Ukrainian army will probably balk if ordered on the streets


  • Analysts say army doesn’t want to engage protesters
  • Some Ukrainian officers trained with the US military
  • The army went from conscript to volunteer

WASHINGTON – President Obama has urged the Ukrainian armed forces to stay away from violence in that country, fearing the crisis could get even more out of control.

But analysts say Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych may find it difficult to get his armed forces to obey orders to quell protests at the center of the country’s growing political crisis.

“It is by no means clear that the military will fight against its own people,” said Stephen Blank, senior member of the American Foreign Policy Council.

Ukraine’s military leadership has remained largely apolitical and would hesitate to get involved in an internal political crisis. “I think the military doesn’t want to participate in this,” said James Howcroft, a retired maritime intelligence officer and military attaché with extensive experience in the region. “It’s a no-win situation.”

Even if some commanders agreed to join the fray, the military would likely fragment and some forces could move into opposition, said Adrian Karatnycky, senior member of the Atlantic Council.

Still, there are growing fears that Yanukovych is trying to turn to his army out of desperation, as forces in his Interior Ministry have struggled to control the protests which have grown increasingly violent.

Earlier this week, Yanukovych sacked the head of the country’s armed forces, Major General Volodymyr Zamana, which analysts say stemmed from concerns about Zamana’s loyalty to the government.

“It’s clear they didn’t want to take to the streets,” Blank said. “This is why Yanukovych sacked the head of the armed forces.”

Worried about the escalation of violence, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel recently tried to call his Ukrainian counterpart, Acting Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev, but he and other military officials in Ukraine have “failed” responded “to requests for dialogue, said Navy Rear Admiral John Kirby. , a Pentagon spokesperson.

The Pentagon has said that the Ukrainian armed forces have so far limited themselves to protecting military installations.

Most of the government forces involved in the fighting were the special riot police called Berkut, which is under the command of the Home Office. The government has only 3,000 to 4,000 troops from Berkut and beyond, it must rely mainly on the local police who are not trained to deal with civil unrest.

The Ukrainian army aspired to become a member of NATO and endeavored to modernize its forces on the model of the armies of Western Europe. They took steps to move from an army of conscripts to a force of volunteers.

The Ukrainian military had sent forces to Iraq under coalition command and officers trained at US military schools, said Steven Pifer, senior researcher at the Brookings Institution.

He said they would have been exposed to concepts important to the Western military, such as the need to remain independent from politics.


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