Turchinov BBC interview, Part one: response to declarations of Peoples Republics was war. He would do it all over again
April 21, 2017 – Fort Russ News –
“I gave the border guards orders to shoot and defend the border, and they said: we can not shoot civilians.”
Three years ago, on April 14, 2014, Acting President of Ukraine Oleksandr Turchynov signed a decree that set Ukrainian law enforcement agencies in the eastern regions of the country, on the operation known as the antiterrorist operation (ATO).
The current secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine tells about those times in gloomy tones. Russia had just announced the accession of Crimea — not recognized by the world community — and, in the east of Ukraine the separatists continued their speeches, in Donetsk, Lugansk and Kharkiv they proclaimed the creation of “people’s republics.” The power after the victory of “EuroMaidan” was, to put it mildly, unbalanced, and at best only 20% of the Ukrainian armed forces were combat-ready.
Turchinov’s decision to use troops to fight separatists in the east of Ukraine, then, and now is a cause of debate in the country and beyond.
Some believe that this was a courageous decision, thanks to which Ukraine retained its independence. Some – without any irony – call Turchinov “bloody pastor”, accusing him of fomenting a civil war in Ukraine.
However, Turchinov himself does not take offense at the nickname, and the sniper rifle exhibited on the floor of his office is as if to emphasize that the Secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council does not shun his hawk image.
In an interview with the BBC, Alexander Turchinov recalls in detail the events of three years ago, saying that even now, knowing about the consequences of his decree on starting the ATO, he would have signed it.
I gave the border guards orders to shoot
BBC: It is believed that the conflict in the Donbas began with the seizure of buildings of state agencies in Slavyansk by a detachment under the command of Igor Girkin-Strelkov. Where did you get information about these events and did you understand then that it was a very serious situation?
Alexander Turchynov: Those events began earlier. In parallel with the occupation of the Crimea, Russian special services started the “Russian Spring” project, which provided that all regions of the south and east of Ukraine should be whelmed with the separatist flame.
They acted in the same scenario: the seizure of administrative buildings, rallies with Russian symbols, calls for the creation of “people’s republics” and so on.
In the eastern regions, many young men and men came – whole Cossacks and sports organizations were bused in, who in fact were agents of Russian law enforcement agencies. [Russian authorities consistently deny accusations of Kiev and Western countries of involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine – Ed.]
They seized the border checkpoints and opened an uncontrolled passage for all comers. I gave the border guards orders to shoot and defend the border, and they said: we can not shoot civilians.
And on April 6 these “civilians” synchronously attacked the buildings of the regional state administrations in Kharkov and Donetsk and seized the premises of the Security Service of Ukraine in the Lugansk region. Moreover, the Lugansk SBU actually transferred its entire arsenal to them without a fight – not only the weapons of staff members, but also the weapons stored there for special actions: explosives, heavy automatic weapons, grenade launchers.
In Kharkov, we were able to recapture the administration. As for Donetsk and Lugansk, I was informed that there is no such possibility, because there will be casualties among the local population, so negotiations are needed. I insisted on storming, but this did not happen.
And then a few days later information comes in that a group of Russian special forces captured the administrative building in Slavyansk and are preparing the city for defense. So-called volunteers join them, and Slavyansk is no longer just a city seized by separatists, but a center of military resistance.
I sent there the best I had, the SBU special unit “Alpha”. However, the people who went there did not understand that the war had actually started. They came under heavy fire without being morally or professionally ready for this. There was one dead, several people wounded, and they fled – let’s say, “organizedly retreated.”
Then I held a meeting and decided to start the anti-terrorist operation. Since our military departments were not ready for this, it was already clear then that it would be necessary to attract troops.
BBC: Have you ever tried to negotiate with the then leaders of the separatists? Was the non-force alternative to the ATO considered?
AT: I was skeptical about this. When administrative buildings were seized, in Donetsk and Lugansk, the commanders of the forces sent there began negotiations on their release instead of using force.
But it took several days, and it became clear that this was a dead end: those who sat there were not making the decisions. Operational development showed that they are constantly communicating with Russia. It was easy to see that Russian overseers gave the command to keep, arm, and wait for reinforcements.
