Ukrainians have managed to at least localize the “Russian Spring,” if not to stop it. So, when will the Ukrainian spring come?
The “Russian Spring” was a very well thought-out plan of action and measures with specific objectives and timeframes. If you compare the scale of this operation and the territory that it was supposed to capture with those bits of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts that Russian forces control today, it’s clear that the plan failed. Two years ago, the Ukrainian army was not combat-ready, our special forces were FSB agents, and even in Kyiv, there was a month when not a single policeman was patrolling the streets. We maintained public order and controlled the main areas of the capital with our self-defense formations. Despite all that, we managed to stop the Russian Spring.
My reason for joining the Maidan was simple: to save the state. The Association Agreement with the EU was not just a matter of economic agreements. More importantly, it would have made it impossible for Ukraine to sign on to any of Russia’s integrational projects, whereas rejecting the AA would have meant pretty much automatic accession to the Customs Union and similar structures run by the Russian Federation—and that meant, slowly but surely, the loss of statehood.
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What do we have now, two years after the Maidan? We have proper Armed Forces that are growing stronger every day. Prior to this, our army may have had a good number of serious professionals, but it was a kind of soviet enclave until recently. The army is a conservative organization in any country, which makes it hard to reform. So the first thing that had to be done was to break down the “us vs them” mentality because too many of our people were raised to believe that NATO was the enemy and Russians were our brothers. Until the volunteer fighters began shooting and showing the way, our army was psychologically hobbled.
Today, attitudes in the military have changed through and through, as well as the level of combat-readiness and equipment. Our security and defense system is of a completely different quality today.
Another important point is that we have become independent of Russia for fuel. Just remember how many scandals and conflicts there were around imported natural gas. And Moscow won every time because our politicians would either capitulate or allow themselves to be bought. We have also passed one of the best anti-corruption laws in Europe. It’s only starting to kick in but the regulatory base is already in place. What’s more, it’s very important, to my mind, that the Communist Party has been banned and that hundreds of our towns and cities no longer have the names of those who systematically murdered our people. They’re replacing them with Ukrainian names, which is another fundamental change. What about support for NATO among Ukrainians? It’s now over 50%, yet another sign that the mentality and worldviews of our nation have shifted radically. All this shows that the “Russian Spring” failed and the Ukrainian spring is on its way.
Do you feel any responsibility for our defeat in Crimea?
There’s no Crimea separately from Ukraine. Any talk of success or failure has to look at the entire country, so I’d like to point one thing out. When the Russian Duma gave Putin the green light to invade Ukraine militarily, we basically had no influence over the security sector in those parts of the country where people saw Yanukovych as a lawfully elected president who had turned to Moscow with a request that it bring in its forces. Those who like to blame us for failing to send in the army to the peninsula, or not making use of those units that were already located there, simply don’t understand that some of those divisions were demoralized, while others went over to the enemy. There was sabotage going on in every single security agency.
Meanwhile, Russia had started drawing its troops all along its border with Ukraine. From the north, through Chernihiv, enemy tanks could have been in Kyiv within a matter of hours. At that time, we managed to get some battle-ready units to Shyrokiy Lan (Mykolayiv Oblast – Ed.), and then to form a few defensive arcs in the north, east and south in those directions where an attack was most likely. I think we did absolutely everything we could. I’ll let the historians decide whether that was really the case. We were confronted by one of the most powerful armies in the world, so I wouldn’t use the word defeat: Putin’s plans regarding Ukraine failed.
Still, he did accomplish what he wanted in Crimea. What could have been done to thwart that?
You yourself know what proportion of our security forces went over to the Russian side. At the time, there was a lot of talk about our steadfast, heroic men and there really were such individuals. But how many more betrayed their sworn duty? Every single commander was given a minder—usually former colleagues or relatives—who pressured him to give his unit up. I remember we were once in a National Security Council session and someone called to say that they were trying to take over one of our vessels. At the time, it was widely thought that civilians were blocking the units —women and kids. But a vessel could never be stormed by women and kids: these were obviously well-trained and prepared men. When we gave the order to open fire, the answer came: “I serve the people of Ukraine!” Within the hour, the ship had been given up without a shot.
