By Serg Marco
Translated and edited by Voices of Ukraine
Currently, after the Crimean provocation and the rather idiotic story about saboteurs with an orange tent, the overall situation has lit up in scarlet colors…
Currently, after the Crimean provocation and the rather idiotic story about saboteurs with an orange tent, the overall situation has lit up in scarlet colours. Khui Lo is making hardine statements, the Russian Federation FSB plays out a pantomime, and a “stoned Sherlock Holmes” is voicing new versions of what happened while simultaneously telling stories about immeasurable numbers of captured Ukrainian saboteurs, all of whom were in “Right Sector,” in the SBU, and on Maidan, to boot.
But the escalation can already be seen with the naked eye.
When the enemy starts amassing forces and resources, it kind of raises some suspicions. Whether or not they use these forces is the secondary question, while the primary one is: what will our reaction be? Because when a street thug is reaching for a knuckle duster, you yourself can reach either for a knife or for your wallet. And the evolution of the conflict will depend on the choice you make. Of course, in real life you can also run away from the bully, but in our situation, we share a border with the bully, and are therefore chained to him by a modest length of no-man’s land. Plus, in addition to being next to us all the time, the bully is also wasted and has an enormously over-inflated ego. In general, there is nothing pleasant about the situation. But when the bully is riding the high from his latest shot of windscreen washer and starts picking on you, you have to retaliate somehow.
“Experts” and “analysts” are now vying with each other to express different points of view, often contradicting each other. Like a sort of reverse Nostradamus. Some argue that “Putin will attack,” others say that he won’t dare, yet others demand we burn the Lipetsk factory [Poroshenko’s factory in Russia–Ed.]. So overall, it’s business as usual in our madhouse, we are nothing if not predictable.
There are some differences.
When in 2014 Russian forces started amassing on our border, I remember the general feeling of helplessness. Because everyone knew – we won’t hold. No way. Not under any set of permutations. Whether in defence, or if we dug in, or if we try to take control of the border, or if we build fortifications along the Dniepr – holding the area would be very unlikely. Because the forces were simply too unequal. At the beginning of the conflict there were reports of a maximum of 5,000 combat-ready troops, but do you think that in the 4 months between the start of the conflict and the real Russian invasion, there were many more really good, experienced soldiers? Maybe 10-12 thousand at most. Others, we have to admit, were raw, inexperienced, and had never seen combat before. In general, the same could have been said of their commanders. A mass of people with whom it was very difficult to wage war effectively. Yes, it was enough to grind down separatists, but to engage in combat with a regular army whose combat-ready ground units alone outnumbered your hastily assembled army several to one? No, it was not enough. Even without considering Iskanders and the Russian air force. It was simply not enough, no matter how you look at it.
But two years have passed since then. Hundreds of thousands have been through the war. They have smelled gunpowder, they have understood the army (even though they often use curse words to describe this understanding). The generals gained experience, new brigades were formed and old ones, brought up to full strength. Commanders have become real battlefield commanders. Lots of young blood went into the VDV Command, the Special Operations Centre, the infantry.
When I sit around drinking coffee with my friends (three lieutenant-colonels), I can’t help but notice that I had hardly expected I’d be sitting and chatting about life with lieutenant-colonels serving in the capacity of colonels, under 35 years of age. To me, a lieutenant-colonel was always some old guy pushing 50, with a big belly and other trappings of authority. And yet here they are, my peers, we’re sitting around, telling jokes, laughing.
And yes, there is a lot more work still ahead. But, looking back at two years ago and into today (just like Klitchko), we realise that a lot of work has been done by the Ukrainian people, by volunteers, by the command. And we can quarrel and argue, criticize and get hysterical, but we have remained a cohesive nation, with a clear goal that everyone understands. And we are walking towards that goal together.
