The information released by Anonymous on 14 December 2018 contains many interesting fragments. The one analysed in this article should serve as a warning that the influence wielded by Chris Donnelly may be used not only to heighten tensions, but also to ignite conflict. It is, in short, an extraordinary and stunning response to events. It starts:
CND 01 03 2014
CND are Mr Donnelly's initials, by a delightful twist of irony he shares them with the well-known Anti-Nuclear-weapon campaign. The date, 1st March 2014, is key to understanding this memo. Events preceding this policy advice included:
- In November 2013 Ukraine's president, Viktor Yanukovych, after months of prevarication as he faced a choice between closer integration with the EU and a generous loan from Russia and a plan to head towards a "Eurasian Union", finally chose the Russian option.
- This sparked protests on Kiev's Independence Square, aka the Maidan; these escalated and rapidly turned bloody. More than 100 people were killed, many by snipers.
- Matters in the largely Russian Crimea started to escalate and on 19 February members of the Sevastopol City Council petitioned the president to bring the leaders of the opposition to justice.
- The situation elsewhere in the Ukraine continued to worsen and, on 22 February, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove the President from power, on the basis that he was unable to perform his duties.
- When he resurfaced in Russia, Viktor Yanukovych claimed he had been the victim of a coup.
- On 23 February, tens of thousands protested against the new regime on the streets of Sevastopol. The protestors waved Russian flags and chanted "Putin is our President".
- By 26 February. Russian troops (or local volunteers) had set up checkpoints on roads leading to Sevastopol under a Russian flag.
- On 27 February, sixty pro-Russian gun-men seized Crimea's parliament building. Sergey Aksyonov, of the Russian Unity Party, was installed as de-facto Prime Minister for the Crimea in the most legally dubious circumstances.
- On 28 February, A Russian Missile Boat was blockading Balaclava harbour and Russian troops started arriving by plane at a military airport in central Crimea.
- Finally, on 1 March, 2014 the de facto Crimean Prime Minister, Sergey Aksyonov, appealed directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin calling for Russia to "provide assistance in ensuring peace and tranquility on the territory" of Crimea.
It was against this tumultuous background that Chris Donnelly wrote the following:
At the moment the new “Government” in Kyiv is unable to think in terms of military reality, as Hrytsenko can and does. They do not understand military power and what it can and can’t do. They do not know if they issue orders, whether those orders will be obeyed or not by the Ukrainian military. They are like a rabbit in the car’s headlights.
Here Donnelly uses the Ukrainian spelling for Kiev. His assessment of the new "Government" is scathing and derisory, but this is perhaps accurate in the circumstances. He refers positively to former Ukrainian Minister of Defence (and former Ukrainian Army colonel) Anatoliy Hrytsenko who is a candidate for the 2019 Ukrainian presidential elections and is supported by one of the integrity initiative cluster organisations - The Atlantic Council.
Donnelly then moves on to a short and frank series of tactical recommendations:
If I were in charge I would get the following implemented asap
- Set up a cordon sanitaire across the Crimean Isthmus and on the coast N. of Crimea with troops and mines
This is to cut the Crimea off from the rest of the Ukraine, presumably to prevent the "infection" spreading. This is a reasonable proposal on the surface given the background and the risk of a full-blown Ukrainian civil war. However, the reference to mines sets a troubling note, given their indiscriminate killing and maiming effects.
- Mine Sevastopol harbour/bay. Can be done easily using a car ferry if they have no minelayers. Doesn’t need a lot of mines to be effective. They could easily buy some mines.
This is an outright act of war being proposed. Sevastopol harbour is the primary base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Russia had the legal right to its use under the 1997 Partition Treaty, which extended for 20 years, ie until 2017. What is proposed here is the blockading of the Russian fleet. The idea that this could be achieved using mines laid from "a car ferry" seems fanciful.
- Get their air force into the air and activate all their air defences. If they can’t fly the Migs on the airfield in Crimea those should be destroyed as a gesture that they are serious. Going “live” electronically will worry the Russians as the Ukrainians have the same electronic kit. If the Russians jam it they jam their own kit as well.
The aim here seems to be to escalate the tensions as rapidly as possible and threaten Russian aircraft. There is no consideration as to the likely response.
- Ukraine used to have some seriously important weapons, such as a big microwave anti-satellite weapon. If they still have this, they should use it.
A further act of war against the Russians is proposed.
- The government needs a Strategic communication campaign- so far everything is coming from Moscow. They need to articulate a long-term vision that will inspire the people, however hard that is to do. Without it, what have people to fight for?
It is clear that Mr Donnelly here envisions a long and gruelling struggle for the Ukrainian people. The communication of a unifying idea is a vital component in that struggle. There is no discussion as to what that idea might be, nor of whether the selected concept is genuine and worth the loss of life that is likely to follow.
- They should ask the west now to start supplying oil and gas. There is plenty available due to the mild winter.
And finally Mr Donnelly advocated the supply of strategic materials from the west.
What to make of this?
One thing is clear: the decision has already been made within the Institute of Statecraft, and largely accepted by military commands across the west, that Russia is an enemy which is as bad, or worse, than the old Soviet Union and represents a threat that must be faced down now, before it is too late. It seems that only the contrarian commentators in the UK any longer seriously question this point. Given the magnitude of the decisions that flow from it, it is surely a matter deserving of the most rigorous scrutiny.
Moreover, the approach to the selected enemy is perhaps even more troubling than the rash selection of Russia as an opponent. It shows a recklessness that takes the breath away. It's act-now-gung-ho tone omits any strategic overview, any detailed consideration of the relative capabilities of the forces involved and, needless to say, any concern for the loss of life that would likely ensue. It seems that an a priori decision that war is necessary has been taken.
And finally there is an alarming amateur-ness about this correspondence. Despite being in the corridors of power and advising Secretaries General of NATO, Defence Secretaries and Prime Ministers for a generation, there seems little real substance to the ideas that are in command. Given the location, it is impossible not to hear in this memo echoes of “Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!". Perhaps that because, as Chris Donnelly says in conclusion:
I am trying to get this message across ...