Friday, February 21, 2014

Escape from Kiev?

What is going on in Kiev? Are Yanukovich backers truly trying to get out before they need to escape via helicopters from roof tops?

Seriously, what's up with this?

[Charter] flight records published on Twitter and by Ukrainian media suggest that dozens of Yanukovych allies appear to have fled -- or attempted to flee -- the country as the president's regime has grown increasingly shaky.

With the current death toll from protest violence at nearly 80, Yanukovych announced a peace deal on February 21, establishing early presidential elections, a national unity government, and reduced presidential powers.

But even before Yanukovych revealed the terms of the deal, the prospect of such an outcome was reportedly enough to send regime stalwarts scurrying to Kyiv's Zhulyany airport, where records indicate that as many as 180 charter flights have been registered since February 19. (A roll call at the parliament session on February 21 showed only 131 of the Party of Regions' 204 deputies in attendance.)

One log, published online, showed flights to international destinations as well as locations in Ukraine's Russian-speaking south and east. The destinations include Moscow, Frankfurt, Budapest, Istanbul, Kharkhiv, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, and Simferopol.

Many of the surnames on the passenger list appear to correspond to those of high-ranking members of the Yanukovych regime, as well as police officials and oligarchs.

Are you kidding me?

This may be RUMORINT status. But if Yanukovich people are fleeing to Russia or Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine, what is going to hit the fan in Ukraine?

UPDATE: Uh oh. Yanukovich is in Kharkov in the more Russian-speaking east:

Attention shifted Saturday from the sprawling Kiev protest camp to Kharkiv, where governors, provincial officials and legislators gathered. Top Russian lawmakers joined the meeting, too, while thousands of angry protesters gathered outside, chanting "Ukraine is not Russia!" ...

The leaders gathered in Kharkiv approved a statement calling on regional authorities to take full responsibility for the constitutional order on their territory.

Some called for forming volunteer units to protect against force by protesters from western regions. The assembly urged army units to maintain neutrality and protect ammunition depots.

Calling for local authorities and militias is step one to eventually calling for fraternal assistance from Russian forces. Russia may not be able to pull off a conquest of Ukraine, but they are capable of moving in to friendly-held areas and holding off a Ukrainian counter-attack.

And will Yanukovich return to Kiev at all?

Protesters seized the Kiev office of President Viktor Yanukovich on Saturday and his whereabouts were a mystery, as the pro-Russian leader's grip on power rapidly eroded following bloodshed in the Ukrainian capital.

At the president's headquarters, Ostap Kryvdyk, who described himself as a protest commander, said some protesters had entered the offices but there was no looting. "We will guard the building until the next president comes," he told Reuters. "Yanukovich will never be back."

Because the Russian envoy, Vladimir Lukin, didn't sign the EU-brokered agreement. Without Russian backing, how could Yanukovich return under these circumstances?

All this, because the army wouldn't shoot and too many police wouldn't, either:

Since late November 2013 Russian efforts to gain more control over the Ukrainian government have been running into growing popular opposition. Now the pro-Russian government has surrendered to the protestors and if Russia wants to turn this around they will have to move fast and in violation of international law. Over a hundred died, mostly in the last week, as the government ordered the soldiers and police to open fire and not enough of the Ukrainian security personnel would do so. ...

February 17, 2014: In Ukraine the police in Kiev launched a major offensive on the protestors, using weapons and reinforcements to push protestors back. The police were ordered to fire on the protestors and that’s when the police began to suffer a lot of desertions. Worse, many police would go through the motions but would not actually shoot fellow Ukrainians. By the 20th the police has to pull back to areas they could hold with the manpower they had left.

A Russian invasion to reclaim Ukraine is out:

If the Russians invaded the Ukrainian armed forces would probably resist in an organized fashion. In 2008 Russia had a hard time scrounging up enough troops to invade Georgia. But Ukraine has more ten times the population of Georgia and Russia still has a largely dysfunctional armed forces with fewer than 100,000 troops (paratroopers and special forces) that they can really rely on.

Do read all of that Strategypage link.

I agree conquest is out. But I believe that a Russian military operation to support regional militias and authorities in the east and Crimean Peninsula are within Russian capabilities. This type of mission puts Russian troops on the defensive and gives the Ukrainian armed forces the burden of going on offense.

Remember, this is basically what Russia did with Georgia. Russian troops road marched into the areas seceding from Georgia, but then ran into difficulties advancing into the rest of Georgia.

If Russia has 100,000 reliable troops, how many troops could Ukraine's army--starting out smaller than that--put in the field?

Secretary Hagel should be calling his Russian counter-part to leave voice mails to pick up, I should say.

And say, how does that reported Chinese nuclear guarantee of Ukraine's territorial integrity figure in to this? Or was that reporting a mistaken translation of a more mundane Chinese position? I've read nothing else confirming what I assumed was a big effing deal.