Could Ukraine have fought off Crimean occupation? A crucial document you should know

Russian soldiers without recognizable signs (the so-called "green men") seizing Crimea. Source: Wikipedia 

Crimea

Five years ago this week, Russia was finishing its illegal annexation of Crimea, trying to legitimize it by a so-called referendum. The annexation was going on for a whole month from 20 February 2014, until Russia established full control over the peninsula. However, during this whole month, the 15,000 Ukrainian troops located in Crimea didn’t shoot to defend themselves and the peninsula from the Russian invasion. A transcript of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) meeting held on 28 February 2014, which we publish below, reveals the real state of Ukraine at the end of February 2014 and allows judging whether Ukraine’s decision to not protect Crimea by force was right. How many Ukrainian soldiers were actually prepared to resist the Russian “green men” in the Crimea and who betrayed Ukraine? What did the “western partners” advise Ukrainian authorities to do? What did the Ukrainian politicians propose and decide and could they have stopped the Russian invasion of Crimea?

Debates still erupt in Ukraine on whether the post-Euromaidan government made the right decision to restrain from military conflict in Crimea: as we all know, the military conflict in Ukraine started in Donbas, not from the Russian occupation of Crimea. But at that time, Ukraine, still reeling from the Euromaidan revolution and flight of ex-President Yanukovych, needed at least some time to improve the extremely low combat capability of its armed forces and redeploy troops in order to secure all 1974 kilometers of the border with Russia in the East.

At the onset of Russian aggression on 21 February 2014, 20,000 Russian soldiers were already in Crimea and 38,000 more stood along the Ukrainian border in the East. Meanwhile, only 5,000 Ukrainian troops were combat ready. The Ukrainian government had several weeks to mobilize and prepare the rest of its forces while Russia was preparing to hold its sham “referendum.” Critics say it could have acted.

Unidentified masked & armed individuals in Crimea. Photo: Wikipedia

No matter who you will agree with in the published RNBO discussion below, special attention should be paid to the words of Yuliya Tymoshenko at the end of the RNBO meeting. Currently, she is among the leaders in presidential elections and strives to lead the country and its Armed Forces, but in 2014 she recommended Ukraine be like a “dove of peace” and argued against the redeployment of Ukrainian armed forces from the West to the East when Russian aggression was already at the gate.

This RNBO meeting took place directly in the walls of Parliament, and most of its participants just began to fulfill their duties.

Participants:

Oleksandr Turchynov, Chairman of The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine (from 22.02.2014) and Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine due to the escape of Viktor Yanukovych, former President of Ukraine

Arseniy Yatseniuk, Prime Minister of Ukraine (from 27.02.2014)

Vitaliy Yarema, First Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine (from 27.02.2014)

Ihor Teniukh, Acting Minister of Defense (from 27.02.2014)

Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, Head of the Security Service of Ukraine (from 24.02.2014)

Arsen Avakov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine (from 27.02.2014)

Viktor Hvozd, Head of the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine (from 27.02.2014)

Andriy Deshchytsia, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (from 27.02.2014)

Oleh Mechnytskyi, Acting Prosecutor General of Ukraine

Andriy Parubiy, Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine (from 27.02.2014)

Stepan Kubiv, Head of the National Bank of Ukraine (from 24.02.2014)

Invited to the meeting:

Yuliya Tymoshenko, the leader of the largest fraction of the parliamentary coalition at that time

Andriy Senchenko, Representative in the Parliament, Former Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Reforms of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.

Transcript of the RNBO meeting (abbreviated)

Turchynov: The question that we must discuss today is the threat to our territorial integrity. This is a question of de-facto direct aggression of a neighbor state against Ukraine. This is a matter of separatism, which is artificially supported and spread on the territory of Ukraine.

I would now ask each head of the security forces to clearly inform about the situation in the ARC (Autonomous Republic of Crimea).

Nalyvaichenko: Konstantinov and Aksionov are the key figures of the Crimea fully cooperating with the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. They are involved in the planning and implementation of all provocations…

The first aspect, which is very threatening, is the full use of the Russian Federation’s military personnel.

