News / Europe

News Analysis: Attention Focuses On Ukraine's 'Thin Blue Line'

Riot police officers take position outside Kyiv's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Ukraine, Feb. 1, 2014.
Riot police officers take position outside Kyiv's Independence Square, the epicenter of the country's current unrest, Ukraine, Feb. 1, 2014.
Robert Coalson, RFE/RLRFE/RL
After weeks of protests and intermittent clashes between demonstrators and police in Kyiv and other parts of Ukraine, the country's police and security forces are stretched thin.  It remains to be seen whether or not President Viktor Yanukovych can continue to count on their loyalty.

One video purported to show a masked Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] officer in the Western region of Ivano-Frankivsk announcing his resignation and that of several of his officers.

The video, which was released last week, claimed the unidentified man was a member of the SBU's elite Alpha special-operations unit.

Another video posted on January 30 purports to show a former officer of the Interior Ministry's special semi-militarized troops discussing widespread discontent among his former comrades facing the barricades in Kyiv.

After weeks of mass demonstrations, videos like these - and reports that pro-European protesters in Western Ukraine met only mild resistance when they occupied government buildings in 10 regions last week - have raised questions about the possibility of splits in the country's law-enforcement and security services.

If police begin refusing to obey the government's orders - or if some line up with the demonstrators - it would be a potentially decisive development in the ongoing standoff between President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition demonstrators.

Ukraine isn't quite there yet, analysts say. The thousands of Berkut specialized crowd-control officers and Interior Ministry troops have been responding to orders - pushing back protesters, dismantling barricades, and using non-lethal force as instructed.

Mark Galeotti, a professor at New York University and expert on security services in post-Soviet states, said the Berkut, Ukraine's elite riot police, are almost a separate caste of people, selected and trained to emphasize obedience.

"These are very different people. On the whole they are recruited from ex-military, especially paratroopers and such like," said Galeot. "They have a very macho and actually quite insular culture. Although they haven't always been used effectively, in the main these are tough, professional, well-trained - if not particularly humane or subtle - elements."

He added that images of police being engulfed by flames from Molotov cocktails allegedly thrown by protesters make it hard for many front-line police to view the protesters as merely patriotic Ukrainians who have "taken another path."

But the longer the crisis drags on analysts say, the higher the likelihood that the loyalty of law-enforcement troops could bend, or break.

Berkut officers, Galeotti noted, generally live and work in their communities and it is a real possibility that officers could end up sympathizing with those on the other sides of the barricades. "There is always that possibility and I think this is one of the issues as the conflict flares up more, particularly outside of Kyiv. As you start going westward, the people in Berkut are going to be west Ukrainians, they may well see their relatives or their friends or people they were at school with in the crowds... and also, they are more likely to, even if they are willing agents of the current regime, they nonetheless emotionally have ties with the sort of strand of opinion that says Ukraine should be part of Europe, that Ukraine should not be a Russian satrapy."

In such situations, including the 1991 coup attempt against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, one shouldn't expect open defections but rather "an unwillingness to get involved," Galeotti says.

As the opposition becomes increasingly entrenched and sets up, for instance, parallel governing institutions, it becomes easier for officers to step aside:

"If I was an officer in charge of a [Berkut] regiment in Lviv [in western Ukraine] and I could see that there were real signs that the tide was turning against the government, there arises that question of do you really want to be on trial in a few months' time after the regime has fallen for your actions. Again, I don't think that what we'll be seeing is necessarily defections but just simply an unwillingness to get involved."

Perhaps mindful of this, the government appears to be taking measures to bolster its enforcers.

Deputy Interior Minister Viktor Ratushnyak said last week that the cabinet had allocated additional funding to "staff up" law enforcement agencies. "Today we are only speaking about the fact that the cabinet allocated financing for law enforcement agencies, which today are not completely staffed. We face a shortage of 14 percent," he said.

Analysts and opposition leaders fear this means the government might add up to 45,000 additional police.

However, Hennadiy Moskal, a parliamentarian with the opposition Batkivschyna faction and a former deputy interior minister, tells RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service that adding to the ranks of the Berkut is no simple matter - since it involves fairly rigorous selection and at least six months of training. "So raising up a new Berkut officer is not just a matter of the stroke of a pen, or of demonstrating the political will, or anything like that."

If Yanukovych's government seeks to beef up security by calling on the military, it could bring about a crucial turning point, according to Galeotti. "The military has very pointedly said 'we do not have a role in these kinds of operations.' And if then the government started to say, 'we want you to go out and support the Berkut,' I wouldn't be surprised if - especially in the west of the country - we began to see not necessarily units siding with the protesters, but units refusing to obey their orders. And as soon as that happens, that is really the beginning of the end for a regime."

RFE/RL Ukrainian Service correspondent Tetyana Yarmoshchuk contributed to this report from Kyiv.

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid