek government came from a Vienna-based journalist; evidence about brand new Russian equipment used by Russian troops in Ukraine come from Dutch, German, and Finnish bloggers and journalists and naturally Euromaidan Press, which has reached hundreds of thousands in the last year. Yet there is no support for any of the above by the Ukrainian authorities, who when they manage to publish damning proof Russian war crimes in Donbas, fail to properly present and disseminate it.
Thus Ukraine is failing in the propaganda war, and it is failing badly. There is no strategy and no coordination, not even a dedicated team to wage the information war. This way Ukraine is neither winning back hearts and minds in the Russian occupied territories, nor swaying opinion in the West. Even worse the few attempts to find an audience in the West have badly backfired: copying and altering the “#JeSuisCharlie” hashtag for every atrocity committed by Russian forces is neither smart nor useful; tweeting to light some candles for 31 civilians killed in the Mariupol massacre instead of speaking to the nation is a cheap and idiotic copout.
Hiring a core team of Western media experts would go a long way to fix this seriously crippling deficiency, yet to my knowledge not a single person has been hired to communicate Ukraine’s point of view to a Western audience, whose support is equally important for the survival of Ukraine as is a functioning, competent general staff. But Ukraine has done nothing to place Ukraine-friendly commentators on American and German political talk shows; Ukraine has done nothing to highlight the plight of the million refugees who fled the Russian Army’s advances; there have been no reports about the fear of people in Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, and Mariupol of a possible Russian occupation. Even the most laudable endeavor in the information war, namely the founding of English language news-channel Ukraine Today by oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, didn’t improve Ukraine’s position as too often presenters with extra-thick accents make listening a chore.
It is time Ukraine starts to take the wars it is in seriously: the war Russia wages against Ukraine, the war against corruption in Ukraine, and the information war against Ukraine. Taking the wars seriously will require some tough decisions by Poroshenko, decisions he has thus far avoided as he perennially tries to curry favor with Western leaders, in the foolish belief they would one day come to the aid of Ukraine with troops. That will never happen. Poroshenko doesn’t understand that the main interest of Western leaders is to keep up the pretense that war in Europe is impossible, that there is thus no need to cut social services and raise taxes to rebuild the continents ruined armed forces. Western leaders are desperate to continue living the lie of the “Peace dividend”, but PEACE IS OVER! And not just on Europe’s Eastern flank, but also on its Southern flank. Europe will soon have three major wars right at its borders and politicians in all of the EU’s capitals (and the White House) desperately wish to pretend this ain’t so. BUT it is!
Until now, Poroshenko has been playing along in keeping this fairy tale alive, but this fairy tale costs Ukrainian soldiers’ life. As long as Ukraine too pretends we’re all happily living ever after in this cloud-cuckoo-land of eternal peace, nobody will give Ukraine the weapons it needs to defend itself. One day, Poroshenko will have to make a stand. One day, Poroshenko will have to say “Enough” and finally announce what has been long overdue: Russia and Ukraine are at war. Russia attacked. Russia is an aggressor and Russia needs to be branded as such by the UN Security Council (where Russia will automatically lose its veto and vote as the accused party). The sooner Poroshenko ends this charade, that plays into the hands of Putin and the weak-willed, corrupted leaders of the West, the sooner Ukraine will find the doors of the Arsenal of Democracy opened.
However before doing so Poroshenko needs to urgently hire a Western team to take over Ukraine’s information war. He must fire generals, who neither have the will nor intellect to fight the coming battles. He must finally begin to source weapons outside of Ukraine, no matter what the cost and bring these to the front as quickly as possible; equally important is a push for radical reforms. All of this is needed to raise the nations’ trust into the government’s ability to fight the wars and win the coming battles, to mend the troops’ morale and to show the world that not just the Heavenly Hundred and the brave troops at the front are ready to fight and die for a free Ukraine, but also its leaders and president.
