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Putin’s “hybrid” offensive against Ukraine

Political cartoon by Oleksiy Kustovskyi
Article by: Petro Kraliuk
Translated by: Anna Mostovych

History likes to repeat itself. World War I began in 1914. Almost 100 years later, Russia attacked Ukraine. We have a new war that has acquired a global character. Of course, it is not as “hot” as the First or Second World War. After all, large-scale hostilities are very risky now that the world is technologically very advanced.

Ukraine has become a testing ground for a new type of war. A huge role is played by the informational component for the various actions of an ideological, political, economic, social and even religious character that are designed to paralyze the enemy. This war has already lasted two years. And Russia intends to take its revenge as it did 100 years ago. It is as if the patterns of the First World War were being repeated. After all, in the distant 1916 year Russia had carried out an offensive known as the Brusilov Offensive. (Russian Empire’s successful attack against the armies of the Central Powers on the Eastern Front during WWI — Ed.)

So far, Putin and his entourage are not launching an active attack on the Donbas or other points in Ukraine. Nonetheless, Russia is concentrating troops near the borders with Ukraine and events are becoming much hotter in the Donbas. The question is whether large scale military actions will take place. But it is already obvious that Putin with the help of his agents has organized a broad “hybrid” attack and has achieved certain results,

The Western front

During the existence of the USSR a network of Soviet agents was created in the West. These were not necessarily employees of the intelligence services but politicians, public and cultural figures, and intellectuals who supported  positions favorable to the USSR. Much has changed from that time, but the “good traditions” of Soviet special services have been preserved in Russia.

Currently, quite a few agents of Russian influence are active in the West. They are in the media, the political parties, the civic organizations, and others. Their inherent anti-Americanism and Euroscepticism is organically linked to their anti-Ukrainianism. At the same time, these agents maintain that it is necessary to “understand Russia.” Russian intelligence services naturally study the trends in the social and political life in the West. Having found the useful weak spots, they concentrate their efforts in the necessary areas and achieve the desired effect.

It appears that this year the Russians have achieved several major victories in the countries of the  European Union. First of all, there was the referendum in the Netherlands on the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, which had a negative result for Ukrainians. Of course, there are Eurosceptic attitudes in the Netherlands as well as hostile attitudes toward Ukraine. But it was thanks to pro-Russian agents of influence that these attitudes were strengthened in order to ensure the appropriate result in the referendum. Although our politicians pretend that this referendum does not present a major problem, this is not true. It has become an obstacle to the European integration of Ukraine and it has strengthened Euroscepticism within Ukrainian society.

Finally, Ukraine has been “stabbed in the back” by a country that  many considered our “advocate” in the European Union. I’m referring to Poland. Before the NATO summit in Warsaw, an active campaign was launched to stir up anti-Ukrainian sentiments. Special attention was focused on the topic of the so-called “Volyn Massacre.” This would not have occurred without the participation of pro-Russian forces who played the game very skillfully.  The situation has not yet reached a “tipping point” where Polish-Ukrainian relations will be permanently damaged. But if these trends continue, this is quite possible.

Ukraine’s internal problems

Russia has been and is paying special attention to Ukraine. This was the case during tsarist and Soviet times. This is the case now. Consequently, Ukraine has been widely infiltrated by Russian agents, who help their “brotherly neighbors” direct the course of the Ukrainian state into the pro-Russian channel. These agents of influence are not only the Russian mass-media, like the Russian Vesti media conglomerate, the Opposition  Bloc Party, the Ukrainian Choice organization (pro-Russian group created by Putin’s crony Viktor Medvedchuk — Ed.), the numerous parishes of the Moscow Patriarchate, and the Russian business structures that continue to operate in Ukraine. Russian agents have even infiltrated the structures that display their pro-Ukrainian orientation.

It appears these agents have been given the assignment to organize a “march on Kyiv” and to destabilize the situation in Ukraine’s capital. On July 1, the Kyiv Pechersk District Court arrested Valentyn Lykholit, the well-known fighter from the Aidar Battalion. It was not difficult to predict that this would generate protests. The arrest took place on Friday evening. On Saturday, July 2, radical demonstrations nearly took place in Kyiv. It is fortunate that it was possible (with great effort) to gather together the Court of Appeals on a weekend, which overturned the Pechersk Court’s decision on Lykholit’s arrest. As a result, the protests were neutralized.

However, shortly afterwards, the leaders of the Trade Union Federation, which during all the years of Ukrainian Independence has not  been particularly concerned with the rights of workers, suddenly “woke up” and organized a populous march on Kyiv, demanding lower tariffs for utilities, even though the trade union could have addressed other matters, including the increase in wages. The trade union protest march was peaceful, but the tariff issue has become a stumbling block in parliament, paralyzing its work.

Now we have another march — this time the “canonical Orthodox” one. The so-called Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which is a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine, is organizing a religious procession from the Sviatohirsk and Pochaiv lavras to Kyiv, where the faithful will march from the St. Volodymyr Hill in Kyiv to the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. It is clear that this action was planned with the Moscow Patriarchate.

What is its purpose? Experts have different hypotheses. However, it is capable  of provoking conflicts on confessional grounds while introducing a destabilizing mechanism for the situation both in the capital and Ukraine in general. This destabilization may serve as a pretext for another Russian incursion into Ukrainian affairs. This is why passions must not be inflamed around this religious procession and why it needs to take place peacefully and with no results, as was the case with the trade union protest march.

Putin’s “Brusilov Offensive” is based on isolating Ukraine from the West on the one hand and destabilizing Ukraine on the other. He has already accomplished portions of the plan; he may yet accomplish others. But we alone will determine to what extent we will resist this “offensive” and if we have enough endurance and the ability to be guided by cold reason.

The Brusilov Offensive in 1916 was undeniably a victory for Russia. But it was also a Pyrrhic victory. The following year Russia began to fall apart. I hope that history repeats itself.

Historian Petro Kraliuk is vice-rector at the National University of Ostroh Academy

Translated by: Anna Mostovych
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