Could Ukraine’s Military Turn on the Government?

The World
How It Works
Feb. 20 2014 4:59 PM

Can Yanukovych Rely on His Own Military?

82470105-ukrainian-army-tanks-drive-in-downtown-on-august-19-2008
Ukrainian Army tanks drive in downtown on Aug. 19, 2008, during a military parade.

Photo by Genia Savilov/AFP/Getty Images

The “khaki elephant on the room” of the Ukraine situation at the moment appears to be whether the country’s military will get involved if the country’s “Berkut” special police are unable to restore order in Kiev and the country’s rebellious western cities. This is probably how any worst-case “civil war” scenario might begin. (Involvement by the Ukrainian military in the unrest is the Obama administration’s latest “red line,” for whatever that’s worth.)

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

So far the Defense Ministry has denied reports that the military is being deployed to break up the Maidan protests, but there are a few worrying signs that Yanukovych might be contemplating such a move. He named a new chief of staff of the country’s armed forces on Wednesday night, perhaps to ensure loyalty in the top military ranks. He had previously announced that the military will take part in an unspecified  "national anti-terrorist operation," though the country’s legislature has now apparently banned such operations.  

Advertisement

The Ukrainian military has extensive contacts with Western militaries through NATO’s Partnership for Peace Program, though U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has apparently been unable to reach his Ukrainian counterpart. 

However, the question then becomes whether the military would obey orders to fire on Ukrainian protesters. Valentyn Badrak, director of the Kiev-based Centre for Army Conversion and Disarmament Studies, tells the Financial Times that  “The core of the army does not support Yanukovich and will not execute an order” to use arms against ordinary people.

Mark Galeotti, and expert on Russian and Eurasian Security isues, writes that he is “not convinced [the army] would obey orders to join Berkut, although at present I feel they’d simply refuse rather than outright join the protesters. But again, this can change.”

As Eurasianet’s Joshua Kucera notes, there are rumors that the military is already rebelling:

[Defense Minister Pavel] Lebedev's predecessor, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, said in a facebook post that Lebedev intended to use the military against the protesters, but suggested the military wouldn't obey: “The army with the people - Ukrainians wondered in anticipation. There you go. Defence Minister Lebedev has just ordered the 25th Dnipropetrovsk Airborne Brigade of 500 people in full combat gear to head to Kyiv. Whom will they protect? And from whom? The answer is obvious with such army and such officers…” (Translation from Ukrainian by The Ukrainian Week.) Hrytsenko had earlier said that Lebedev tried to put the unit (along with another military unit, the 79th Air Mobile Brigade) under Interior Ministry Command, but that only public opposition forced him to back down.

There’s still a pretty decent chance that Yanukovych will survive this crisis. But if it becomes clear that his own military has turned on him, or even just refuses to obey him, it’s hard to see him staying in power much longer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.