In Background, Feature Articles, Ukraine

By Gordon M. Hahn , published on the author’s website, May 8, 2015, part six of a series

This is part six in the series Violence, Coercion, and Escalation in Ukraine’s Maidan Revolution. Part six covers the controversial and misunderstood ‘snipers’ massacre of 18-20 February 2014. Parts 1-5 can be accessed here.

Introduction

The morning of Feb. 20, 2014 on Maidan Square, photo by Reuters

The morning of Feb. 20, 2014 on Maidan Square, photo by Reuters

On February 18-20 firearms began to be used in sporadic fashion on both sides. On February 20th there was a major escalation. In the center of a European capitol, over one hundred police and demonstrators were shot to death and hundreds more were wounded. Despite the heavy casualties suffered by police, Western governments, the opposition-turned government on the next day, and Western and Maidan media were unanimous in reporting that the massacre was ordered by President Yanukovich and that the shooting was initiated and carried out exclusively or nearly so by snipers from the state’s police and security organs using professional sniper rifles. To this day, most in Kiev believe it was more likely Russian special forces that organized and perhaps even carried out the slaughter. The Maidan government’s chief of the Security Service of Ukraine, Kiev’s equivalent of the KGB or FSB, declared in March that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s advisor, Vladislav Surkov, organized and commanded the snipers.

In reality, almost all those who killed and wounded hundreds on February 20th in Kiev were not trained ‘snipers’ at all. For the most part, they shot hunting rifles, Makarov pistols, and occasionally modified Kalashnikovs. Some videos show police firing rifles with scopes. However, they are not positioned on building roofs in order to carry out a clandestine sniping operation, but rather they are openly deployed on the streets during a retreat before a violent and advancing crowd, some of whom were deploying firearms as well. Mounting evidence shows that some were shooting of both police and civilians, and those doing so were not police or Berkut sent out by President Yanukovich, as the Ukrainian opposition and Western governments and media assume. Rather, they were members of primarily neo-fascist groups taking part in what had already become very violent demonstrations: Right Sector (RS), the Social-National Assembly (SNA), and Svoboda. The escalation from Molotov cocktails, chains, and massive bricks was not a distant leap.

Indeed, in less than two weeks after the massacre and Yanukovich’s ensuing removal from power, there emerged an audiotape – likely a Russian or Ukrainian government intercept – of a telephone conversation between Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet and the EU’s Catherine Ashton in which Paet states that his feeling, and that in Kiev generally, was growing that someone from the new Maidan regime was behind the shooting. Although Ashton agreed when pressed by Paet that there needed to be an investigation, neither party made any public effort to push the issue again, still less demand an investigation.[1] Nor did any other foreign government or international governmental organization do so, with the exception of Russia, which repeatedly demanded an investigation. The three days of killing peaked on the 20th and coincided with the signing of the ill-fated agreement signed by Yanukovich and three opposition party leaders and brokered by Russia and the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland.

February 18th

February 18th, black Tuesday, saw 17 deaths in Kiev. Most were killed in fighting around the Supreme Rada and Trade Union buildings. The Maidan’s ‘Self Defense’ (MSD) ‘heavenly hundreds’ and the neo-fascist Right Sector (RS) attempted to storm the building of the parliament, the Supreme Rada, and set the Party of Regions headquarters in Kiev on fire blocking the exits, killing one worker and seven Berkut and MVD police. Another fire set by RS fighters intended to block the advance of spetsnaz killed at least two Maidan protestors in the Trade Union House, which was used by the Maidan Self-Defense (which organized and supervised the so-called ‘hundreds’ or sotniki units of Maidan self-defense forces) and RS as headquarters and from where much gunfire would target police in the coming days.[2] In response, the Yanukovich government authorized plans ‘Boomerang’ and ‘Khvylia’ for the the seizure of the Maidan and its headquarters. An Alfa officer, who led one of the SBU groups that stormed the Trade Union Building, stated that their main task was to seize the building’s 5th floor. The RS occupied the entire floor, which served as both Maidan’s headquarters and the base of RS and contained a cache of weapons. [Ivan] Katchanovski’s study [University of Ottawa] cites two radio intercepts of Internal Troops units and Alfa commanders and snipers which confirm that the MSD and RS blocked their attempts to seize the Maidan headquarters and Trade Union building on February 18 by setting the building on fire and using live ammunition. Also, a radio intercept of Alfa commanders contains their report about deploying SBU snipers to counter two Maidan “snipers” or spotters located on a Maidan-controlled building.[3]

The majority of deaths on that February 18 were reported to be the result of gunfire wounds,[4] and several policemen were wounded by gunfire on that day, at least one seriously, according to a police account.[5] Commander of Ukrainian MVD’s National Guard ‘anti-terrorist’ unit Omega, Anatolly Strelchenko, claims that groups of Maidan protesters used live ammunition as early as February 18th during the so-called “peaceful march”, shooting several of his policeman in two incidents near 22/7 Institute Street with hunting rifles and Makarov pistols.[6] February 19th was a lull, but one police report that they spotted demonstrators wearing RS symbols in the Music Conservatory that day.[7]

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