Turchinov BBC interview, Part two: “I decided to start the ATO without consulting with anyone.” How will it end? “We have no alternative but to win”
April 21, 2017 – Fort Russ News –
|“Alexander Turchinov at Ukraine National Guard sniper training, March, 2014”|
|Ukraine helicopter fires on Donetk airport May 26, 2014|
We prepared some Nazguardians, and in the battalions of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the boys went into battle with little or no preparation. It was a difficult, tragic situation, but, again I say, there was no choice.
In the end, thanks to volunteers, we managed to quickly establish order in most areas of the south and east of Ukraine. The Donetsk and Lugansk regions were not completely liberated only on account of Russia’s direct military aggression.
BBC: Are you referring to the events of August 2014? [Kiev claims that the successful offensive of the Ukrainian army in the summer of 2014 was stopped only thanks to a massive crossing of the border and participation in combat operations of the regular units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. Moscow rejects these accusations. – Ed.]
AT: No, before.
BBC: What was the difficulty?
When I started the ATO, the main problem was to get the Ukrainian soldiers to fight. The armed forces were afraid to shoot. Many of the the commanders at the time thought: suddenly the old power will return, but here we are “lit up” …
Near Kramatorsk it was a situation where a crowd of civilians simply with bare hands selected several armored personnel carriers from the landing brigade. It was a shock. People were not ready to fight. They needed to cross the psychological barrier.
In these circumstances, I gathered the leadership of the General Staff and security agencies, took a map, made a marker line from the village of Lugansk to Mariupol through Slavyansk, and said: “This will be a line, according to which there should not be a single enemy, not a single separatist: build a defense along it.”
The Ministry of Defense called this line “line T” – from my name.
Having built a defense along it, we cleared all the separatists that remained in our rear, and after that we began to squeeze the ring. And already in April this line began to turn into a real front line.
A serious war began-I mean the battles near Slavyansk, in the area of Severodonetsk, Rubezhny, the battle for Mariupol.
Without direct Russian intervention, we would have liberated the entire territory of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions by the end of May. First, they used MANPADS and mortars against us, and then the entire arsenal of Russian weapons: Buki, Grads, Smerchs, tanks, heavy artillery and the like. By mid-May, we already had practically a full-fledged war.
“The first bulletproof vests we snuck through, actually smuggled”
BBC: Signing the decree on the beginning of ATO, did you consult with Ukraine’s western partners – first of all, with the US? What was their reaction to your plans? They were against it, or was it maybe even their idea?
AT: I did not consult.
I really did not like the reaction of our partners to my decision to start mobilization. Some of them started saying we shouldn’t, because this could be an irritant for Putin and a reason for launching a large-scale war in the territory of mainland Ukraine. I’m not even talking about the refusal in those hard times to give us any military assistance.
Therefore, I decided to start the ATO without consulting with anyone.
BBC: In April-May 2014 did you undertake contacts with the leadership of Russia? What messages came from Moscow?
AT: The last of my talks with representatives of the Russian leadership was a conversation with Sergei Naryshkin, the then chairman of the State Duma, and now the head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, on March 1, 2014, before the aggravation began in the Donbass.
Then, after they decided to send troops to Ukraine, the Russian General Staff put forward an ultimatum to our military in the Crimea: lay down your arms immediately and surrender.
I asked to convey to Putin: “We will defend our positions, and you will be responsible for all the blood.” Then they did not start an assault on our positions, and we got an important vital time.
This was the last such conversation. Any further, in conditions of aggression against us, I did not see any sense in these negotiations.
BBC: And they were talking to you?
AT: No. In their view, I was the organizer of a coup that illegally seized power in the country.
“I would do it over again.”
BBC: Today, knowing the results of your actions and decisions in the spring of 2014, would you do something differently?
AT: You know, I have analyzed the situation many times, scrolled those events in my head again and again, wondering what else could be done. I don’t know. I probably would do it over again.
Because you can do a lot when you have the appropriate tools. When you have battalions, you can be a commander. And when you have nothing, and there is only a huge responsibility, and there are not so many options.
Now, already in hindsight, there are many “heroes:” at the beginning of the military confrontation, we did not have any body armor, that is, there were some leftovers from the Afghan campaign – a huge weight and no protection. Therefore, the first body armor we snuck through, actually smuggled: I told customs to pass on body armor, imported by volunteers, without any account.
It was the same situation with helmets: they were just a Soviet model, and they could only protect you from a slingshot.
We did not have field kitchens, 16 hryvnia per day were allocated for food for one soldier [about $ 1.5 at the then rate. – Ed.]. And in these conditions – without repaired equipment, without modern weapons, without food, without money – it was necessary to keep the country. And we did it. Maybe someone would have done more. But history has no way back.
BBC: Is that, in short – why Ukraine lost the Crimea, but retained most of the Donbass?
AT: Everything is simple here: the active phase of the [Russian] operation in the Crimea began when blood was still flowing on the Maidan. The preparatory phase was much earlier.
I was called a pastor before, but the Russians added “bloody” – apparently considering that I have blood for breakfast, and sometimes also supper. Somehow I take it calmly, even got used to it. I think this nickname is much better than the one that Ukrainians gave to Putin.
They conducted the Crimean operation, taking advantage of the fact that Ukraine did not have the power and power structures capable of resisting. And still – instead of the planned three-day blitzkrieg, they got bogged there for a month. And without the completion of the Crimean operation, they could not develop military aggression on the mainland of Ukraine. This gave us the opportunity to gain time, time to prepare at least some army, the National Guard, volunteer battalions, to prepare for confrontation.
In addition, even the mood of people in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions and in the Crimea was different. For Ukraine, many local, Donetsk and Lugansk patriots were ready to give their lives.
BBC: The question to you as a person who started the ATO: when and how can this antiterrorist operation end?
AT: We have no alternative but to win. Last year was the first, when we did not surrender a single meter of land, but on the contrary – we acquired dozens of kilometers.
Therefore, I believe that our task is to move east, meter by meter, kilometer per kilometer, minimizing losses. The main thing is not to skip past the border (laughs).