Second is the migration to the enemy’s side and carrying out of war crimes by servicemen, “Berkut” special service and other law enforcement officers of Ukraine who serve in Crimea… They turned completely to serve the coordinated military invasion carried out by the political and military leadership of Russia.

The third extremely dangerous element is the fact that airports and other transport infrastructure of Crimea are taken under control, or blocked by the masked or already unmasked servicemen of the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation.

The fourth element is the massive support of the Russian Federation’s actions by locals.

We must prevent shooting and victims among the civilians or the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation so that the military pressure of Russian and pro-Russian structures does not find any justification for establishing complete military control over the infrastructure, military units of Ukraine, or even over the whole territory Crimea.

Our military and security forces are demoralized. Many of them do not accept the new power [in Kyiv] and are not to execute orders, or have already betrayed their oaths altogether. The situation in the Naval Forces of Ukraine is particularly difficult. The Commander of the Navy and other servicemen have resigned. The moral and psychological climate in the leadership is extremely low, if not to say traitorous.

Avakov: The head of the Sevastopol division of the Ministry of Internal Affairs have resigned… In addition to the police, we have around 1,000 internal troops in Crimea, which, I hope, will be able to carry out orders. At least, they will not give up.

The majority of the Crimean population is pro-Russian, anti-Ukrainian. We are establishing contact with servicemen who have not betrayed, but there are very few among the police.

We have the lists of the personnel of “Berkut” who have defected to the aggressor’s side with their weapons and forwarded it to the prosecutor’s office to initiate criminal cases.

VIDEO: Berkut servicemen betraying Ukraine. People around are shouting: “nice job” 

Turchynov: How many fighters of “Berkut” betrayed the oath?

Avakov: 67 according to my information. The number is inaccurate. Many fled to Russia, fearing criminal liability.

Teniuk: Under the guise of training, the armed forces of the Russian Federation were concentrated along the entire Ukrainian-Russian border. 38,000 people, 761 units of armored tank vehicles, 2,200 armored vehicles, 720 artillery systems, and fire systems, as well as up to 40 assault helicopters and 90 helicopters of military provision.

80 military ships of the RF came into combat alertness in the Black Sea area.

Today, the Commander of [our] Naval Forces talked with the Commander of the Black Sea Fleet [of Russian Federation] who told: “I do not have the authority to negotiate with you, but I will say the following: we will go to the end. All troops are brought to full combat readiness. If you do not resist us, then there will be no blood, and everything will be done peacefully.”

Those seizing strategic objects in Crimea are special forces, which underwent military training in the hotspots of Russia.

In order to respond appropriately to threats, I ask you to allow our Armed Forces to be brought to full combat readiness.

But there should be no direct military contact. We are not ready for a full-scale war. Today we do not have an army. It was systematically destroyed by Yanukovych and his colleagues under the leadership of Russian special services.

Today, we will be able to gather a military group of about 5,000 troops from the whole country who will be capable of carrying out combat missions. We can redeploy them to Crimea, but this will not solve the problem. We will just destroy them there. What is to be done with thousands of kilometers of the border and Russia’s preparation for an invasion? If they enter the Chernihiv Oblast in the morning, they will be in Kyiv until the evening!

I ask for permission to conduct large-scale military exercises because the readiness of most of our units to carry out combat missions is highly dubious.

As for Crimea, 15,000 troops are subordinated to us. However, 1.5-2,000 at most would be ready to carry out orders with the use of weapons.

From the Russian side, in addition to the Black Sea Fleet forces, there is a constant deployment of the assault units and the Special Forces of the Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Russian Federation General Staff to Crimea. The combat forces number already more than 20,000.

VIDEO: Russian “green men” seizing airports and state building in Crimea

Deshchytsia: We intend to make a statement on holding consultations at the level of foreign ministers within the framework of the Budapest memorandum. I also met today with the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the “Visegrad Group.” Everyone expresses concern, but their plans and actions are not vocal. Everyone asks us not to make hasty steps.

