A matter of loyalty

Analysis of the recent clash between ships of the Ukrainian navy and the Russian Coast Guard near the Straits of Kerch has focused on the legal arguments of both sides as well as on the political motivations of the actors and the likely political and geostrategic implications. But hidden in it all is an interesting hint about the state of the Ukrainian armed forces which people seem to have missed.

Among those on those Ukrainian vessels who were captured by the Russians were officers from the Ukrainian security service, the SBU. This fact has been used by some as evidence that the Ukrainians were indeed engaged in nefarious activity in Russian waters and so were not entitled to ‘innocent passage’. If the SBU agents were intelligence personnel that might be the case. But in reality they are counter-intelligence officers. In other words, their task was not espionage, but security. As has been reported in the press,

The SBU agency said in a statement on Nov. 27 that the officers were fulfilling counterintelligence operations for the Ukrainian navy, in response to ‘psychological and physical pressure’ by Russian spy services.

So, what might be the ‘psychological and physical pressure’ being exerted on the Ukrainian navy which requires the presence of counter-intelligence on board ships? I can’t give a definite answer to that question, but one possibility is that somebody in authority is worried that Ukrainian sailors are being subjected to Russian ‘propaganda’ and that if left to their own devices, they might defect or might somehow pass messages to the Russians when passing close to the Russian coast. This explains the presence of SBU officers on board the ships – their purpose was to spy on the crew and enforce loyalty among it.

Leaders who trust their subordinates don’t need to do such a thing. And that’s why I think that this incident hints at something which analysts have failed to notice. Supporters of Euromaidan and the government which has ruled Ukraine ever since often like to say that the Ukrainian armed forces have improved dramatically since 2014 and that the war against ‘Russian aggression’ has solidified Ukrainian national identity, uniting the nation as never before. I recognize that my analysis of why the SBU had agents on board these ships is pure speculation, and may be wrong. But it makes sense to me, and if I’m right it suggests that Ukraine’s leaders don’t trust their troops very much. They may talk about the unity of the nation and the military, but deep in their hearts they don’t really believe it.

16 thoughts on “A matter of loyalty”

  1. Well you only have to look at what happened in Crimea .

    A significant number of Ukrainian troops chose to stay in Crimea.

    I remember reading on the bbc website once about this – but this was quickly brushed over
    This was the most under reported aspect of the whole Crimean in the UK media.

    The whole issue with Ukraine is tragic – since the end of the Soviet Union – they have had terrible leaders who squandered their prosperity. And led them to embrace the most negative ideology about what it is to be Ukrainian. Now they have a dictator in the making. Tragic. Supported by the so called democratic west – even more tragic.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Fully agreed, I feel the situation is now very dangerous. Porosyonok I believe is trying to raise his dismal popularity ratings ahead of the election by provoking a clash with Russia. Ukraine haa a victim complex and a heroic defeat at the hands the katsaps plays well with the nationalist audience. Ukraine has been slipping down the western media radar and Piglet wants more attention and western aid.

      Getting a few relatively defenceless Ukrainian servicemen killed in a “suicide by cop” might just achieve this. The servicemen understandably may not particularly like the thought of getting fired on by the Russian coastguard hence placing diehard nationalist SBU political commissars on board is an understandable.


  2. Paul R’s speculation about the purpose of the SBU officers on board the Berdyansk tug-boat would be consistent with the agenda that the Ukrainian navy’s provocation might be intended to serve. So far it has enabled Petro Poroshenko to declare (and have passed by the Verkhovna Rada) martial law in those oblasts that border Russia to the north, east and south of Ukraine and in Vinnitsya oblast which borders the breakaway (from Moldova) Transnistria republic. Poroshenko had originally wanted martial law to be declared for 90 days which would have forced the 2019 Presidential elections to be postponed for a later time (he is trailing all other presidential candidates at present in opinion polls) but the Rada guessed his intentions and only allowed martial law for 30 days.

    Among other things, martial law would enable Kiev to conscript all able-bodied citizens into a military draft and to station soldiers wherever it wants, including the use of citizens’ own homes. All areas under martial law effectively become open-air prisons.

    “… Roman Marchenko, a lawyer in private practice in Ukraine, said the broad outlines included the ability of the military commanding officer in each of the 10 regions to requisition private property and vehicles, to mobilize citizens as soldiers, to evacuate population centers and to impose curfews …”


  3. “Among those on those Ukrainian vessels who were captured by the Russians were officers from the Ukrainian security service, the SBU.”

    Obligatory – “former KGB”. I insist! If the Western propacondoms resort to that when mentioning FSB (or Putin) then it is only fair to do the same with the SBU. KGB had rather significant presence in the UkrSSR.

    Also, I’m shocked, shocked and disappointed that Professor failed to draw the most obvious parallel. Mr. Robinson – decommunization is in effect in the Ukraine, not in Canada, so you are free (at least – for now) to say it. Namely – that these SBU officers (who, I wager, are present not only at the UkrNavy vessels, but also throughout all kinds of military units – including NatzGuard battalions or whatever they are called now) are the dreaded COMISSARS. You just wait for it, and they will start blam-blam-headshot officers and rank’n’file for the lack of the Revolutionary (of Dignity) fervor, and failure to uphold the political ideals of the Sacred Maidan. Penal battalions (obligatory – “with 1 rifle for 3 troopers”(c)) must be already in the works.

    Revolution (of Dignity) has the Beginning – Revolution (of Dignity) has no End. SUGS!

    P.S. As for the psy-ops and propaganda – how could one miss the twitter-storm of the UkrPatriots begging Trump for help?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lyttie, I decided you cannot prevent this. Once again no humiliation or degradation intended. Not in the least.

      But, are you surprised? As far as Trump is concerned, that is?


  4. The boats were sent to do a provocation, in other words, quite literally a suicide mission. They could, would, and indeed have been shot at. Of course there woud be a few comissars on board, since the sailors wouldn’t even have the usual motivation of soldiers in protecting their home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The corollary being that the SBU “comissars” had full authority to execute, on the spot, any sailor who dared to disobey an order or attempt to defect.
      If this theory is true, then the other corollary is that not all the sailors were “reliable” or necessarily Nationalist volunteers, as I had once posited. We shall see what happens next, now that the crew have been imprisoned and separated from their comissars. However, it is probable that, in any case, regular crew members may not want to defect, since their families are still back home. Plus, the Russians are not as keen to recruit defectors for propaganda purposes as the Americans have always been.
      Plus, once you have a defector, you have to protect him, feed him, and find him a job, which is a lot of work.

      Liked by 1 person

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