Ukraine's defense minister on Wednesday said that he had transferred a unit of paratroopers to Kiev, a day after the situation there dramatically deteriorated and more than two dozen were killed. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense announced late Wednesday that the military has the right to detain people as part of an "anti-terror" operation underway.
Thus far, the military has stayed out of the protests. The government instead has relied on its special police units, the now-notorious Berkut, to fight the protests. But with violence escalating and spreading the government may deem it necessary to send in reinforcements.
Defense Minister Pavel Lebedev said that he had ordered the deployment of the 25th Paratrooper Brigade to Kiev from its base in Dnepropetrovsk in order to protect military arsenals in the capital. Asked if the units could be used against protesters, Lebedev answered: "Read the Constitution and laws of Ukraine." Later, the Defense Ministry clarified: "The information on troops being sent to disperse the Maidan is untrue."
But not everyone is convinced. Lebedev's predecessor, Anatoliy Hrytsenko, said in a facebook post that Lebedev intended to use the military against the protesters, but suggested the military wouldn't obey: “The army with the people - Ukrainians wondered in anticipation. There you go. Defence Minister Lebedev has just ordered the 25th Dnipropetrovsk Airborne Brigade of 500 people in full combat gear to head to Kyiv. Whom will they protect? And from whom? The answer is obvious with such army and such officers…” (Translation from Ukrainian by The Ukrainian Week.) Hrytsenko had earlier said that Lebedev tried to put the unit (along with another military unit, the 79th Air Mobile Brigade) under Interior Ministry Command, but that only public opposition forced him to back down.
Mark Galeotti, an expert on post-Soviet security forces, said that while the army has so far "determinedly remained out of the conflict," their hand may soon be forced:
If Yanukovych cannot quickly smash the opposition in Kiev and use this both to overawe protesters elsewhere and send Berkut and other MVS units out to reinforce local elements and restore central control, then the only ways he can escalate are (1) by using greater violence, lethal force; or (2) drawing on the military. Either option in effect puts a military that has developed a strong esprit de corps and an ethos of loyalty to the state rather than any particular government, in an unenviable situation. I’m not convinced they would obey orders to join Berkut, although at present I feel they’d simply refuse rather than outright join the protesters. But again, this can change.
He also addressed the possibility of direct Russian intervention:
Obviously there are all kinds of options at its disposal, from covert operations (perhaps even stirring up the more extreme, neo-Nazi wing of the opposition) to sending forces. There are, after all, ground troops in the Crimea, the 810th Separate Naval Infantry Brigade at Sevastopol. But I think—hope—that Moscow is not so stupid as to get directly involved. If anything might induce the Ukrainian military to side directly with the opposition, it might be this.
Meanwhile, Yanukovych on Wednesday warned that “I have advisers . . . pushing me to more brute scenarios – to use force." The situation is changing fast, and it's possible Yanukovych may start listening to those advisers.