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Published in Stream:
Day 803: April 30, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
3,000 Police and Soldiers Deployed in Odessa to Prevent Violence During May Holidays; Azov Present
4 years
2 Ukrainian Soldiers Killed, 4 Wounded; Kuchma Says Russian-Backed Militants Violate Ceasefire
Ukrainian law-enforcers have announced that 3,000 police and soldiers, including 400 soldiers of the National Guard, will be deployed to maintain law and order in Odessa during the May holidays, Unian reported.

Several Alfa divisions have arrived from the ATO zone, SBU administration chief Aleksandr Tkachuk told TV 112 (translation by The Interpreter):

"Taking into account the preparation by pro-Russian forces for violent actions and disorders in Odessa during the May holidays, the head of the SBU made the decision to send in additional troops from the ATO to Odessa. These are several divisions of Shaytanbat. This is one of the directorates of the Alfa special operations center which is permanently based in the ATO zone and takes part in combat operations directly. They are called the 'war surgeons.' They will be on combat duty during the holidays and if there is any additional information about possible threats they will immediately react to it."

Earlier, Unian said troops made a "display of force" in Odessa, reported, with a drill of the divisions deployed at Kulikovo Field, which is the site of the tragic fire at the Trade Union Building in which 48 people were killed two years ago. On May 5, 2014, following the shooting deaths of 5 Ukrainian nationalists by pro-Russian forces, nationalists attacked a tent camp in Kulikovo Field and pro-Russian activists fled into the Trade Union Building, where a fire started by Molotov cocktails prevented escape from the area.

Authorities are hoping to prevent further violence this year as the anniversary approaches, coinciding with Orthodox Easter Sunday on May 1 and Easter Monday on May 2.

Tensions were running high last week after local activists in a tent-camp protesting the pro-Russian mayor were attacked and a number injured by thugs believed to be orchestrated by the mayor's supporters.

Giorgi Lortkipanidze, head of the regional command of the National Police, personally conducted a review of the troops who are to maintain order in the coming weeks. He urged them to be vigilant and prevent provocations and the destabilization of the situation. He announced that entry into Kulikovo Field will only be through police metal detectors, and traffic will be blocked from the area.

Lortkipanidze, accompanied by a military orchestra, also announced that 500 National Guardsmen would also be deployed as well as well as 1,000 spetsnaz police and members of civilian organizations. 

The SBU also said they would control the borders with Moldova and Transdnistria during the May holidays. The personnel of the Odessa garrison are all put on heightened readiness for the period of April 30-May 10.

Today's Unian story did not mention the issue of the Azov fighters who are part of the National Guard. Previous reports from Unian indicated 300 Azov members were already in Odessa for training.

Asked about the Azov troops on April 28, Andriy Dyachenko, speaker for the Azov regiment, which is now part of the National Guard, confirmed they were deployed to Odessa for training "on disabling diversionary groups."

Asked if they would be involving in maintaining order on the streets, Dyachenko said they are "prepared to follow any order of any degree of difficulty," but that local members of the National Guard already stationed in Odessa would take on this 

"Our divisions is likely there if there are some kind of emergency situations, for reaction to them."

There may have been disagreement between national and local authorities or even withing these bodies about whether and how many extra troops to deploy, given that a situation with insufficient law-enforcers could encourage violence just as over-deployment could cause anger and resentment.

Last week, following the outbreak of violence against protesters at the mayor office, the Interior Ministry had denied that extra troops were being sent in, and one advisor said he thought it was a bad idea.

Mikheil Saakashvili, the former Georgian president brought in by President Poroshenko to serve as the governor of Odessa Region, made a public plea for more forces:
But Ivan Varchenko, an advisor to the Interior Ministry, said that the National Guard should not be deployed to interfere in the "political process" in Odessa.

The next day Saakashvili made an announcement that appeared as if President Petro Poroshenko had in fact authorized sending in more troops.
Subsequently, Interior Minister Shkiryak denied any were being sent; meanwhile, in Odessa, Mayor Trukhanov, the target of protesters' ire, reinforced city hall with his own troops.

Then reports began to appear that Azov Regiment, now part of the National Guard, was sending 300 or 350 soldiers to Odessa.

Azov was also involved in attempts to topple a Lenin statue in Limanskoye, and later a monument to the Chekists (the Bolsheviks' secret police) in Kiev, actions that drew resistance from some people who did not want to destroy symbols of the Soviet past.

They also placed their own monument. 

Nikolai Holmov, who writes as "Odessa Blogger," says the Interior Ministry may have been reluctant to get involved in Odessa -- but then may have been instructed to do so.

As noted above, SBU chief Tkachuk spoke of troops from Shaytanbat, related to the Alfa spetsnaz and did not mention Azov.

But Holmov writes:

"In an attempt to keep track of the law enforcement bodies that will be actively working in Odessa from 30th April, there seems to be approximately 1300 local police officers, 500 National Guard (most of which come from the Azov Regiment) and 1000 drafted in police officers from outside the region."

If indeed Azov is present not merely "coincidentally" for "training purposes" and only as a back-up on call, this could prove a conflict driver for some because Azov is associated with neo-Nazism as some of their members have worn Nazi symbols and expressed extreme-right views. Their former volunteer battalion was folded into the National Guard's Interior Ministry's command. Despite denials and even legislation barring US training of Azov, claims have persisted that the US program to train the National Guard involves Azov fighters.

Holmov noted the arrival of Azov leader Andriy Biletskiy and blogged:

Anton Gerashchenko, a member of parliament from the Popular Front and former Interior Ministry advisor said he believed the situation would be calm in in Odessa because, reported, citing 112.

"I forecast that it will all be calm in Odessa. After the divisions of the volunteer battalion Azov were brought in, I can't conceive at all who could try to organize some sort of separatist rebellions there. I think they will be rapidly intercepted within the framework of the law."

Gerashchenko called the Azov fighters by their previous name; they themselves on their social media and literature use the name "Azov Regiment."

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick