Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change
It looks like Ukraine can shortly expect a new phase of the war, one in which no one will be safe. And the sooner we prepare ourselves for it psychologically, the fewer casualties there will be.
No one now harbours any illusion that Russian president Vladimir Putin will stop at anything. Russia has sadly passed the point of no return. It is beyond the point where it could reconsider and seek a compromise. The logic of counter-terrorism operations is such that the more tightly the insurgents are encircled, the more dangerous they become to the civilian population.
The full support the US State Department is giving Ukraine, the new sanctions imposed by the European Union and Japan, the total debacle the Kremlin has suffered internationally, and the failure of the [insurgent] military operation in the Donbas will all inevitably force Putin to look for new ways of escalating tensions in Ukraine.
We have seen how capable the Russian secret services are of running this kind of operation, for example at the Nord Ost theatre [2002 siege in Moscow], and the explosions at Volgograd train station [December 2013] and at Astrakhan’s central market . In those cases, they were targeting their own citizens. Now the FSB and GRU professions have a completely free hand as they are up against real enemies, the Ukrainians. There could therefore be explosions anywhere this August – at the Stirol chemicals plant [in Horlivka], at the Privoz market [Odessa], on the Dnepropetrovsk water network, or on the Kharkiv underground.
There are visible signs of a new phase in this sanguinary war – the synchronised escape of insurgent leaders from the counter-terror operation zone, the grenade-launcher attack on the mayor of Lviv, the assassination of the mayor of Kremenchug, the near-miss attack on the governor of Poltava, the perpetual warnings of mines planted at various buildings, the attack on the PrivatBank in Kharkiv, and the increasing activity of intelligence-gathering and sabotage groups among the separatists all across the east of country.
One need be in no doubt that Putin’s entourage is planning this carefully, that [ex-presidnt Viktor] Yanukovich and his “family” are funding it, and that it will be implemented by the dozens of professional terrorists who are infiltrating the country on a daily basis. And they will not be deployed in the hotbed of military conflict, but rather near the front line and in areas that have been liberated.
The Kremlin is very well aware that the “Russian Spring” has suffered a crashing collapse, and that it has not been possible to dismember Ukraine by means of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics or the mercenary separatists of various stripes.
Putin is not yet ready for open invasion, despite the military hardware that is constantly being brought up to the frontier. Having lost the conflict in Donbas, the insurgents will turn on civilians. The logic of events leaves them no choice but to launch a hybrid war in Ukraine, with mass terror attacks and extensive sabotage.
The Ukrainian secret service has been talking about this, although so far only in muted terms in order to avoid exciting heated passions. In recent days, even President Petro Poroshenko has said this is an extremely grave matter. He confirmed that terror attacks were being planned and urged the Ukraine Security Service to take decisive action to prevent them happening.
The press office of the counter-terrorism operation also confirms that the insurgents’ intelligence-gathering and sabotage groups have become markedly more active recently. “Currently, their main aim is to gather reconnaissance information about the deployment of counter-terrorism units, to create a network of agents, and to prepare for terror attacks on civilians in the liberated areas,” a statement from the press office said.
It is clear that this will not be confined just to Donbas. SBU deputy head Viktor Yagun has said the saboteurs are more interested in sowing instability and disrupting infrastructure in the regions adjoining the counter-terrrorism zone – Kharkiv, Dnepropetrovsk and Zaporozhye.
Konstantin Dolgov, one of the separatist leaders in Kharkiv, has also made it plain that the terror plans are dead serious. “The underground railways in Kiev, Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk, rail stations in provincial centres, airports and stadiums are under threat,” he said.
Things are likely to start with sabotage in Odessa as early as August, but the Russian secret services intend the wave of terror to engulf the whole of Ukraine. The Kremlin want our troops’ victory in Donbas to be overshadowed by fear and casualties among the civilian population.
Whether we like it or not, we will have to learn to live with fear and reconcile ourselves to a prolonged state of all-out war. Some people have been able to escape the reality and pretend they are unaffected by it, but now it is going to be impossible to hide from it on the beach, in the supermarket, on the underground or in the theatre.
It will be total, all-encompassing war, and the conflict will be not only for the heroic boys at the front and the engaged volunteers in the rear lines. Any strange object, any suspicious passer-by, and any polythene bag will from now on represent a potential threat to hundreds of lives. Russian terrorists in Donbas have so far avoided schools and kindergartens, but now one can only imagine what maligh plans they are hatching. The nine casualties in an explosion in Donetsk region, who included children, are only the first victims in the second phase of this undeclared war.
There is no doubt we will ultimately be victorious. The question is what price we will have to pay. The sooner we learn to live under a constant threat of terrorism without panic, emotional exhaustion, infantile responses or depression, the sooner we will achieve the result we want. That, too, is the logic of war.
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