The “Anti-Terrorist Operation” in the Ukraine has been a Disaster

In a short piece I wrote on 11th April 2014 on my Facebook page under the the title “More evidence of the Ukrainian security forces’ refusal to carry out Kiev’s orders” I said:

“A report I read on Novosti citing an anonymous but apparently senior source in Kiev suggested that the force deployed today in Slavyansk consisted of all the available units in the western Ukraine that could be deployed there. If so then this may explain why the unit that will be sent to the eastern Ukraine tomorrow is according to Turchinov so small……If this does indeed turn out to be the case then I for one cannot help but think that Kiev is going to have to rely increasingly on the right wing militias to enforce its control since it doesn’t seem likely that such small forces would be sufficient to suppress such a large territory as the eastern Ukraine. Given how people in the east feel about the militias and given their lack of discipline and propensity for violence deploying them on any significant scale in the east must however run the risk of inflaming the situation even more”.

At the time a month ago when the above words were written, shortly after the “anti terrorist operation” was launched, most cities and administrative centres in the Donbas were at least nominally under Kiev’s control with only Slavyansk being in open revolt. Today there are more reports of defections from the regular military including incredibly from the supposedly politically reliable National Guard (, the junta’s forces remain bogged down around Slavyansk – which they have so far repeatedly failed to capture despite boasts from the likes of Yarosh that he was engaged in “mopping up operations” there – Mariupol (Donetsk’s second biggest city) is lost, more towns and territory are being lost, border posts are under attack and are in the process of being lost, a large swathe (in my opinion a substantial majority) of the local population has voted for some form of independence from Kiev, alternative bodies of power and administration independent of Kiev’s are being set up and the junta has been forced to call off its plan to hold its second “roundtable” conference in Donetsk (it took place in Kharkov instead).

By any objective measure the “anti terrorist operation” has from Kiev’s point of view been a total disaster. Far from securing the Donbas and suppressing the resistance there it has antagonised the local people and confirmed them in their support for the resistance and in their hostility to the Maidan movement and to Kiev.

There is no evidence however that either the junta or its supporters in Washington have learnt any lessons from this debacle. Whilst one of the key reasons for the failure of the “anti terrorist operation” (as I predicted a month ago) has been the violent and undisciplined behaviour of the right wing paramilitaries enlisted in the National Guard upon whom the junta is increasingly coming to rely (see their actions in Mariupol) the junta is astonishingly proposing to rely on them even more.. See this comment on VoR.

I reiterate what I said on 11th April 2014: reliance on right wing militias to suppress resistance in the Donbas is a certain guarantee of disaster given (1) their violent and undisciplined behaviour and (2) the feelings the local people have for them.

After the Odessa fire and the response of Maidan supporters to it I have lost the wish I once had to see the Ukraine hold together. However to those in the west who still want that I say do what Russia urges and what was agreed on 17th April 2014 in Geneva and pressure Kiev to:

1. Stop the “anti terrorist operation” immediately. Persisting with something so politically counterproductive is an exercise in political perversity;

2. Disarm the right wing paramilitaries and clear Maidan without further delay. It should be obvious by now that the right wing paramilitaries are the problem not the route to the solution. Maintaining these people in arms is a recipe for more violence, gross human rights violations, atrocities against the civilian population such as we saw in Odessa and Mariupol and ultimately for civil war;

3. Open immediately negotiations with the leaders of the resistance and other interested parties in the Donbas and elsewhere with all options including sweeping federalisation and even outright secession on the table. I think it might still just be possible to persuade a majority of people in the Donbas to stick with the Ukraine if sweeping federalisation is now conceded (though I am far from sure of this) but as I said in an interview I did for RT on 7th April 2014 such willingness as there is in the Donbas to compromise diminishes with every day that substantive negotiations fail to take place and if the “tipping point” I spoke of in that interview has not actually already been reached it will be reached very soon now:

“RT: Do you think the protesters – who seem very hands-on, to put it mildly at the moment – will be willing to negotiate? Should Kiev, as you say, be forced to back down and go for negotiations?

AM: Yes, I think they probably would be, but their demands are very clear and the longer Kiev takes to actually address those demands, the more their demands will escalate. And there will come a point, a tipping point, beyond which negotiations are no longer possible. I do not think we are there yet, but we are coming close”.

All this means recognising that this is first and foremost a domestic Ukrainian dispute and not a dispute between the Ukraine and Russia. It also means returning to what was purportedly agreed in Geneva on 17th April 2014. To reiterate what was agreed there was:

1. Suspension of all use of force including of course and primarily the “anti terrorist operation”;

2. Disarming of all paramilitaries and militia including first and foremost Kiev’s right wing paramilitaries (who are the only paramilitaries so far actually guilty of atrocities) and the freeing of all occupied buildings and squares including not just those in the east but also Maidan;

3. Comprehensive negotiations involving all parties for a political settlement involving sweeping constitutional change.

As I have discussed previously the junta and its western supporters have misrepresented the 17th April 2014 Geneva Statement as requiring the unilateral disarmament and demobilisation of the resistance in the east. That is hopeless. As should by now be obvious it is not going to happen and to insist on it is a guarantee of failure and ultimately of civil war and eventual partition. A stool designed with three legs cannot stand on half of one.