And the result of these two years can be seen today. The new threat didn’t crush the morale of the people and the command like in 2014. Battalions have immediately enveloped themselves with combined units, turning into battalion tactical groups. Specialised trucks have appeared on the roads, carrying large-diameter pipes. The tank mechanics have run to check on their armour, to see whether there was some small thing they forgot to fix. With angry, measured strides, the infantry is now moving out of the barracks and towards the front, to strengthen specific areas. The infantry at the strongpoints has started estimating where the enemy attack would come from in their sector and what they are going to do about all of this. In the cities, volunteer organisations, which have been developing territorial defence among the locals, have started calling up everyone who are nearby and keeping them in close contact. And my inbox is getting progressively full of messages like, “All right, buddy, we are off now, going to go for a little trip. I won’t be in touch for about a week, I’ll buzz you when I get back.”
The country has shed its “younger brother” complex. It’s not afraid. The country is carefully watching the bully’s hands and is not even thinking of reaching for its wallet. It has already reached into a pocket for the knife, and baring its teeth and growling through its gritted teeth: “Just try it!”
And we are not calling for help from the USA, or from Poland, or from Batman and Superman. We have our people, our weapons and our equipment; we have our country. To hell with all of these discussions about the Budapest Memorandum and entreaties about the next Minsk Agreement. Just try it!
When some other bloggers and I came to the National General Staff for the first time, we were shocked by the fact that [Viktor] Muzhenko thinks in completely different terms. We were interested in… well, what can a civilian ask? How many tanks did we have, how many do we have now, how many men are in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, when will we win the war… Basically, nothing original. But it was a surprise for us to see the situation through Muzhenko’s eyes. He does not perceive the “DNR” and “LNR” as a threat at all. By how little he focuses on them, it is obvious that these entities exist solely because Russia is covering them with regular troops. Muzhenko’s main enemy is the Russian Federation. And we sat there, dumbfounded by the flow of information: which army corps is positioned where in Russia, what logistics they have, what our reaction time is, exactly why this number of brigades were deployed and why this many brigade training exercises were carried out to understand whether we can cover several areas while manoeuvring… The General Staff have done their homework in considering this option. And they have worked on this for a long time.
I remember that when we came back from that meeting, dumbfounded by the flow of information and by the sheer seriousness of the game that our command is playing, many laughed when they heard our stories, and said: “Russia is launching a full-scale assault? Don’t be ridiculous.”
But we know that our command was preparing for the war option, without regard to their citizens’ scepticism and assumptions.
That means that all railway lines and deliveries of fuel and ammunition to the east from Russia are now being monitored more and more closely. All the “moles” are now tasked with new missions. Both in Crimea and in the east, the number of Russian Federation units is being analysed: their designation and composition, staff structure and battle capacities, and dozens of other parameters. Because for these past two years, we have not been preparing to wage war against the “DNR.” We were preparing, in the event of the escalation of the conflict, to stop Russia itself.
I am not going to play Nostradamus and try to predict the future. Maybe the current hullabaloo is simply a test, to see whether or not we’ll piss our pants from this threat. Maybe it’s an attempt to pull part of our forces away to the south and to carry out another attempt to break through in the east. Or maybe this really is an escalation that will end in a full-scale war. I don’t know. I don’t have the information. After all, as I write this text, Russian Iskanders might be taking aim at the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s Parliament] buildings in Hrushevsky Street, and the General Staff [building] on Povitroflotskyi Ave, in an attempt to decapitate our command, while attack aircraft with tricolors on their wings are being hastily refuelled on the air fields… Therefore, we won’t go around guessing.
But I can say one thing for certain: the time to “break open the food reserves” is coming. We already can see that the loudest “patriotic radicals” have all stuck their tongues up their asses: no loud statements, no patriotic slogans. But soon, others will start to speak. Those who will offer to make peace with Russia, to smile at her and ask for forgiveness, and so on, while the Russian Federation flexes its biceps. Because war is not always on the battlefield. It is also fought here, in the rear, to win the minds of the people. So we will look out for those who start to play into Russia’s hands.
But for now, Ukraine is carefully watching the Russian Federation, ready to whip out a weapon at the bully’s first sudden movement. You want a full-scale war? Just try it!