As secretary of the National Security Council (in the interim Government – Ed.), the first problem I faced was that I couldn’t rely on the accuracy of the information coming from our security agencies. It was already clear that the Security Bureau of Ukraine (SBU) in Crimea was prone to sending disinformation, so we kept the situation under control as best we could. I’m not talking about purely running the country. But in Mykolayiv, Odesa and other cities, local activists played a significant role in stopping the separatists there. Thanks to the Maidan Self-Defense units, we hung on to the seven counties of northern Luhansk Oblast, without weapons—simply through civil action. And this is one of those aspects that Putin miscalculated: he thought that he would be greeted everywhere with open arms, but in fact the locals themselves resisted. You can’t really call that a defeat.
On the Maidan, you took care of communication between the radicals and the politically moderate wings. But conflicts are still there, between the activists who formed the core of the volunteer battalions and those in power. How is this communication working now and what is the source of these conflicts?
Thanks to this kind of communication, the volunteer battalions emerged, and they established the worldview of our war. We put enormous efforts into organizing those first two National Guard battalions. We had to literally break the General Staff in order to set up the 24th Battalion, the Aidar. Still, in some quarters in the military, attitudes towards the volunteers are skeptical and critical to this day. The Prosecutor’s Office is even more prejudiced against them, as I have reported more than once. The civic movement is now visible in different areas: 4,500 fighters from the Maidan Self-Defense went to the front. Today, there are 16 deputies in the Verkhovna Rada who fought at the front, many of these men have joined the new police, and, of course, a large number have stayed on in the military. The volunteer movement remains a major factor in the life of the country today.
But not all of these volunteer activists are in government or cooperating with it. Why has the Volunteer Corps of Praviy Sektor not been legalized to this day?
My relationship with (former – Ed.) PS leader Dmytro Yarosh is friendly, but our tactical disagreements began immediately after the Maidan. His attitude was “We can’t wait!” whereas I believed and continue to believe that people need to be armed and to use arms under state control. We’ve talked with many different agencies about legalizing the VCU, but so far, no decision’s been made. I have to say, however, that PS has coordinated all its actions on the front with ATO Command. There was no Makhno army there, no matter what some may say. I drafted the law on the military reserves as one of the mechanisms to legalize the volunteers that still have not joined any of our military formations.
With calls for a Third Maidan coming from certain quarters, have its initiators turned to you as a potential leader?
I liked to draw historical parallels on the Maidan and I still do so now. We have a thousand-year curse against us, from the Battle of the Kalka, when every prince fought for himself, through the Ruin, when our hetmans raised swords against each other, right to the national liberation movements of the 20th century, when Ukrainians lost their state, not through military weakness, but because of internecine wars. And the loss of the state always led to terrible tragedies. After the Hetmanate in the 1920s, we got the Holodomor of 1932-33, which took millions of lives. And you don’t have to go far to find more recent examples: remember the Orange Revolution, the Maidan of 2004, when internal squabbles led to a comeback for the other side.
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As to these calls for a Third Maidan, of course, I hear them. Even when we were still on the Maidan, I would hear, “Let’s toss those three from the stage and arrest them, Andriy. Just say the word.” But then, and now, I keep telling people that we have to remain united or we will be lost. It’s the same today. What’s interesting is that, based on what investigations by journalists have revealed, the websites that are calling for a Third Maidan are often fronts for Russian security forces or militants from Donetsk and Luhansk. That’s why I keep insisting that we have to maintain a united front against outside threats and internal challenges alike, and work on eliminating existing problems.
What about a snap election as an alternative to a Third Maidan: what impact would that have on social tensions right now?
Right now, new elections are a key mechanism to destabilize the country again. They are part of the Russian scenario. If you want to know how that works, just look at recent events in Moldova. There was a scandal that led to the dismissal of the Cabinet just one month before the next tranche was due from the IMF. The loss of that tranche led to irreversible changes in the domestic economy. In the following year, the Government was changed three times and the country simply went into limbo. The leaders of two of the three parties who are happy the mass protests in Chisinau have made no bones about this and they go to Moscow every week for “political consultations.” What’s more, it’s hard to know just how justified all the accusations of corruption against officials are, because there still aren’t any agencies in Moldova that can investigate crimes of this nature and whom Moldovans themselves would trust. That’s the scheme that is supposed to work among us here as well.
