Ukraine: Operation Wave

President Vladimir Putin, in his infamous interview, railed that the snipers had been agent provocateurs. Really? Russia’s boss may be right. Military intelligence of one of our old NATO allies ran an analysis of the snipers via facial recognition software and concluded that the sharpshooters belonged to the FSB Special Forces in Moscow. That is something that needs to be investigated fully.

By Marek Jan Chodakiewicz | March 19, 2014

Russian FSB Special Forces SharpshootersMaidan, Kyiv, UkraineSnipers Firing into Maidan in February

During three long months of increasingly violent demonstrations in Ukraine some observers asked themselves a question about an allegedly imminent crack down. When? And how? One assumed that the government of Viktor Yanukovych, to maintain itself in power and to preserve its credibility, had to act. And since political concessions, such as rescinding the super powers of the presidency the chief executive had usurped for himself, granting an amnesty to the demonstrators and rioters, and promises to reopen negotiations with the European Union, failed to calm the population down, the only option left was to crush the protest violently: first in Kyiv on Maidan, and then elsewhere. This was seemingly obvious. But apparently nothing happened, or nothing extraordinarily violent. Why?

For three months Poland’s foreign minister Radek Sikorski played a crucial role of liaison among the European Union, Germany in particular, and the Ukrainian government and the opposition. He was also involved because stabilizing Ukraine was in the Polish neighbor’s own interest. Sikorski badgered the opponents of post-Communism to compromise with the post-Communists in power. On February 20, the eve of what appeared like a “historic” accord, Sikorski compelled the opposition to sign an agreement with the Yanukovich regime because, if you don’t, warned the Pole, “you will all die.” Nary two days later, the erstwhile Ukrainian president escaped from the capital into exile in Russia. The opposition set up a new coalition government, some, in particular in the streets, grumbling bitterly that the Pole had forced their hand prematurely and nearly robbed “the Ukrainian people” of their victory over Yanukovich and his pro-Muscovite, Russophone orientation.

It was widely assumed that the Polish foreign minister deduced the sordid scenario by analogy with Poland’s martial law introduced in December 1981 to crush “Solidarity” which Sikorski observed from exile in Great Britain. Or, he had good intelligence. There was good reason to worry.

According to secret documents released by a Ukrainian parliamentarian, the Yanukovych regime was allegedly set to unleash Operation Wave. The idea was to launch a coordinated attack against the media and the demonstrators. About 22,000 troops and policemen were selected for the assignment set to commence on February 21. First, assault squads would descend upon radio and TV stations, shutting them down. Next, the bulk of the armed contingent would be deployed against the demonstrators. A special forces squads would target specifically the ultranationalist radicals of the Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), who had proven themselves to be ferocious fighters in medieval-like, hand to hand combat throughout the demonstrations.  The soldiers and policemen would then push the demonstrators away from the Maidan into “a trap,” thus neutralizing them. It is still unclear what “neutralizing” entailed. It could be that Yanukovych’s enforcerers planned to kill, beat, and chase the demonstrators and their supporters into a cul de sac, where a selection would take place: some would be arrested and interned in camps. There was no sufficient prison space in Kyiv to accommodate the activists. At any rate, the former president bet on violence but he lost the gamble and fled despite the fact that Operation Wave was put in motion but it failed to swamp the Maidan. Why?

First, the troops and the brass refused to obey for the most part. A standard answer is that they did not want to fire on the people.  Perhaps. The armed forces remained neutral for the most part during the demonstrations and riots. But when the alleged order for Operation Wave was issued, the army did not join the people. Instead, the brass conducted an Italian strike. It sabotaged the order by failing to deploy. It is unclear whether this was because the Soviet-style military lacked initiative; or because the generals were craven cowards who did not want to get involved; or because the military leadership was sagacious and realized that staying out of the fray would expedite the fall of Yanukovych, de-escalate the situation in the country, and offer exciting opportunities for advancement and service under a new government, while making sure that the armed forces remain as they had been: Sovietized, Communized, and paralyzed by the power of the Kremlin as far as mentality and top personnel.

Second, Operation Wave failed to work because of the resolve of the people. In one instance at least, the demonstrators outside of Kyiv sat down on railroad tracks to bar a military transport train with reinforcements from reaching the capital. The same occurred at a variety of road blocks manned by the opponents of Yanukovych, who prevented troops and police from entering Kyiv. This was largely non violent resistance.

Third, Operation Wave missed its objectives because, apparently, its crucial undercover component part failed to bear positive fruit. Namely, the snipers, who were deployed around the Maidan in Kiyv, missed their mark strategically. They managed to kill scores of people (at least 100 died violently, perhaps 80 shot) but that only enraged the demonstrators and strengthened their resolve to resist. Had the snipers killed a thousand that would have probably dispersed the crowd. Why kill so few? Footage of the demonstrations show that the killings were both tactical and random, with the latter predominating. Western snipers are trained to kill leaders of the rioters; however, most on Maidan were masked. The leaders would be hard to recognize. Further, since the demonstrators fought in ancient and medieval formations (including the phalanx with interlocking shields), they appeared equal and, hence, leaderless. Nonetheless, the snipers fired to kill. One must assume this was done randomly. And they killed not only the demonstrators, but also the policemen. Firing at both sides makes sense for it creates more chaos which demands the intervention by the forces of law and order, and, hence, the Operation Wave. Thus, the snipers were the key in this provocation. Brilliant!

Who were the snipers? The Estonian and EU foreign ministers shared a theory, which the Russian secret services eves dropped on and leaked promptly, that the snipers were really deployed by the opposition to stage a provocation. The objective was to enrage the crowd even more against the post-Communists of Yanukovych. The alleged proof was that the same bullets were found in fallen demonstrators as in killed policemen. Standard bullets are common. Ballistic tests have not been conducted. Also, no Ukrainian snipers have been identified so far as having participated in the operation. They are very few and far between. Certainly their comrades, families, neighbors, and friends would notice them missing from their usual garrisons. It would be hard to conceal their trip to Kyiv.

Yet, President Vladimir Putin, in his infamous interview, railed that the snipers had been agent provocateurs. Really? Russia’s boss may be right. Military intelligence of one of our old NATO allies ran an analysis of the snipers via facial recognition software and concluded that the sharpshooters belonged to the FSB Special Forces in Moscow. That is something that needs to be investigated fully.

At any rate, the Operation Wave failed to roll. And it is a good thing, too.

Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is a Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, A Graduate School of National Security and International Affairs in Washington, DC, where he also holds the Kościuszko Chair in Polish Studies. Professor Chodakiewicz is author of Intermarium: The Land between the Black and Baltic Seas. He is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.