Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council has published a previously top-secret transcript of a closed-door meeting it held on February 28, 2014 -- just a few days before Moscow’s seizure of Crimea.
The 37-page document shows the new authorities -- in power for less than a week -- in a state of near panic as they address how an unprepared Ukrainian army would deal with Russian aggression that appears to have caught them off guard.
The Parliamentary Committee on National Security and Defense says it released the document on February 22 to show the circumstances Ukraine faced as the annexation was beginning and what countermeasures the government had discussed taking.
"Lately there has been a lot of insinuation and speculation about this," committee head Serhiy Pashynskyy said at the meeting, referring to the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions. "Maybe in two more years we will tell how the war in the east began."
RFE/RL's Current Time television published the most important excerpts from the meeting:
Ukrainian servicemen in Crimea were "demoralized," and many had not accepted the new government that came to power after President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country. This according to Valentyn Nalyvaychenko, chairman of Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), who argued at the meeting that the troops were not prepared to carry out Kyiv’s orders.
He also said that many in the military had already betrayed their oath to Ukraine, a charge backed by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who said 67 Ukrainian riot policemen had defected to the Russian side.
Members of the council acknowledged that the Ukrainian military was debilitated, despite the fact that there were 15,000 Ukrainian troops in Crimea. "The majority among the military are contracted locally --service means money to them," said acting Defense Minister Ihor Tenyukh. "A maximum of 1,500-2,000 troops are ready to execute an order involving the use of weapons."
It was revealed that only 5,000 servicemen in Ukraine were available to carry out combat missions. "We can send them to Crimea, but it won’t solve the problem of Crimea," said Tenyukh. "We will simply get them killed there."
58,000 Russian Troops
Council members discussed staggering numbers of Russian troops present on Ukrainian territory or just along the Russian border.
"In the directions of Kyiv, Donetsk, and Kharkiv there is already a concentration of 38,000 people," said the acting defense minister. "If they came in the morning from Chernihiv Oblast, by evening they would be in Kyiv."
The council also said Russia was moving assault units of the armed forces and Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) special forces to Crimea. According to Tenyukh, at the time of the council meeting there were 20,000 Russian troops on the peninsula.
(Russia, at the time, was publicly denying that the soldiers, nicknamed "little green men," where theirs. Moscow claimed they were "local volunteers." Russian President Vladimir Putin later admitted that they were, indeed, Russian troops.)
The acting defense minister also recounted a brief conversation between the Ukrainian Navy commander and the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in which the latter said that "they will go to the end."
"All forces are in full combat readiness," the Russian commander was quoted as saying. "If you do not resist there will be no blood and everything will end peacefully."
Crimeans Supported Russia
The Crimean Peninsula's population massively supported Russian actions in Crimea, according to the SBU head Nalyvaychenko. "The disinformation and defamation campaign, and building pressure on public sentiment with the help of Russian and Crimean media, is incredibly strong," Nalyvaychenko said.
The acting president and parliamentary speaker, Oleksandr Turchynov, emphasized that it was important for Kyiv to address Crimeans to explain that the Ukrainian government was not the enemy. "We must dispel the myth that it was Crimeans who rebelled against Ukraine," he said. "It wasn't Crimeans. This is purely a military operation against a sovereign state."
Proposed New Status For Crimea
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk suggested a political solution to the crisis that would entail changing the status of the Crimean Autonomous Republic in Ukraine to give it even greater powers to run its own affairs. He suggested adopting a law that would allow the peninsula to form its own financial system.
"I would call it conditionally independent," said Yatsenyuk. "For instance, [we could] leave at the disposal of the autonomy a value-added tax, leave [them] a part of the excise tax, and [let them] make decisions about so-called language, national, cultural, and ethnic issues."
However, he admitted that this plan would not work, and that Russia would not support such a scenario because it was "not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict."
Martial Law Mulled
Acting President Turchynov called for the introduction of martial law in Ukraine. Responding to criticism that the move would increase panic in society, Turchynov countered that "even greater panic will ensue when Russian tanks roll on [Kyiv’s main street] Khreshchatyk." His argument fell flat.
"If we introduce martial law, see what happens." Yatsenyuk said. "It’s part of their plan. Besides troops, Chechens will go there, if they are not there already. An ethnic conflict will start there."
Turchynov decided to call a vote on the introduction of martial law anyway.
"Who is for? he asked. "Fine, only Turchynov is for. The decision is not made."
Call From Russia
The council meeting was interrupted toward the end. Russian State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshkin had apparently telephoned demanding to speak with Turchynov immediately.
"What can I say," Turchynov told the meeting upon his return. "Naryshkin passed on threats from [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. They don’t rule out, as he said, making hard decisions concerning Ukraine for persecuting Russians and Russian speakers. Perhaps they are hinting at a decision to send troops not only to Crimea."
Behind Closed Doors: Ukraine's Panicked Meeting Ahead Of Crimean Seizure
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