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Putin's military strategy under nonviolent cover

22 Aug

On the way to Luhansk – Russian “humanitarian” convoy in Ukraine. Source: BBC, 08/22/14

Vladimir Putin continues incorporating elements of seemingly civilian, nonviolent dynamics into his violent campaign in Ukraine.

The Russian “humanitarian” convoy crossed today the border with Ukraine without Ukraine’s government permission. That is the invasion though under a nonviolent, civilian disguise.

This must not come as a surprise. In my earlier article on the conflict in Ukraine I emphasized how Putin was keen on using nonviolent tactical repertoire in order to cover-up or support Russia’s  subversive military actions in Ukraine.  The Russian military had, for example, deployed nonviolent tactics with a noticeable degree of success in Crimea where Kremlin used pro-Russian older women and men to march them on the Ukrainian military bases while the armed Russian “little green men” (as Ukrainians call the Russian troops bearing no insignia) followed closely behind. The strategy worked. The Ukrainian army did not dare to shoot and its bases were  overran quickly without much resistance.

In a replay of the disguised nonviolent scenario, seemingly unarmed Russian “humanitarian” convoy (though reportedly escorted by armed rebels once it entered the Ukrainian territory) has again placed the Ukrainian authorities in a classic dilemma. On one hand, attacking it will give Putin needed pretext to respond with full military force that could lead to obliteration of the Ukrainian army in Donbas. On the other hand, letting the convoy reach Luhansk will likely invite more “humanitarian aid” from Russia and de-facto “humanitarian” corridor that Russia would establish inside Ukraine despite opposition from Kyiv. Kremlin will then extend that corridor to Donetsk. Either way Putin can have his way of halting advances of the Ukrainian army and asserting Russian control over the heart of Donbas while achieving all this under the guise of nonviolent – humanitarian – mobilization.

At this time, the Ukrainian policy makers would benefit from paying greater attention to the efficacy of political mobilization of local communities to check the advances of Putin’s “humanitarian” strategy. For example, the call of Kharkhiv-based activists to create apocalyptic traffic jam to block the Russian “humanitarian” convoy should have been immediately seized by the Ukrainian authorities. It could have been used to launch energized public debate about what activists and mobilized civilians could do in the conflict that Putin likes to wrap up in a nonviolent cover. In theory, it is the Ukrainian civilians and not Putin’s army that hold a natural advantage in waging nonviolent struggle. If so, it is the right time for Ukrainians to finally deploy this underutilized power.

Review of my edited book Recovering Nonviolent History

2 Aug

Review of my edited book Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles by Erica Chenoweth in Journal of Peace Research, November 2013, vol. 50, 761.

Bartkowski, Maciej, ed. (2013) Recovering Nonviolent History: Civil Resistance in Liberation Struggles. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner. xii + 436 pp. ISBN 9781588268952.

Political science and sociology have long regarded nbook_frontation-building as a fundamentally violent process. As Charles Tilly famously argued, ‘War makes the state, and the state makes war.’ This volume challenges this claim, arguing instead that popular nonviolent struggles have been equally influential in defining peoples, cultures, and borders. In Recovering Nonviolent History, Maciej Bartkowski has assembled a compelling set of research articles that describe the many ways that people power movements have actively confronted foreign occupation, colonial influence, and territorial domination in ways that have affected the current global landscape. Impressive in global and historical scope, the book’s main theoretical contribution is its conjecture that nonviolent resistance may have played an equally important role in the establishment of nations and states as violent struggle – a hypothesis that receives limited support in the case studies, though systematic testing is left to future researchers. Each of the chapters possesses originality, detailed research, and success at ‘recovering’ some novel national histories. Highlights include Conser’s chapter on civil resistance in the American colonies from 1765 to 1775, and Smithey’s chapter, which challenges the notion that collective action is always predetermined by pre-existing repertoires and argues that instead, opportunities and opponent moves can produce novel forms of collective action that can in turn reinforce existing values or even introduce new identities. The main weakness of the volume is the puzzle that remains – if nonviolent struggles have been so important in state and identity formation, then why have they been forgotten? Bartkowski’s concluding chapter offers some potential explanations – including the ‘cloaking’ of masculinity in the archetype of armed struggle, the influence of external actors taking credit for victorious struggles, and that civil resistance is just now an emerging field of study – but the volume leaves these as untested hypotheses. More research is required to understand the reasons why the history of nonviolent resistance needs recovering in the first place.

Erica Chenoweth


Myopic Strategies of the Syrian Struggle and Key Lessons

14 Jul
Members of the Free Syrian Army. Source: Al Arabiya

Members of the Free Syrian Army. Source: Al Arabiya


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