Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ukrainian Crisis Update: Special Operation Shows Promise

By Maksym Bugriy

The central government’s counter-terrorism operation against separatists in Ukraine’s southeastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions has shown the first signs of success. Notably, Ukrainian government forces, which included the military as well as police and security agencies special forces, were able to defend the airfield in Kramatorsk against separatists attack. During the operation, a Ukrainian Su-27 fighter jet circled over the airfield and opened fire on the attacking pro-Russian militants. The resoluteness exhibited by the Ukrainian military and police must have had a visible effect as the separatists reportedly left the seized Kramatorsk police station building and will probably also leave the town administration office to avoid further police assaults (

The Ukrainian force involved in the counter-terrorism operation employed security professionals to streamline the management of the response. Such was the appointment of former KGB veteran terrorism expert and operative General Vasily Krutov, one of the first senior officers of the Ukrainian Security Service’s (SBU) elite “A” counter-terrorism unit ( General Krutov knows his trade well: he is KGB-trained and also participated in an operation to free 22 Ukrainian hostages from Somali pirates in 2005. Previously, he has served as president of the International Counter-Terrorist Unity organization, which brought together many former Soviet KGB and GRU (Chief Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense) special forces officers. Thus, General Krutov’s current appointment is also a deterrence signal to his former peers at Russia’s security services.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian counter-intelligence leaked an April 14 recording of an alleged GRU officer in Slovyansk with his Moscow coordinator, which suggested that “reinforcements” to eastern Ukraine were expected. According to the audiotape, the Moscow handler tasked his Slovyansk operative with achieving two new political objectives: 1.) immediate governor elections to replace the pro-Kyiv governors currently in place in eastern Ukraine; and 2.) banning the Ukrainian parliament from being allowed to attract international loans without consent from regional governors ( This is a clear case of attempted economic warfare aimed at preventing Ukraine from receiving vital International Monetary Fund (IMF) financing. Remarkably, Ukrainian Pravda identified the Moscow-based coordinator as possibly a Russian political consultant who was involved in Russia’s Crimean operation ( This draws a direct connection between what is currently happening in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s previous tactics in Crimea.

Further Russian moves should be expected. On April 15, Vladimir Putin had phone conversations with the leaders of Israel ( and Germany ( as well as United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon ( In all these conversations, Putin lambasted the Ukrainian government’s counter-terrorism operation in its eastern regions and the Russian leader issued warnings about a brewing “civil war” in Ukraine. Politically, Russia may try to present a strong case against Ukraine during the Geneva four-party talks scheduled for April 17. Further unconventional and provocative military operations by Russia against Ukraine are, of course, also possible. But any such moves would entirely preclude the possibility of holding the Geneva negotiations this week.

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