This is Poroshenko’s last chance to act or see himself driven out of Kyiv by Maidan 3.0. Carelessly Poroshenko and the entire Ukrainian political elite ignored my and other expert’s advice last September that Minsk 1 was merely the end of the beginning in this long and bloody war and that Ukraine must prepare itself for many more years of bloodshed and death. Yet Poroshenko did nearly nothing in the five months since to reform Ukraine, upgrade Ukraine’s military equipment or improve Ukraine’s media war capabilities and the Ukrainian people know it! On the streets of Kyiv the anger is palpable and one more defeat, one more corruption scandal and the streets will explode again.
Another Maidan would suit Putin well and he is right now working to ensure that Ukraine will suffer yet another military debacle. There can be no doubt that Putin is set to continue his war as Russian TV did not tone down anti-Ukrainian hate and venom after Minsk 2. Therefore it is clear Ukraine must ready itself for the next strike by Russia, which will hit – not Mariupol – but Kharkiv.
Moving supposedly “rebel” troops and equipment south to Mariupol is Maskirovka, the Russian tradition of confusing and misleading the enemy. Mariupol will not be attacked as doing so would finally force Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande to admit Minsk 2 failed and that only crippling level 10 sanctions might force Putin to reconsider (they won’t, but level 10 sanctions are the last card the Europeans have…); and Mariupol under attack would see dozens of American Air Force planes land in Ukraine and deliver massive amounts of military aid.
Therefore Putin will strike at Kharkiv. Just as in the days before Russian troops crossed from Russia into Ukraine to attack Mariupol on August 24th, there has been a recent uptick in statements by the Russian installed puppets in Donbas and Luhansk that they will “liberate Kharkiv”, that they have “large numbers” of supporters in Kharkiv, that Kharkiv is ready to “rise up”, etc. These statements are nothing but cover for Putin’s next attack from Russian territory into Ukraine with the aim to occupy Kharkiv.
Let me be clear once more: Russia will soon stage a “spontaneous, popular” uprising in Kharkiv, with Putin arguing he didn’t violate the Minsk 2 agreement as nobody could have foreseen a “spontaneous, popular uprising” there. This uprising is going to be so “spontaneous” and “popular” that coincidently masses of Russian soldiers and mercenaries with military hardware bought in shops have congregated just across the border from Kharkiv over the last two weeks. In a video published on 22 February 2015, Russian soldiers transported from Samara to Belgorod with a huge convoy of military equipment admitted that they came there to “shoot at Ukraine.”
Ukraine must ready itself for this attack. The time is short and the task at hand massive, but Ukraine can prevail IF Poroshenko finally begins to remove corrupt elements from government and hires professionals to advise and steer Ukraine in its wars. No more hollow threats to not offer the other cheek, but tough and harsh measures to prepare society and the nation for the coming war years are needed, because Ukrainians will not tolerate another defeat, but are all willing to suffer and fight for their liberty and freedom.
So far Poroshenko and the political elite of Ukraine have not learned from their errors and nor have they taken the wars serious. This is truly their last chance. The time to forgive blunders and errors is over. Their fate is now tied to the outcome of the next battle. My hope is that Poroshenko and his team will realize they urgently need help; but nothing he has done so far makes me believe he will act the right way. If he errs again he will be removed from office, just as Chamberlain was removed from office in May 1940 after the disasters of the Norwegian campaign. The speech given that day by Leo Amery in the halls of Westminster is one that everyone in Ukraine’s parliament, government and presidential palace ought to read and memorize by heart:
“Somehow or other we must get into the Government men who can match our enemies in fighting spirit, in daring, in resolution and in thirst for victory. It may not be easy to find these men. They can be found only by trial and by ruthlessly discarding all who fail and have their failings discovered. We are fighting today for our life, for our liberty, for our all; we cannot go on being led as we are. I will quote Oliver Cromwell, who said to the Long Parliament when he thought it was no longer fit to conduct the affairs of the nation: “You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
For now “In the name of God, act!” must be Poroshenko’s command, but if he fails to do so, then let us have done with him, as there are many better men and women to be found among the brave Ukrainian people, who are ready to bleed, toil, suffer, and die in the fight for a free Ukraine. Slava Heroyam, Slava Ukraini!