Yatseniuk: We are not ready for a military operation, unfortunately. And the Russians know it.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine should be urgently considered by the UN Security Council. Secondly, we sent notes and prepared a letter of the Cabinet on consultations within the framework of the Budapest Memorandum. Third, to propose a way to engage the OSCE.

If we had the option for a political decision, then it would seem that the correct political solution is to start negotiations with those representing the illegally elected Crimean authorities today for the purpose of political stabilization due to the adoption by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine the new Law “On the Constitution of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.”

Yarema: We have established the prevailing mindset of the civilian population of Crimea. When there is an initiative to seize the buildings of state institutions, they say: “If you can seize them in Kyiv, why can’t we seize them here in Crimea.” Therefore, I would like to appeal to the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council Andriy Parubiy to release the buildings that are captured by the Self-Defense [Euromaidan activists] in order to show that we adhere to law and order

Why did they arrange these checkpoints [on the entrance to Crimea]? This is because they saw Sashko Bilyi [one of the activists] in one of the Oblast Councils with a gun. As long as the law in Ukraine is not followed, until the occupation of buildings and property by so-called “patriots” continues, the enemies of Ukraine will have strong arguments to do the same.

VIDEO: Two demonstrations near the Crimean parliament separated by police. Around 15,000 support Ukraine and several thousands are in favor of Russia

Turchynov: Considering the danger to the country, what is the theoretical possibility for active consultations with NATO on joining at least as an associate member?

Tymoshenko: We can not talk about urgent membership in NATO, it will cause even greater Russian aggression.

Yatseniuk: In 2008, real military Russian aggression started on the territory of Georgia thanks to the signing the Membership Action Plan in Bucharest. The same is happening now with Ukraine. Unfortunately, our Western partners refused then.

I think that no country, including those of the Budapest memorandum, is ready to help Ukraine right now. They just came out from Iran and Afghanistan, and not even completely. Moreover, a military conflict with Russia in the center of Europe… We will have to rely solely on our own forces. And I say again: “What worries me the most is the state of the Armed Forces.”

  1. Read also: Russia prepared to occupy Crimea back in 2010 and other things we learned from Yanukovych’s treason trial

Turchynov: I would ask you, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Prosecutor General, and the Ministry of Defense to work out in camera the technology of detaining the criminal agents implementing a military operation against Ukraine, and delivering them to Kyiv. There can be no delays or ceremonies in this issue!

Mahnitskyi: There is only an illegal appointment of authorities…

Turchynov: No! There’s separatism, there’s terrorism, because they cooperate with terrorists who hold the Crimean parliament and seize strategic objects.

Hvozd: The work of mass-media should be strengthened immediately. We must capture what the armed forces of Russia are doing, as much as possible. And show everything. When the aggression is documented, we can hope for support.

Mahnitskyi: The General Prosecutor’s Office can provide information that, in accordance with Article 1 of the Law on Defense, all events taking place in the Crimea can be classified as a military attack against Ukraine. There are all grounds for introducing martial law, for example in the ARC

Turchynov: I would like to discuss this issue. I already gave a command yesterday to prepare a draft decree on the introduction of martial law…

Yarema: Martial law will not help us in this situation. We have no opportunity to introduce it in Crimea, we can not involve the internal affairs agencies, which do not exist today, as well as the Security Service. I’m not even talking about the Army. This must be created, and only then can we talk about introducing some kind of law.

Yatseniuk: I will remind you how the Russians arrived in Georgia – they acted like fascists!… There will be a statement from Russia immediately after the introduction of martial law. “For the protection of the citizens of Russia and the Russian-speaking population, which has ethnic relations with Russia.” This is a scenario written by Russians. And we’ll leap into this scenario!

There will be an ethnic conflict stirred up. And we will be accused, as the central authority, of provoking conflict and blood in the Crimea by “flexing muscles” which we don’t have. Russia will immediately invade mainland Ukraine. According to the Minister of Defense, we have no strength to defend Kyiv.

We have no money at our treasury account at all.

