By Maciej Bartkowski – May 21, 2014 – War on the Rocks

The Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, the continued destabilization of southern and eastern parts of Ukraine by separatists, and the Russian special operation forces and the approximately 40,000 Russian “peacekeepers” poised on the Russian-Ukrainian border raise the question of what, if anything, Ukrainians can do to effectively resist and defend themselves and their territory. The logic of strategic nonviolent resistance and the past examples of nonviolent defense against occupiers offer useful lessons for Ukrainians. Russia is already using instrumentally the dynamics of people power against Ukraine, but if Ukraine plays its cards right and eschews violent responses that play into Russia’s hand, it should be able to win this game.

The contest in eastern Ukraine is not a traditional war – at least not as long as the Russian conventional forces remain on the other side of the border. Rather, what is happening in Ukraine amounts to camouflaged warfare led by Russian special operations troops together with some local separatist groups and civilian volunteers. They capture regional government buildings, install “people’s mayors,” take over local media, declare autonomous republics and call for local referenda to decide the status of the regions. Their control over towns and cities in eastern Ukraine has been marked by targeted kidnappings and killings of activists and pro-Ukrainian officials.

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