Frank Dowse, One Time Military Attaché in Kiev, On Ukraine
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HH: Well, chaos erupts in the world, and you can see it right now happening live in Kiev, horrific scenes of violence there. And we dip into our rolodex and we find people who actually know what they’re talking about. Lt. Col. Frank Dowse, no stranger to this show, been here many, many times, also happens to have been three years the military attaché in Kiev. He’s a designated joint foreign area officer, FAO, specializing in the former Soviet Union during his active duty times. He is currently working with Naval Special Warfare, that would be the SEALs for the Steelers fans, and continues to consult privately. Frank Dowse, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
FD: Hugh, it’s an absolutely pleasure. Thank you, good to hear from you.
HH: Good to talk to you. What years were you in Kiev, Frank?
FD: I was there from 1995 through 1998 in my assignment as a military attaché. But I’ve been in and out of both Ukraine and other parts of the former Soviet Union over the last fifteen years or so.
HH: Now Frank, I always like to help out my friends in the MSM who don’t know how to find people who know what they’re talking about, so how do people find you if they need to come in and be a talking head on the Ukraine?
FD: Well, I’ll tell you what, Hugh, the best way to do that, because as you know, I’m working for Naval Special Warfare, so I can certainly, if somebody’s coming to you, I can provide them my private email. But other than that, I’m pretty much behind the scenes these days.
HH: All right, so if someone wants to write me, firstname.lastname@example.org, not just for CPAC tickets but to contact Frank, I’ll be happy to put you in touch. Frank. What do you think when you see these horrific scenes? What’s going through your mind?
FD: Well, I’ll tell you, in one respect, Hugh, it’s a long time coming, In another respect, having walked there, I mean, I lived five blocks from where this is taking place, it’s unbelievable to see these types of things unfolding. I think what we get hit with initially is how violent it has become so rapidly, but I can tell you the history of Ukraine, and certainly what’s been going over the last six months, this was something that was bound to happen. And I fear it’s going to get worse.
HH: Well, that is, we will not know until the morning how bloody this is. It’s got to be more than the fifteen deaths already reported. And we won’t know how deep the military’s engagement…would you give us a brief course in the Ukraine post-dissolution of the Soviet Union?
FD: Absolutely. Once the Soviet Union disbanded, Ukraine became, by default, the fourth largest nuclear power in the world. A lot of people had a problem with that, including the Russians and the Americans. So they denuclearized, but with that came the continued control, economically, politically, diplomatically, of Ukraine by Russia. And this is historic going back centuries, from Catherine the Great, Ivan the Great, and then of course, the terrible issues that’s there that both determines coming through Ukraine, and the Soviets coming back. A lot of animosity there. Western Ukraine has built and incredible energy, it’s independence in getting out from underneath the thumb of big brother Russia. To the east, of course, you have much greater sympathy for Russia, because that’s more farmland, more industrial, and there are a lot of ethnic Russians living there.
HH: Now Frank, I want to interrupt for a second. Ten years ago, my daughter made two mission trips to Ukraine with our church, and it was a happy, wonderful place in Kiev, very poor, but a burgeoning evangelical movement…
HH: …lots of churches, lots of pro-Western stuff. What happened?
FD: Yeah, well, what’s happened essentially is that you have an influx of Russian sympathizing politicians in what’s called the Rada, which is the Ukrainian equivalent of the Russian Duma. And with that came both tacit, direct, overt and covert influence by the Russian Security Forces, and all sorts of other pressures that came from Russia, oligarchs and so on. So this has been building, because you’re seeing a schism, and you could literally draw that through the Dnieper River that goes right down the middle of the country of Ukraine, right through Kiev. And that schism has been growing wider and wider and wider, and with that has come greater tension across the spectrum – socially, culturally, historically, legalistically, diplomatically and so on. So that tension has finally, that rubber band is literally breaking. And that’s what we’re seeing.
HH: Now Frank, is the Ukrainian military unified? Or are there splits within it that rival, that mirror the splits in the parliament there?