Alexander Mercouris

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Well….it seems that the trouble in the East is relatively contained. Odessa is quiet, nothing has escalated, Akhmetov has pacified Mariupol (so much for it being “totally lost”), and not a peep in Dniproptetrovsk and Kharkiv. The situation seems to match what the polls have suggested. The separatism seems to be staying in a band across northern Donetsk and much of Luhansk oblasts.

  2. Dear AP,

    My post is about the Donbas not other regions. However based on what I am being told by people in Odessa with whom I am now in contact your claim that it is quiet is simply wrong. There is no violence there because following local protests the city’s governor has withdrawn all the right wing paramilitaries who were previously there. Do not confuse an absence of violence with political quiet. As for Kharkov I understand that protests also continue there though so far on a smaller scale in the rest of the Donbas. Dnepropetrovsk remains under Kolomoisky’s control for the time being but the very fact that Kiev has to rely on someone like him is a sign that things are not well there.

    As for Mariupol, it is simply an exercise in denial to think that Kiev any longer has any control there. As a businessman Akhmetov has done deals with local leaders but to think that he has “pacified” the city in any political sense is nonsense.

    • “My post is about the Donbas not other regions.


      “However based on what I am being told by people in Odessa with whom I am now in contact your claim that it is quiet is simply wrong. There is no violence there because following local protests the city’s governor has withdrawn all the right wing paramilitaries who were previously there.

      Not only is there no violence, there are no mass protests or calls to join Russia. It is peaceful and stable there.
      Kharkiv is also quiet – no mass protests. Neither in Dnipropetrovsk.

      A new poll just came out this week, based on surveys of 6200 people from May 8-13:

      It shows Poroshenko leading easily in all regions – including Odessa – other than Donbas. In terms of voter participation, 59.9% plan to vote, 22.4% will likely vote. In Southern Ukraine (Odessa + Kherson Mikolayiv) these figures are 44.7% and 33.3%, respectively. In Kharkiv they are 50.7% and 20.2% respectively. Donbas they are 23.3% and 24.8%, respectively.

      In terms of how Ukrainians want Ukraine to be organized, 72.3% want Ukraine to be unitary, 15.8% a federalized state. Of all regions in Ukraine, only the Donbas prefers it to be federalized.

      EU vs. Customs Union: 52.3% EU, 22.1% Customs Union. Only Donbas and Kharkiv prefer CU (not even the South does anymore) but only in Donbas is CU support over 50%.

      Keep in the mind the results of various polls that corroborate each other, like this one from April:

      Poll measures attitudes in the 8 southern and eastern oblasts.

      Some responses:

      Do you consider Yatseniuk’s government to be the legal authority?

      Dnipropetrovsk: 24.8% strongly yes, 22.8% weakly yes, 13.1% neutral/unsure, 15.1% weakly no, 19.6% strongly no
      Odessa: 21.5% strongly yes, 19.3% weakly yes, 16% neutral/unsure, 21% weakly no, 18.5% strongly no
      Kharkiv: 18.8% strongly yes, 14.6% weakly yes, 11.6% neutral/unsure, 19.3% weakly no, 31.4% strongly no
      Donetsk: 5.7% strongly yes, 10.9% weakly yes, 9.4% neutral/unsure, 18.6% weakly no, 53.5% strongly no

      Do you consider the events on Maidan to have been a popular uprising against corruption and the Yanukovich dictatorship, or a coup organized by the opposition with Western help?

      Dnipropetrovsk: Popular uprising 54.5%, coup with Western help 31.2%, unsure 11.1%
      Odessa:Popular uprising 50.1%, coup with Western help 37%, unsure 9.4%
      Kharkiv: Popular uprising 47.5%, coup with Western help 42.6%, unsure 7.7%
      Donetsk: Popular uprising 20%, coup with Western help 70.5%, unsure 8.2%

      Do you believe that Russia is illegally interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs?

      Dnipropetrovsk: 72% Yes, 21% no, 6% unsure
      Odessa: 61% Yes, 23.2% no, 14.6% unsure
      Kharkiv: 51% Yes, 41.6% no, 6.9% unsure
      Donetsk:17.3% Yes, 59.9% no, 22.3% unsure

      Do you want your oblast to leave Ukraine and join Russia?

