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Who Unleashed the Civil War in Ukraine?

Ex-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych intended to wait out Maidan, but the people in his circle had other ideas

The text below is an excerpt from a longer essay from Rostislav Ishchenko, a prominent Russian commentator.
This article originally appeared at the Russian website Odnako. It was translated by Eugenia at The Vineyard of the Saker.

However, we need to thank for that [Maidan] not so much the US as Levochkin [Chief of Staff of ex-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych]. He and Firtash [Ukrainian businessman, former associate of Yanukovych, and in post-Maidan Ukraine main financial backer of extremist Radical Party of Oleg Lyashko] providently protected their business in the association agreement, which was prepared under the watchful eye of the Chief of Staff of the president of Ukraine – that is, the very same Levochkin.

<figcaption>No way back</figcaption>
No way back

Therefore, after the signing the country economy was supposed to go downhill, most oligarchs to become poorer whereas the group of Levochkin-Firtash – to get richer. The refusal to sign the association agreement put an end to the financial and political wellbeing of the group. Levochkin, who was coordinating his activity with the US embassy from way back and was involved in the Maidan preparations, decided to use that mechanism to put pressure on Yanukovych and coerce him into signing the association agreement. He initiated the students’ Maidan, and then it did not make the proper impression on Yanukovych, provided the provocation with beating up the students, after which Maidan stopped being peaceful.

After that, Yuanukovych had only two-three weeks left to disperse Maidan, before his power began to crumble from the inside, before his nominally loyal ministers and generals started negotiations with the opposition about switching to their side, before the West actively intervenes. Yanukovych, too sure of the strength of his position and insignificance of Maidan, started long negotiations with the opposition trying to make Maidan go away by temporary concessions. As soon as his weakness became evident, the West entered the game. The regime was doomed.

Having learned form the previous Maidan, Yanukovych was prepared to defend himself. He intended to simply wait out Maidan behind the police cordons. The idea was: if they do not go away in half a year, then they will after a year; sooner or later they will give up. And then it was revealed that, in contrast with the army, the Ukrainian police are professional and well trained, and peaceful Maidan has no chance to overthrow the government. Only a military coup has that chance.

At the moment when the Ukrainian opposition and the US chose the path of a military coup, and the EU agreed to that decision, the fate of Ukraine was sealed. If until then, despite decades of the cold civil war between the Russian and Galician Ukraine, there still existed options for peaceful compromise-based resolution of the internal conflict, now, with the hot civil war going on, the break down of the country became inevitable. The problem was that the neo-Nazi militants were expected to play the role of the key force of the coup, since the opposition lacked any other organized force. However, if the militants are given weapons (so that they could accomplish the coup), and the adequate response of the law enforcing agencies is blocked, then the militants become effectively the masters of the country.

Law enforcement structures, having been betrayed by the politicians, rapidly degraded; true professionals left, neo-Nazis joined in, opportunists ready to serve any power remained. Nazis found themselves in favorable position allowing them to not only rapidly increase their numbers and supply of arms, but also institute effective control over the law enforcement structures.

All this was clear and present threat for the Russian population of Ukraine. It was much less organized, lacked military units, was almost without weapons, but in conditions of the imminent Nazi terror the problems were being rapidly solved. 25 millions of anti-fascists could not flee Ukraine. Nor could they accept the victory of the second Maidan, as they had accepted that of the first. The first Maidan stepped on their choice, the Constitution, and the law. The second threatened their lives.

A military confrontation of the two almost equal parts of Ukraine supported, respectively, by the US and Russia made a victory of one side problematic and the war potentially endless. It could have likely turned out that way, and Moscow would have found itself mired in the Ukrainian conflict for many years, but at the time of the coup the internal economic resource that supported the functioning of the Ukrainian state was practically exhausted.

To pull the Ukrainian economy out of the crisis, many billions in credits were required as well as long-term investment projects and capacious markets for Ukrainian goods. Russia was prepared to offer all of this to Yanukovych but had no intention (and could not even if it wanted to) to offer anything to the Nazis.

It immediately became apparent that the EU and US likewise have no intentions to finance Ukraine. The outbreak of a civil war suited Washington just fine: there was no need to spend any money, but both Moscow and Brussels were sure to have problems, and the possibility of a dangerous for the US alliance between the EU and EAEU [Eurasian Economic Union] was blocked. The EU itself did not manage during the entire crisis to emerge from under the US shadow and start to defend its own and not American interests.

Internecine quarrel

The lack of resources not only for a prolonged war but even for the routine functions of the state should have made the Ukrainian civil was short but extremely intense and bloody. Initially, the conflict was indeed developing that way until Moscow succeeded in temporarily reducing the intensity of the fighting forcing Kiev into the Minsk agreement.

Nevertheless, the Minsk agreement did not and could not solve the key Ukrainian problems. Thus, it was from the start considered by both side of the Ukrainian conflict as a pause, which should be used to strengthen their positions and increase their military potential.

Kiev found itself in a worse situation than DPR and LPR. The republics had Russia as their rear, and a part of their relatively small population fled to Russia, while those that remained were able to subsist on the Russian humanitarian aid. Ukraine, on the other hand, suffered economic catastrophe rapidly growing into the political crisis. Accelerating decline in living standards of the majority of the population, increasing unemployment that is now at about one third of workforce, lack of prospects, all this undermined the trust in Maidan politicians, created resentment and radicalization in the society that threatened another Maidan.

The economic catastrophe split the Maidan elite, which was not united to begin with. The political groups will have to fight for the remaining economic resources as well as find and present to people those responsible for the failures in the war and destruction of the economy, which makes any agreement among them virtually impossible.

Considering that every political group in Ukraine already has its own military units (mostly volunteer battalions), the only political experience of whose consists of taking part in the military coup against Yanukovych and in the civil war, it is certain that they will be solving this internecine Maidan dispute by the force of arms.

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