by Austin Bay
May 28, 2014
Ukraine has won another important political battle in its war with the Kremlin. Ballots are not bullets but in Ukraine's case, last Sunday's presidential election confirmed the Ukrainian people's will to resist Russian imperialism and defend their independence.
International election monitors estimated 60 percent of the Ukrainian electorate voted on May 25. That is an impressive figure. It becomes even more inspiring given the number of polling stations in eastern Ukraine closed by armed pro-Russian agitators. Radio Free Europe reported that only 426 of 2,430 eastern Ukrainian polls managed to open.
Though not a decisive political victory, the election may prove to be "just enough of a win" to thwart the Kremlin. Conducting successful nation-wide elections, despite turmoil exacerbated by Russian agents and propagandists, demonstrated Ukrainian institutional strength.
Ukraine needs a leader who can direct the people's will to resist -- and it just may have elected one. Petro Poroshenko won the presidency with a first-round landslide. Poroshenko has pro-Western credentials and credibility. He knows how to organize to achieve goals, and he is an experienced decision-maker.
The great Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that at its most fundamental human-level war is a clash of wills. Will to resist expressed with ballots can quickly translate into sustained resistance -- with bullets, if necessary.
Unfortunately, bullets are necessary. And bullets are flying.
Shortly after his election was confirmed, president-elect Poroshenko announced that his government will hold parliamentary elections, perhaps within the next 60 days. He then declared that "There will be a sharp increase in the efficiency of anti-terrorist operations. They (the operations) won't last two or three months. They'll last a few hours."
Conducting quick parliamentary elections is politically astute. Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin's propagandists portray Ukraine's interim government as illegitimate. Poroshenko knows a new parliament blunts that charge.
It is also an act of political judo. Free and honest legislative elections on the heels of a free presidential election also present Putin with a serious challenge. One of the last things Putin and his cronies want to see is a functioning Ukrainian democracy on Russia's border. Why, it might give the Russian people the idea that they should have a free and honest election.
As for the "anti-terrorist operations" Poroshenko announced? "Anti-terror operations" is the Ukrainian government's preferred term for combating pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine. The term, in my opinion, understates the threat and the stakes.
On May 22, a pro-Russian force of some 20 fighters ambushed a group of Ukrainian Army reservists in the town of Volnovakha (near Donetsk). Seventeen Ukrainian soldiers were killed, another 30 wounded. The Kiev Post quoted (anonymously) a Ukrainian military officer who attributed the attack to "mercenaries." That is a euphemism for Russian special forces and intelligence officers operating with ethnic Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine. The May 22 ambush represented a major escalation.
Anti-terror campaign? Ukraine has launched a counter-offensive. On May 26, Ukrainian aircraft bombed pro-Russian positions near the Donetsk airport. Ukrainian Army paratroopers, backed by armed helicopters, followed up with ground attacks. On May 27, combat continued around Donetsk. Media reports indicated that Ukrainian military units are attempting to locate and attack the pro-Russian activists who declared an independent state, the so-called People's Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Ukraine faces a tough fight -- it will not be over in a few hours. However, the counter-offensive is well-timed. Following the election with a major military counter-offensive hits Putin's Kremlin with a one-two political-military punch.