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Waiting for a change in targeting – Ukraine

December 28, 2014

Following on from the entry yesterday relating to a Ukrainian slide into “The Troubles”, it is probably necessary to note two further explosions today.  The first in Odessa just after 0430 this morning, resulting in property damage and the death of the bomber, and a second in Kherson at about 1100 this morning, again resulting in the death of the bomber.

As the concluding paragraph of the entry stated, “However, we are left ponder just what the Ukrainian counter-terrorism policy currently consists of. Though it is not likely to ever be entirely in the public realm (unless leaked), it is doubtful that it will be wildly different from that of many other nations. Perhaps of pressing importance is just how well versed the local authorities and regional institutions of state in Odessa, Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kyiv are with regard to national counter-terrorism policy and local emergency planning/response. Hopefully they are now, after the dozens of bombing incidents over the past few months in particular, intimate in their knowledge. If not, then they had better become very well acquainted with it extremely swiftly indeed. Tis an issue that will not be disappearing any time soon.” – Quite so.

Whether these incidents are connected directly, indirectly, coordinated, or are nothing more than coincidental, investigations will perhaps answer.  Knee-jerk conclusions are not going to be helpful – indeed they are likely to be unhelpful.

More broadly however, there is the public perception to consider as was outlined yesterday.

“Whilst all this is going on, the resilience of the Ukrainian public will continue to be tested – despite the proverbial (numerous) recent baptisms of fire during 2014. Maintaining that resilience, in part, requires something approaching a “fear management” policy. A resilient society tends to cope with, and recover from, acts of terrorism swiftly.

How to achieve such a policy without interfering with the democratic normative of a free media? There is much to be said about the generation – or prevention – of fatalistic attitudes amongst the public. Read Frank Furedi’s work on the culture of fear for enlightening prose on this subject.

Thus, onto the usually, and perhaps necessarily, fractious partnership between State and media, and the necessity of a quid pro quo relating to terrorist acts – particularly in what is the “golden hour”/the first hour after a terrorist incident. As has been written here many times relating to different issues, he who frames an incident first, robustly, and convincingly sets the tone, oft wins the debate, even though the first hour is normally very confused and discombobulated.

Thus the State has to be open, honest and frank, providing factual information both directly and via the media. It needs to avoid, where ever possible, unnecessary secrecy, explaining and clarifying the situation, the measures being taken, and confirming or denying rumours swiftly. Clear and concise messaging in a single and maintained tone is vital. Avoiding speculation is important. No news can become news – update regularly, even if to say little has changed.

Likewise, quid pro quo, whilst sensationalism and speculation make headlines and sell media – it can also very well assist the terrorist in their cause in spreading alarm and distress. It is worthy of remembering that not all victims are directly involved in a terrorist incident – some sections of society can be traumatised or unnecessarily alarmed via media reporting, though they be far from any direct involvement.

The media also should remember trail by media can also prejudice trial in a court of law – if Ukraine ever manages to install anything like a genuine rule of law.

The media also has to accept that when dealing with terrorism, and in particular specific terrorist incidents and their immediate aftermath, there is an inherent requirement, at times, for secrecy by the authorities in order for the institutions of state to be effective. What may be interesting to the public, is not necessarily in the public interest to be splashed all over the media with immediate effect. There are issues of timeliness that can be mutually addressed, preferably through voluntarily entered into agreement – no matter how uneasy that feels to either party.

The media, like the State, has an important role to play in fear management/fear impact within society, thus either bolstering or undermining societal resilience to terrorism and terrorist acts.

The aim of both the authorities and media, ideally, is to avoid playing into the hands of the terrorists, whilst being truthful about events. Avoid unnecessary rhetoric or fear-mongering. Report the facts without sensationalism or speculation, thus limiting the impact of any incident. Stimulate the normalisation of society as swiftly as possible to return to business as usual.

Just as with the volunteer battalions that formed after Kremlin shenanigans in eastern Ukraine, following terrorist incidents there is often sections of the community that feel a “need to do something”. Channel that need into something productive – at the very least it reduces societal fear and/or tension.”

However, as yet there seems to be somewhat random target identification, going little beyond the broad swathe of “pro-Ukrainian”, more often than not, currently at least, going to some lengths to avoid casualties.

“So far, targeting nationally appears to be a mixed bag. Odessa has thus far been entirely pro-Ukrainian patriotic businesses/organisational premises after working hours, unoccupied pro-Ukrainian activist cars, and State infrastructure. Mariupol also seems to have concentrated predominantly upon infrastructure. Kharkiv has been a more worrisome combination, ranging from pro-Ukrainian bars with customers inside, to empty pro-Ukrainian premises after hours. Perhaps most worrying, relating to intended loss of life, is Kyiv. Throwing hand grenades at MPs is more than a little reckless. Further, arriving in Kyiv with nail-bombs and planting them in Independence Square at the behest of GRU handlers, has no other intent than to cause loss of life and serious injury.”

Indeed the only two deaths connected to explosions in Odessa, have been the deaths of those who carried them out.  One having apparently been hit by a car after blowing up rail track, the other blowing himself up in the early hours of this morning.  Whether or not these people were responsible for the dozen or so other bombings in Odessa, who knows – but there will undoubtedly be many more such incidents in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

A question that arises, other than the competency of some of the bombers, is at what point will there be a partial or complete shift in targeting – and to what?

If blowing up “patriotic” premises does nothing to test the resolve and resilience of Ukrainian society, when will a targeting shift occur?  Will there be a move to blowing up the cars of police or military officers whilst they are in them, be they are work or not at the time?  The targeting of police or military patrols?  At their place of work?  How solid would the resolve of the officer class be?  What about far more critical infrastructure than moderately used rail track or the occasional bridge?  What of electrical substations, hyrdo power plants – or worse?

These are not questions to think about tomorrow.  These are just a few questions to think about today – before tomorrow answers the questions above (and more).

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