Kubiv: We need serious boys with military experience: Afghans [Ukrainians who fought in Afghanistan] and others. They should be involved in the Armed Forces, in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in the SBU. Attract the patriots who have gone through Maidan. I suggest contacting former officers who retired over the past three years, they have created an association. These are educated people who are now ready to go

Hvozd: We have a lot of patriotic guys who are will serve, but they need uniforms to wear, weapons, and proper training to fight. It is impossible to deploy the untrained guys to the Crimea because the military personnel of the Russian army armed with the most modern weapons are there. This is a gamble. They [our guys] will be shot and crushed by tanks there. This will be used as a reason for [Russia’s] deployment of troops into continental Ukraine. And we will no longer have anyone to defend Kyiv.

The head of the Russian State Duma Naryshkin called Turchynov.

After talking with him, Turchynov said: Naryshkin reported to me the threats from Putin. As he said, they do not exclude the implementation of rigorous decisions against Ukraine for persecuting Russians and Russian-speakers. Apparently, they hinted at the introduction of troops not only to Crimea. Putin’s words are that if at least one Russian person perishes, they will declare us military criminals and will persecute us all over the world. I replied that having begun aggression against Ukraine, they have already become criminals and will respond to an international court. So we talked…

Let’s finish the discussion!

Tymoshenko: I did not want to speak, but as the leader of the largest party I cannot keep silence. The price of today’s decision is incredibly high and we do not have the right to a mistake. I have been consulting with the most experienced people and I can say that Putin wants to implement the Abkhazia scenario and only waits for us to give him a reason.

If we had at least one chance out of a hundred to win, I would be the first to support active measures. But look at the state of our army. Look, can we resist him in Crimea, where there are ten times more Russian soldiers than ours, the most advanced weapons and complete Russian military bases?

I have also talked with our foreign partners, and they also confirm – Russian troops on the borders, and ask not to make any moves. We have to listen to them because without them we are completely powerless.

Therefore, we have to beg the whole international community today to stand up for Ukraine. This is our only hope. No tank should leave the barracks, no soldier should raise a weapon. Because this means defeat.

No to martial law and activation of our troops!

We must become the most peaceful nation on the planet, just behave ourselves like peace doves.

Turchynov: Do you propose to do nothing?

Tymoshenko: We have to come up with some kind of non-standard moves. For example, invite leaders of European countries to a peace summit in Kyiv or Crimea. Conduct a Peace Conference.

Nalyvaichenko: The information from our channels fully confirms Russia’s readiness to deploy troops concentrated along our border.

Both Americans and Germans in one voice ask us not to start any active actions, because, according to their intelligence, Putin will use it to start a large-scale land invasion. We have to hear Western partners, and they need time to make decisions.

Turchynov: If we consider the level of readiness of Russian troops on our eastern borders, then we must do everything to be able to defend ourselves; Russians will take into consideration only strong players.

Tymoshenko: But the fact is that we are weak

Turchynov: We need a full mobilization of the country, we must immediately begin to transfer existing forces from the Center and West to East and South. It is vital!

Tymoshenko: Do you imagine what will start in the country if tanks and APCs start driving along the streets of cities? This will provoke massive panic. People will start running away from the country. The problem with food, with fuel…

Turchynov: Yet more panic will be when Russian tanks appear on Khreshchatyk [the main street in Kyiv – ed.]. We must do our utmost to be able to defend ourselves, including solely by our own means, if there is no military assistance from the West. For this, we need to act. Therefore, I can not avoid putting a decision on the introduction of martial law in the country for voting by the National Security and Defense Council.

Who is in support? It’s clear. One – Turchynov. This means that the idea is rejected.

We do not have time for bureaucratic delays and agreements. Therefore, on the basis of our discussion, I ask you to implement immediately my protocol orders:

… restoration of combat capability of the Armed Forces,

…mobilization,

… redeployment of troops,

… In the event of invasion, use all available forces and means, in the event of an assault on military bases, in order to protect the lives of servicemen and ensure the fulfillment of the tasks, use weapons in accordance with the requirements of military charters…

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Translated by: Bohdan Ben
Edited by: Alya Shandra
Source: Transcript of the RNBO meeting was published by Radio Svoboda and translated by EuromaidanPress

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