FD: No, that’s a very interesting question. The issue with the Ukrainian…some people have asked me if this is going to be like Georgia. The Ukrainian military is a highly sophisticated, now they’re poor and they’ve got some challenges, no doubt about it, but they have fourth-generation T-90 tanks, and yes, in the eastern part with lots of Russian influence, many of the Russians and Uzbeks and Belarusians, when the Soviet Union fell, they resided in Ukraine. However, that’s been 25 plus years, almost 25 years now that we’ve seen this. So Ukrainian military forces are in fact, Ukrainian. And I will tell you something about the intelligence…
HH: Hold that thought, Frank Dowse. When we come back with retired United States Marine Corps Lt. Col. Frank Dowse, three years the military attaché in Kiev, we’ll talk about the secret services in Ukraine.
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HH: So Frank, when we went to break, you were going to describe the Secret Police in Ukraine. Tell us about them.
FD: Yeah, Hugh, there’s two significant, there’s a number of different apparatuses, but in the end, you have what’s called the SBU, which is the successor to the old KGB, and then you have what’s called HUR or the GRU, which is the military successor to the GRU in Ukraine. Now the Ukrainian HUR is very, very pro-Ukrainian, pro-nationalist. And now what I mean by that is that they ahead and vetted and absolutely purged anybody who did not have Ukrainian grandparents on both sides, paternal and maternal, going back for generations, whereas the SBU is pretty much understood that they are pretty much infiltrated by Russian intelligence. And so what that means is that you’ve got, even within the intelligence community, you have these factions. Unlike the military, although they’re there, the intelligence factions, and that also includes an internal police, the MVD. They, too, are very pro-Rada, or pro-government, which you see manifesting itself with these horrific and jack-booted and extremely violent outcomes in the streets.
HH: Now Frank, let’s speculate a little bit. We will not know until the morning there how vast is the killing. But do you expect a counter reaction? Or is this going to be Tiananmen Square where a deathly pall falls on it and that’s the end of that?
FD: No, I’ll tell you what, Hugh, the historical independence and the tenacity of the Ukrainian people in this context especially, especially when we look at what’s happening with Russia, and their vehement anger against Yanukovych, President Viktor Yanukovych, with regards to having let slip the EU loans and the deals in favor of a Russian deal, which is the Eurasian economic structure. They are fed up. They’ve been fed up for years. This is really a culminating point to where there are not just hundreds of radicals, there are tens of thousands of inspired people that are simply not going to be the little brother to be patted on the head anymore.
HH: Now Frank Dowse, Charles Krauthammer said we’ve got about five days to make a statement there, because Putin won’t do anything over it during the Olympics. And so the West has five days to match and see and raise the offer from Putin monetarily. And he said buy the Ukraine. And I don’t know what you think about that. But number two, after the Olympics are done, do you think Putin would dispatch troops to Ukraine as he did to Georgia ten years ago?
FD: I’ll answer the second question first, Hugh. Like I was mentioning, the Ukrainians are not the Georgians. They have highly-sophisticated, fourth generation equipment both in the air, tanks and what not. It would be an unbelievably bloody and regional conflagration that would overtake the world stage in a matter of days if the Russians were stupid enough to try to infiltrate or to have overt military action in Ukraine. I would just say parenthetically that even with all this going on in Kiev, and throughout many of the larger cities across Ukraine, the real tinderbox, believe it or not, is actually the Crimean Peninsula. And I won’t go into all the details of why that is, but that’s the real hot spot. And so with those two things conflating right now, is it possible the Russians could be that stupid? Perhaps, but I can tell you one thing about the Russians when it comes to Ukraine. Ukraine is the prize. Ukraine is the hegemonic prize, and it would be absolutely shameful for Russian pride, history and tradition if the Ukrainians got out underneath them, and away from them.
HH: Frank, I said ten years ago. It was only six years ago, and it was during the Olympics, of course, or right before the Olympics that Putin ordered the invasion of Georgia. So I don’t put anything past the guy. And I’m curious what you think the President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, if the latter can be pulled away from global warming, and the former from his golf game, ought to do.