I once read one of the reports from Igor “Strelkov” Girkin (a leader of separatist movement in the “Donetsk People’s Republic. Girkin is a Russian army veteran earlier involved in the fighting in Chechnya, Transnistria and, reportedly, as volunteer in the Bosnian War on the Serb side – Ed.) that, in any country targeted for an attack, “you have to sow dissatisfaction of every kind possible.” And this is approach is working both in Moldova and in Ukraine today. Pre-term elections here will put all the reforms on hold and bring political paralysis for at least a year. In our case, it will mean collapse. Not long ago, George Soros wrote something quite interesting: The question today is whether the Russian Federation will bring down the European Union or the EU Russia. It’s the same in our confrontation with Moscow: Who will survive? And we have to act the way we did on the Maidan: if we group together and press our knuckles, we’ll make it; if we split up, we will lose. At the time, our forces were completely unequal to Yanukovych’s, yet we won.
Russia’s not exactly in good shape right now: oil prices are way down, the ruble is weak, and the economy is on the verge of collapse. It could all come apart in a flash, just like the Soviet Union did.
But the collapse of Russia will cause a chain reaction that will affect us as will, right?
The world was terrified that the USSR might collapse. Everybody was saying, “How can this be!? Nukes out of control!” But nothing like that happened and we will survive today, as well. We’ll be fine.
What’s the connection between increased aggression along the frontline and Russia’s determination to force Ukraine to change its Constitution?
It’s definitely intended to scare us, but the Ukrainian army is not the same force that was there two years ago. Russia’s military has not changed in this time, whereas we are at a completely different level now.
How do you see Ukraine establishing control over the state border in the occupied parts of Donbas?
This issue is closely tied to holding elections in the region. According to Minsk, the two are supposed to take place pretty much simultaneously. But even setting a date for the vote is a ridiculous concept right now. It’s not just a technical detail. It’s far more complicated than even controlling the border. Elections mean that the entire democratic process needs to be guaranteed: free speech, freedom of assembly, the safety of voters... How can that possibly be organized when the place is run by gangs and Russian proxies? Elections will only be possible if I or some other Ukrainian politician can freely go to Donetsk and Luhansk to campaign. How can this be ensured today? First, the gangs need to be disarmed, law and order have to be established there, Ukrainian electoral law has to be implemented, and the state border has to be controlled. Only after that will it make sense to talk about elections.
The Anti-Terrorist Operation has gone on for nearly two years now. What about naming and interpreting our military activity there differently at the national level?
Faced with a hybrid war, we were challenged not just to take military action but there was the real threat that the new Ukrainian government would be isolated. Russia had closed its embassy, our government was labeled a junta, its legitimacy questioned, so holding a presidential election was the first task. When a country is in a state of war, this is prohibited. Plus we had to somehow get the army going. The military command was saying, “Yanukovych wanted to throw us at the people, and now you want to do the same. We need some kind of legal status.” So we found the right formulation: an anti-terrorist operation. It allowed us to engage the Armed Forces without at the same time blocking political processes in the country. Later, we had to continue this ATO status because it was time for elections to the Rada.
After this, the issue of declaring a state of war was raised again. As NSC secretary, I proposed doing just that and prepared all the necessary documents. But the decision was up to the President, who sees the bigger picture, and he thought it better not to declare a state of war. I think that, at this point, this isn’t going to make a difference.
Andriy Parubiy, born in 1971 in Lviv Oblast, got his MA in history at the Lviv Ivan Franko University and PhD in Politics and Sociology at the Lviv Polytechnic University. In 1988, he headed Spadshchyna (Heritage), a nationalist youth organization. Along with Oleh Tyahnybok, he co-founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine that was later renamed Svoboda (Freedom). Mr. Parubiy has been MP in the 6th-8th convocations of the VR. He headed the Maidan Self-Defense. After the Maidan, he was appointed Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council. Since December 2014, Mr. Parubiy has been Vice-Speaker of the VR.
 The anarchist Nestor Makhno led his own insurgent army during the Russian Civil War of 1917-1922, when the Ukrainian state first emerged. His unwillingness to join forces with other Ukrainian independence movements and his alliance with the bolsheviks led to the downfall of both the young Ukrainian state and Makhno himself.
 This 1223 battle between the Rus Principalities and the Mongol Empire led to a defeat for the Slavs because they failed to go in as a united force.