Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Moscow Exploiting Mukachevo Despite Its Dangers for Russia as Well as Ukraine

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 14 – The conflict in Mukachevo is a direct threat to Ukraine because it raises the question as to whether Kyiv has lost its monopoly on the use of force, something every effective state must maintain. And consequently, Moscow wants to promote the fighting there as much as possible to make its case that Ukraine is a failed or failing state.

            But at the same time, at least at the level of government propaganda, Moscow is also threatened by Mukachevo: promoting a positive image of those who have taken up arms against Kyiv in that city could help even more nationalist forces to come to power in Ukraine and/or lead Russians unhappy with Moscow’s policies to consider adopting a similar strategy at home.

            Consequently, Moscow’s involvement in promoting the conflict has been less obvious than might otherwise be the case and even has prompted some to conclude that the Mukachevo events are entirely the product of domestic Ukrainian conditions, something that understates the fishing in such muddy waters for which Russian security services are notorious.

            Kseniya Kirillova interviewed General Igor Romanenko, a former senior commander of Ukraine’s SBU, about the situation.  He notes that various versions about Mukachevo have been circulating, including one that asserts that “Yarosh is a project of Putin’s,” an unlikely story given the problems of using him (nr2.com.ua/blogs/Ksenija_Kirillova/Rossiya-maksimalno-ispolzovala-strelbu-v-Mukachevo-general-Romanenko-101343.html).

            “But it is undoubtedly the case that what has taken place [in Mukachevo] is useful for Russia and that it will use it in its interests to the maximum extent possible,” Romanenko says. “It is well known also that in the Transcarpathia even earlier correspondents of Russian media who have been used by Russian special services to disrupt [Ukrainian] mobilization.”

            Such people, he continues, “have money for this and a corresponding apparatus of agents. They will thus do everything to fan this fire.”  At the same time, however, Romanenko stressed that he personally “does not have any direct evidence that Russia was involved in what has taken place in Mukachevo.”

             The general makes three other important observations in the course of this interview. First, he says that the problem in Mukachevo is less about the destruction of the taboo against violence and the spread of weapons among Ukrainians than about the activities of the private forces controlled by the oligarchs, many of whom have close links to Russian ones.

            Second, he points out that “the Russians have established special information forces for the dissemination of panic among Ukrainians” while Kyiv has not yet created the necessary counter-propaganda institutions because of the fears of some journalists that such bodies could open the way for censorship.

            And third, the general argues that it is critically important not to let anyone in Ukraine get away with such violence even and perhaps especially if they engage in it under patriotic slogans. That only works to Russia’s benefit by allowing Moscow to suggest that Ukraine is ineffective as a state.

            The propaganda difficulties Moscow faces with regard to Mukachevo are the subject of an editorial in today’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta.” The editors of that Moscow newspaper write that it is no easy thing for the Russian authorities to take a clear-cut position on the current fighting (ng.ru/editorial/2015-07-14/2_red.html).

                Unlike in Crimea or the Donbas, the two sides in this Ukrainian city are not so easily classified as good and bad from Moscow’s point of view, the paper continues. On the one hand, Moscow is always glad to trumpet evidence of instability in Ukraine. But on the other, it can’t be happy for either foreign or domestic reasons to back those now opposing Kyiv in Mukachevo.

            In Ukraine, the fighting in Mukachevo could lead to a new Maidan, the paper says, but a Maidan that might have a very different and far more negative outcome than Moscow would like, bringing to power an even more anti-Russian regime that Poroshenko’s now is. And in Russia, it could sow problems among both those who support the regime and those who don’t.

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