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Political Resistance against Russian Aggresion

23 May

From Kyiv Post, with Olena Tregub, May 2, 2014

The “anti-terrorist operation” the Ukrainian government launched in eastern and southern Ukraine to displace the Russian-backed separatist militia has been a failure. The acting Ukrainian president Oleksandr V. Turchynov himself acknowledged on April 30 that the “overwhelming majority of security forces in the east are not able to carry out their duty to defend our citizens.”

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Crimean Tatars in protest to commemorate 70th anniversary of 1944 deportation. Russian-occupied Symferopol, Crimea, May 18, 2014

The overall struggle of separatists and their backers has clear political objectives: to hold local referenda and win support for secession of a large minority or ideally majority of the regions’ population; either voluntarily or through falsification. The problem is that for this political struggle the Ukrainian government mobilized merely the military instrument – the very tool for which its adversaries hold a strong suit. In fact, the separatists have a clear advantage over Ukrainian forces that have poor organizational skills and training to deal with a limited scale guerrilla insurgency embedded with small but boisterous pro-rebel civilian crowds.

This kind of political struggle calls for total political resistance, not military engagement.

In the call for total political resistance the Ukrainian authorities would address two simple but crucial questions:

1. How can unarmed local populations make the life of the occupiers in Crimea and separatists in southeast Ukraine difficult?

2. How can the social cohesion and solidarity among Ukrainians be enhanced despite ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity?

The call for total political resistance could thus offer general “tips” or “resistance recommendations” equally to help guide actions, stimulate people’s imaginations and expand their resourcefulness given their abilities, skills and risks which they are willing to take.

The Ukrainian government, together with mainstream and social media could launch a nationwide campaign of total political resistance that would recommend specific actions and expected behavior from Ukrainians at a time of crisis, including:

· Do not give out any information to separatists

· Ignore separatists’ request for assistance

· Do not serve them when they come to buy groceries, water, medicine or other products or charge them more than usual; or sell them bad, expired goods

· Do not exchange their dollars to local currency or vice versa

· If separatists want to stay in your hotel or home give them the worst rooms and food. Inform them that restrooms do not work

· Protect, offer shelter and extend your solidarity to Ukrainians, Ukrainian Russians and Ukrainian Jews and other minorities who are attacked because of their pro-Ukrainian views

· Use your balconies and windows to display Ukrainian flags or Ukrainian national colors

· Wear cloths with Ukrainian national colors and Ukrainian traditional dress

· Go to the local Ukrainian churches for collective prayers

· Design, print and distribute thousands of leaflets and brochures in villages, towns and cities across eastern and southern Ukraine about what life would be like under Russian occupation

· Engage in pro-Ukrainian graffiti that could mark towns

· Paint trees, buildings, and other city landmarks in Ukrainian colors with difficult-to-remove materials

In Crimea, if you work for a state-owned company serving the new Russian administration (e.g. postal service, telephone companies, public administration, railroad administration, etc.):

· Work slowly

· Do not complete tasks on time

· Complete administrative tasks incompetently and without much enthusiasm

· Produce and offer poor-quality goods and services

· Treat machinery carelessly

· Take excessive sick leave

· Delay in responding if they call you and operate with slow reactivity in your professional communications with government structures

· Increase consumption of power to push the power system to its limits

· Do not pay taxes and other government bills

· Protect, offer shelter and extend solidarity to Ukrainians, Ukrainian Russians, Tatars and other minorities who oppose Russian occupation

· Increase the costs of the Russian annexation in any imaginable way short of violence

For some, political resistance can be viewed as naïve and weak given the level of repression. After all, activists are targeted, kidnapped and killed in eastern Ukraine.

However, political resistance does not imply that life will not be lost but that the probability and scale of killings will be still much lower than when the armed conflicts breaks out. Political resistance is about staying alive as much as the armed struggle is about killing. And, it is political resistance, not armed struggle that holds greater promise for saving civilian lives, and preserving country’s infrastructure while at the same time imposing considerable costs on the adversary. Finally, it is political resistance that holds greater promise to awaken those in eastern and southern Ukraine who are now apathetic, fearful and withdrawn.

Furthermore, if armed groups use the language of violence our natural reaction is to use the language they understand well. However, more effective way would be to develop a strategy that they either do not understand or for which they lack training. Political resistance might work better where the current “anti-terrorist operations” failed – namely, in keeping separatist militia and its Russian backers off-balance and mobilizing the local population in active though unarmed opposition.

For those who look for a military solution against an armed adversary it is appropriate to recall the words of the British captain Basil Liddell Hart, who interrogated German generals after the World War II: “[Nazi Germans] were experts in violence, and had been trained to deal with opponents who used that method. But other forms of resistance baffled them- and all the more in proportion as the methods were subtle and concealed. It was a relief to them when resistance became violent, and when non-violent forms were mixed with guerrilla action, thus making it easier to combine drastic suppressive action against both at the same time.”

While launching total political resistance the Ukrainian government together with Ukrainian civil society would emphasize the message: small triumphs through the acts of political resistance will prove to you and others that ordinary people: women, men, elderly, disabled and even children can do things to support the country and Ukrainians are not defenseless even if they do not have arms.