National Security Secretary in Kyiv Asks for a ‘Visible Presence’ of US, NATO Forces in Region
Ukraine’s government is battling a Russian campaign of subversion in southern and eastern Ukraine that aims to let Moscow launch a Crimea-style takeover of as much as a third of the country, Ukraine’s top national security official said today. A force of nearly 100,000 Russian troops is massed along hundreds of miles of the two countries’ border and poses a “high risk of a direct military invasion into Ukraine’s territory,” said Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the Ukrainian National Security Council.
Russia is trying to foment mass demonstrations in Ukrainian cities of the south and east that might proclaim alternative “people’s governments” to request Russian military protection, said Parubiy, speaking in a webcast hosted by the Atlantic Council. Ukraine’s month-old interim government has been rushing to tighten border controls and now is turning back 500 to 700 Russians a day from entering Ukraine to join such demonstrations, he said.
Parubiy called on the US and NATO countries to offer a “more visible presence” in the region, including by conducting joint military exercises with Ukrainian troops inside Ukraine. He also urged the West to adopt broad economic sanctions against Russia, including a ban on exports by its arms industry.
“I think there remains a very high risk of a direct military invasion into Ukraine’s territory,” said Parubiy. The main thrust of Russian intervention in Ukraine now appears to be a disruption of the planned May 25 election for a new president to replace the ousted Viktor Yanukovych, who had opted for closer ties with Russia rather than with the European Union. But with Russian forces massed at the border, “we understand that any day or night we might see a massive attack on our territory,” he said. (US officials have estimated the size of Russian forces on the Ukraine border at perhaps 20,000 to 30,000, according to press reports.)
Parubiy said Ukraine’s month-old interim government has been scrambling to secure the border and re-establish law enforcement agencies that former President Yanukovych had turned into his personal forces — and to strengthen an army that had been hollowed out by corruption.
Among issues discussed by Parubiy were these:
On Ukraine’s needs for support from the United States and its allies.
Parubiy called for “a visible presence … a more visible kind of help,” notably from those nations – the United States and United Kingdom – that signed the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. In that accord, those governments, with Russia, guaranteed Ukraine’s security from attack after Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear weapons, which following the collapse of the Soviet Union formed the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. In the current crisis, an appearance by ships of the US Navy in the Black Sea “could play a role of a stabilizer of the situation,” Parubiy said. And, he said, Ukraine wants NATO countries to conduct ordinary joint military exercises, as envisioned under Ukraine’s participation in NATO’s Partnership for Peace program. Kyiv seeks those exercises “to show that cooperation and partnership is still there,” he said
“We need to prepare for the difficult economic reforms that … will be unpopular. And we are working to accelerate the integration of Ukraine with the EU by signing the political part of the association agreement,” he said. “We face a lot of varied challenges and we are working hard to respond to them. But it’s also important for us to feel the shoulder, to feel the support of our partners, which under the Budapest Memorandum are guarantors of our sovereignty and our territorial integrity.”
On Russia’s “Russian Spring” operation to de-stabilize Ukraine.
For Russian President Vladimir Putin, “His goal is not just Crimea, it is the whole Ukraine. … Crimea was only the first stage of what Russia was planning here,” Parubiy said.
Russia aims to “capture power in eight regions [oblasts, or provinces] of Ukraine in the south and the east,” out of the twenty-three regions in mainland Ukraine, he said. “First the government [administrative] buildings were to be captured, and then ‘people’s governors’ were to be proclaimed and then the ‘people’s governors’ were to call for Russia’s help. This program has the code-name ‘Russian Spring,’” he said. “Russia’s plan was to trigger a conflict and then show that the majority of the local people were supporting Russia, so that they would have a reason to intervene” through a direct invasion.
“Almost every day, we are arresting subversive groups that are heavily armed, are well trained and are prepared to cause disorder,” he said. “We had to arrest 18 separatist leaders who were planning events of this kind in southern and eastern regions.”
“Now their main task is to prevent Ukraine from holding its presidential elections in late May. Their task is to show that the Ukrainian government is illegitimate and to not let those elections take place.”
“The Russian strategy counted on the idea that eastern and southern Ukraine would be happily greeting a Russian incursion. … They were expecting 50,000 to 100,000 people coming to those meetings to elect the ‘people’s governors’ and then they were hoping to capture the governmental bodies. Every week the number of pro-Russian protesters is declining, now down to hundreds of people. Their original tactic of sending people directly [from Russia to organize the demonstrations] is failing because it’s become more difficult for them to cross our borders. Every day, we’re preventing 500 to 700 people of this kind from entering Ukrainian territory. Our general strategy now is to enforce law and order in the mainland Ukrainian territory and to prepare and hold the presidential elections.”
On Ukrainian political and regional tensions, including those over the role of right-wing groups.
Parubiy in the 1990s helped found Ukraine’s Social National party, part of a nationalist, right-wing movement that typically has taken a small share of the vote in national elections. He now is a member of parliament from the Batkivshchyna, or Fatherland, party led by figures including former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the current interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenko. During the three-month protest movement on Kyiv’s Maidan, or main city square, Parubiy coordinated the movement’s self-defense forces, which included right-wing nationalists in a prominent role.
Numerous commentators in Ukraine and the West have voiced concern at a heightened role for Ukraine’s extreme right, which has promoted racist and anti-Semitic ideas. And Russia has cited the right wng as a menace to ethnic Russians, even though no pattern of threats or attacks on Russians in Ukraine has been independently reported. Asked by a listener about the danger of divisions over the role of far-right political groups in Ukraine’s interim government, Parubiy blamed divisions in Ukraine on Yanukovych. “During three years, Yanukovych did everything to split Ukraine, to divide Ukrainians one against the other,” Parubiy said. He said the Maidan movement had shown an ability of Ukrainians to unite on the fundamental issue of the country’s existence. “Ukraine has varied citizens – Russian speakers, Ukrainian speakers. They have different religious beliefs, and different ideas about how to organize Ukraine’s territory. But we are all united in the understanding that Ukraine is a single country.”