FD: Well, in my personal opinion, I think that this administration, and to a certain extent, the previous administration, have been relatively mild and weak because of the Russian bear in the room with regards to Ukraine. So there’s been kind of a placating of Ukrainian political advantageousness with regards to Europe. The Ukrainians essentially consider themselves European. They do not consider themselves, in this case, allied with the Russians. So the administration is going to continue to placate it as best they can. I’m afraid that the Europeans, the Germans, the Poles, and others, are not going to wait around, because the Ukrainians are not going to wait around. Unfortunately, American credibility has atrophied over the last eight to ten years in the minds of the Ukrainians, not increased.
HH: So Frank Dowse, give us a little sense. You mentioned the Crimean Peninsula. Where should the cameras go next? And I know that the Russian Navy still use the Ukrainian ports, don’t they?
FD: Well, they have a dual use, but yes, you’re correct. In Sevastopol, down at the tip of the Crimean Peninsula, there is the old Russian, the old Soviet Black Heat, which is the Russian Black Sea Fleet. And you also have the Ukrainian Navy that is down there. But they’re also huge tracts of Russian border patrol troops that are down there, coastal troops. And the Russians have a naval air facility in another place called Sochi, believe it or not. It’s the same name, which is right there in Crimea, in addition to all of the Ukrainian forces. And one of the reasons why I talk about Crimea and I’ve been writing a little bit about this as well is there’s the Marine Corps Tatars that have come back after the fall of the wall of the Soviet Union, which is fine. It’s traditionally Tatar land. And with that has come some messages of Islamic fundamentalism, and you know, great demographic and ethnic tensions that have been taking place. But Crimea is ethnically Russian, 90% ethnically Russian. So we could see something very provocative by the Russians to go into Crimea as a safety measure for its citizens, which could be a prelude to something much greater. And the Ukrainians would fight back, because that is strategic territory for them, and of course the Black Sea has one of the eight naval choke points in the world there in the Bosphorus. So it’s a very, very volatile, extremely tender situation.
HH: Frank, hold on for one more short segment with me if you will, Frank Dowse.
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HH: Frank Dowse, very quickly, your three years in Kiev, obviously it’s after the Soviet Union goes away, so you got to watch their television, read their media. I assume you’re a Russian speaker.
FD: I am.
HH: What will the media say about this? Will they be on air live right now covering this?
FD: Well, as a matter of fact, Hugh, what you have is you have Russian television, RT, which has currently got a live camera feed that’s going right back to Moscow. And the Russians are very interested in this as well. Even though their Olympics are unfolding, this is a huge deal for the Russians, because if they lose Ukraine, or there’s any shame that comes to the Russian nationalist spirit with regards to Ukraine, it’s a huge blow to them internationally and patriotically speaking. But I would also say that there are factions within the Ukraine media that are of course pro-Ukraine, Western Ukraine. You have lots of Western journalists that are there as well. Right now on the ground there, I’ve been following some Twitter feeds both in Ukrainian and in English. And it’s remarkable what they’re reporting. I would simply say that that has been part of that schism that I talked about earlier. You have Russian stations, you have Ukrainian stations. You know, like in Canada, you have French stations and you have English stations. In the United States, we’ve got MSNBC and we have Breitbart. You know, we have honed there, and it’s a very…and those who draw the line, here’s something, a situation, Hugh, that many of your listeners may not know. Something as simple as Yanukovych not being able to speak Ukrainian, and his wife does not speak Ukrainian, is a blow to the Ukrainian psyche, and a blow to the Ukrainian pride when their own president can’t even speak their native language.
HH: And how significant is the difference between the Russian language and the Ukraine language? And how much effort does it take to learn one or the other if you’re living there?
FD: Well, I’ll tell you, for people that are born and raised there, 99% of the Ukrainians speak Russian, but there are enclaves deep into the…that speak no Russian at all. Ukrainian and Russian, I think are analogous to Spanish and Italian, or Swedish and Norwegian. They are separate languages, there are some usages of words that are the same, but for the most part, they are completely separate languages. People think the birth of Slavic culture as somewhere in Moscow. It’s not. It’s in Kiev. It’s called Kievan Rus, and the root of the old Slavonic language comes from Bulgarian and Ukrainian, not Russian. So that’s the kind of pride that’s established for millennia. And with regards to languages themselves, Ukrainians are actually closer to Polish than it is to Russian.
HH: All right, Frank, we’re going to catch up with you later in the week. We’re out of time tonight.
End of interview