      Dnipropetrovsk: 3.7% strongly yes, 3.2% weakly yes, 6.9% unsure, 13.1% weakly no, 71% strongly no
      Odessa: 3.2% strongly yes, 4% weakly yes, 11.9% unsure, 19.3% weakly no, 59.5% strongly no
      Kharkiv: 9.2% strongly yes, 6.9% weakly yes, 17.3% unsure, 16.1% weakly no, 49.5% strongly no
      Donetsk: 11.9% strongly yes, 15.6% weakly yes, 17.3% unsure, 17.3% weakly no, 34.9% strongly no

      EU vs. Customs Union:

      Dnipropetrovsk: 38.1% EU, 29.2% CU
      Odessa: 25.4% EU, 36.4% CU
      Kharkiv: 26.5% EU, 46.5% CU
      Donetsk: 9.4% EU, 72.5% CU


      The Pew results match, although they are less region-specific.

      Anyways, the pattern here is the country is relatively stable and with one notable outlier: the Donbas. Ideas of a “New Russia” across the “blue” half of Ukraine are grandiose dreams not rooted in reality. The question is, how much does the rest of the entire country have to do, to accommodate the one troublesome region of Donbas?

      BTW, have you noticed that most of the people running the anti-separatist campaign in Donbas are from southern or Eastern Ukraine (but not Donbas) themselves?

      Armed forces supreme commander – Turchynov, from Dnipropetrovsk
      Head of SBU – Nalyvaichenko, from Zaporizhia
      Interior Minister – Avakov, from Kharkiv
      Commander of ATO (Anti-terrorist Operation”) Krutov, from Kherson

      And, of course, Right Sector leader Yarosh is a native of Dnipropetrovsk oblast.

      Only the defense minister is from central Ukraine (Khmelnitsy oblast). No one from Galicia.

  3. I would also quickly add that it is simply wrong to conflate anti Maidan sentiment with separatist sentiment. It is precisely the insistence on doing so and calling them separatists which is turning people who oppose Maidan (the majority in the Donbas) into separatists (which is what the majority of people in the Donbas are becoming if they are not that already). If there had been negotiations on constitutional reform in April instead of the anti terrorism operation and the labelling of the protesters there as separatists I doubt that separatism there would have taken off.

  4. This is one very sensible analysis. Your three points for what must occur to see Ukraine remain united (sans Crimea, of course) seem necessary. I have a question about point 2:

    “2. Disarm the right wing paramilitaries and clear Maidan without further delay. It should be obvious by now that the right wing paramilitaries are the problem not the route to the solution.”

    This seems perfectly clear. It raises two questions: First is there a desire in the current Kiev regime to do so? and Second, even if there was a desire to do so, what military or police force is available that could carry out such an order?

    As to the first question a government that has four ministries led by the Svodobo Party it is hard to see such a government even ordering such an action against the rightist militias. Perhaps, the upcoming elections will remove that faction from the government. That leaves the second question. I simply do not see how the new government would have sufficient forces to take on the Right Sector militias. Maybe they could in Kiev and clear the Maidan (very difficult, but maybe possible) but what about the other western oblasts. The army has already shown that, for the most part, they will not fire on citizens from eastern Ukraine so why would they do so in western Ukraine?

    It might be too late to save a united Ukraine.

  5. It seems that nearly all the parties in (and to) the Ukraine fiasco have a vision of where they want to be. The problem is (as the old joke goes), they can’t get there from here.

    Perhaps after the May 25th election, the newly elected leader may some mandate to LEAD. However, this is very, very likely to be wishful thinking to put it mildly. Firstly, the new leader needs an OVERWHELMING majority to have any hope of being able to face down the existing bunch of idiots running the show. The current direction is increasingly showing itself to be a political and economic disaster. So the new leader would have to smack down those who have got the Ukraine in the mess it is in. And those are the Right Sector, the Nuland group, etc. I think the odds of this happening rank right up there with “The Second Coming” happening within a month.

    I believe that the election will make things worse. The losers will scream foul, the outside powers will meddle more, the oligarchs will be pushed into more stupid actions and the East and South will follow the separatist route out of desperation and frustration.

    Governing from Kiev is nearly impossible if your 3 points aren’t implemented. If that doesn’t happen, then the South and East must quickly come to an accommodation in a Federation of Ukrainian States (FUS). If they don’t, they will sequentially roll into the Russian Federation. The rump Ukraine (Kiev and east) will probably disintegrate. The question would be how quickly and who would be picking up the toxic pieces.

  6. Akhmetov is in open conflict with DNR. It would be the coolest thing ever if Strelkov and co. nationalized his businesses.

  7. So the Russia-China gas deal has gone through. Spin on it, Brussels

  8. aj the Ukrainian Maniac says

    Anaotly Karlin, why dont you go to Ukraine and fight for the Donetsk Peoples Republik?????

    I think you should fight in the war then write a blog about instead of living like American liberal.