Therefore, to negotiate at any level simply did not make sense.
BBC: At that time, the popular thesis was that the big businesses of Donbass tried to blackmail the Kiev authorities: if the Donetsk people get certain preferences, they guarantee that they will live according to the “old rules,” and then they will be fully joined in the struggle against separatism …
AT: No one blackmailed me. First, this is futile. Secondly, no one ventured to do it, anyway my nervous system was unbalanced at that time, I could shoot it. [Pause]. That was a joke.
In general, the information we got via the reconnaissance work and the Security Service, argued that this is not local separatism. That all these Gubarevs, Pushushins, Bolotovs are a cover for a military operation.
We understood that we are dealing with Russian aggression. If someone from there [Ukrainian politicians and businessmen – Ed.] wanted to play on the fact that he could solve some issues with the Kremlin, it would have been a bluff.
“The Armed Forces were afraid to shoot”
BBC: Why was your reaction to the April exacerbation of 2014 to begin the antiterrorist operation, and not to introduce martial law?
AT: It was a conscious decision: starting from February 25, a presidential campaign began in Ukraine [according to the legislation of Ukraine, during the martial law on the territory of the whole country or in its part the conduct of elections is impossible. – Ed.]
It was obvious that while there was a so-called “legitimate president” [Viktor] Yanukovich, in Russia who signed the call for [Russian] troops, and on the Ukrainian border, there were about 80,000 assault units of the Russian armed forces ready to cross the border at any moment, there was a real danger.
We understood the formula that the Kremlin had worked out in military exercises in 2013 – at the request of the lawful head of a neighboring country, Russian troops help restore the constitutional system after the seizure of power by the rebels.
The threat of the implementation of Yanukovych’s appeal to introduce [Russian] troops remained until the election of the new president in May 2014.
I had to do, not the handy thing, but to hold fair elections, which the entire society recognizes. And only in this way did I beat their [Russia’s] “trump card” of the illegitimacy of the Ukrainian authorities. That is why until the end of the electoral process it was impossible to introduce martial law.
BBC: Why in April 2014, was the Yanukovych factor never used?
AT: They were late, elections were already going on. They really had time until the end of March …
On March 17, I proclaimed mobilization, but I could not immediately take as many people as I needed, because we did not have a clue what to put them in. The General Staff told me then: the army is no joke, it is necessary to prepare the draftees, instruct them, conduct coordination, and this requires a minimum of two months.
In this situation, I had no other way than to turn the patriots with the call to form volunteer battalions. For them, there were no restrictions: skilled, unskilled, you took an automaton, and [said] go fight. It was the patriots who saved the situation.
I remember one front meeting with volunteers. It was like 1918: someone in sports pants with a sword over it, some in some kind of American camouflage – by the way, that’s why there were rumors that foreign mercenaries were fighting on our side – some in sneakers, some In boots (laughs).
But that’s how we blocked the situation while the army learned to fight. I believe that the volunteer battalions fulfilled their historical mission – by their self-sacrifice they gave us time to rebuild the army.
BBC: On the other hand, there are opinions that volunteers, being one of the most motivated units in the summer of 2014, received weapons without any oversight, and this eventually had a negative impact and resulted in a criminal situation in the state – To recall, at least, the results of the trial against former fighters of the Tornado Company [on April 7, 2017, the Obolonsky District Court of Kiev sentenced eight of the Tornado fighters to terms of 8 to 11 years in prison on charges of abductions and torture – Ed.].
AT: I remember that time: I had no choice, and I would go again along this path – I needed to protect the country.
I remember one meeting at the front with volunteer units, in which one of them, all in tatters, asked: “Chief, and will there be an amnesty, or not?” The boys here are interested.” I ask, what kind of guys? “Well, there are … murders, robberies.”
Yes, it was. But these were atypical, isolated cases.
I remember when I opened the arsenals to distribute weapons to battalions, the officers refused to do it. I was asked: “Alexander Valentinovich, who will answer for this?” I said: I will answer, and personally signed orders for the issuance of weapons.
Yes, many were worried about what would happen if they did not follow orders with weapons …
Indeed, we did not check anyone. Anyone – convicted or undocumented – who said that he was ready to defend the country, signed in, received weapons, and went to the east.