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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.