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Scenario: 2016 Ukrainian coup d'état

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Part of Ukraine crisis
Ukrainian soldiers in Kiev
Date 24-26 August 2016
Location Kiev, Ukraine
Result Coup faction victory
  • President Poroshenko and other officials arrested
  • Ukrainian Transitional Government proclaimed
Belligerents
Flag of Ukraine Committee for Salvation of Ukraine
  • Units of Operational Command North
  • Elements of the Ukrainian Air Force
  • Elements of the Ukrainian National Guard
Flag of Ukraine Government of Ukraine
  • Elements of the Ukrainian Armed Forces
  • Ukrainian National Guard
  • Ukrainian National Police
  • Security Service of Ukraine
Commanders
Oleksandr Kuzmuk
(People's Deputy, former Defense Minister)
Ihor Shpak
(1st Tank Brigade commander)
Mykola Lytvyn
(former Border Guard commander)
Yuriy Boyko
(Opposition Bloc leader)
Petro Poroshenko
(President)
Volodymyr Groisman
(Prime Minister)
Arsen Avakov
(Interior Minister)
Stepan Poltorak
(Defense Minister)
Viktor Muzhenko
(Chief of General Staff)
Casualties and losses
65 soldiers and supporters killed 78 soldiers killed, 104 police officers killed
232 supporters killed


A coup d'état occurred in Kiev, Ukraine, in late August 2016, carried out by a faction of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and supported by politicians of the Ukrainian opposition. Military officers, dissatisfied with the corruption and incompetence of the Government of Ukraine, seized control of key government buildings in Kiev on 24 August 2016. President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman were both arrested at their residences, along with many other high-ranking officials. Fighting against pro-government forces and police continued on 25 August, with thousands of civilian protestors coming out onto the streets to support the uprising. It was not until early evening of the next day that the coup faction's troops took full control of the capital. The ringleader of the coup, General of the Army Oleksandr Kuzmuk, proclaimed the creation of a Ukrainian Transitional Government on 27 August 2016.

Background

Since the revolution in 2014 and the beginning of the civil war in southeastern Ukraine, the economic and political situation in the country continued to deteriorate. Two of the country's most industrialized regions became warzones, while trade with Russia, Ukraine's main economy partner, greatly diminished. Despite assistance from the World Bank, the Ukrainian GDP fell by 6.8% in 2014 and the economy overall shrank by 12% in 2015. The Ukrainian hryvna lost nearly 70% of its value against the US dollar. In December of that year, Ukraine entered a state of default on its debt to Russia. Unemployment and poverty soared, causing discontent among the people and frequent protests across the country.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Government failed to implement necessary reforms in order to eliminate corruption and improve the economy. The Vekhovna Rada, the country's parliament, was indecisive and failed to make any meaningful changes over the course of the two years since the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. His successor, Petro Poroshenko, was widely viewed as incompetent and by 2016 had an approval rating of less than 20%. A crisis was barely averted when it came time for Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to resign and find a replacement, with former Vinnytsia mayor Volodymyr Groisman eventually becoming his successor. Political instability intensified as far right groups, including Right Sector and Svoboda, began calling for another regime change in the first half of 2016. Protests by regular citizens also increased. Morale of the Ukrainian remained low during this period, and disillusionment among army officers was widespread.

It was at this time that retired General of the Army of Ukraine Oleksandr Kuzmuk, former Minister of Defense (1996—2001, 2004—2005) and parliamentarian from the pro-Yanukovych Party of Regions, decided to organize a regime change in order to save the country from total collapse. He used his military connections to get in touch with dissatisfied officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, particularly those part of Operational Command "North" of the Ukrainian Ground Forces. They had authority over the defense of Kiev and could use their forces to arrest members of the government. Kuzmuk plotted during late spring and throughout the summer of 2016 with these officers, which grew to include members of the Air Force and National Guard. He also came into contact with some other opposition political leaders, including the "Committee for Salvation of Ukraine", a self-proclaimed government in exile based in Moscow, Russia. It was led by Yanukovych's former prime minister, Mykola Azarov, who approved Kuzmuk's plan.

With no signs that drastic change in the situation was forthcoming, Kuzmuk decided on carrying out a coup d'etat, setting the date for 24 August 2016.

Opposing sides

Coup faction

Kuzmuk-Aleksandr-Ivanovich origin

Army General Kuzmuk, leader of the coup.

At 22:00 on 24 August, a broadcast on Ukraine's Channel 1 news station was made, where the anchor read a statement from the coup faction. It proclaimed itself to be the Salvation Committee of Ukraine, with the objectives of restoring stability, economic growth, and ending the war in Donbass. The following day, another broadcast announced that the committee chairman was retired General of the Army of Ukraine Oleksandr Kuzmuk, with the vice chairman being reitred General of the Army Mykola Lytvyn. The committee's presidium consisted of ten high-ranking officers, including Kuzmuk and Lytvyn. The coup forces had the benefit of being led by a large number of officers, both currently serving and older veterans who came out of retirement in order to "save the country." In addition to Ground Forces troops, there were also pilots from two aviation brigades stationed near the capital and some radicals from the National Guard.

The upper echelons of the Armed Forces was split. Some General Staff officers supported the coup, including a number of generals, while others remained loyal to the government. Much of the staff of Operational Command 'North' joined the coup. At least fifteen generals sided with the Salvation Committee.

According to reports, soldiers and officers from the following military units took part in the uprising:

  • Ukrainian Ground Forces emblem Ground Forces
    • 1st Guards Tank Brigade
    • 72nd Guards Mechanized Brigade
    • 58th Motorized Infantry Brigade
    • 95th Airmobile Brigade
    • 26th Artillery Brigade
  • Ukrainian Air Force emblem Air Force
    • 40th Tactical Aviation Brigade
    • 15th Transport Aviation Brigade
  • National Guard of Ukraine emblem National Guard
    • 27th Independent Brigade

Their total numbers were unknown, but estimated by the interior ministry to be around 20,000—25,000 troops and 50,000 civilian supporters.

Government supporters

The coup

Initial actions

Ukrainian-forces 2994723b

Military vehicles on a street in Kiev.

As reported, around 20:30 local time on 24 August 2016, soldiers and military vehicles began to enter the city of Kiev, blocking the main roads and clearingout public places. Officers ordered citizens to go home and stay indoors. Kiev police were ordered to continue their work without interfering in the soldiers' assignments, although the chief of National Police, Khatia Dekanoidze, later stated that the military claimed it was part of a counterterrorism training exercise. The coup forces blocked government buildings, including the presidential Mariyinsky Palace, his other official residences in Kiev, ministry buildings, the Verkhovna Rada, military and Security Service headquarters, and several banks.

President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Volodymyr Groisman were both detained initially, but managed to escape as their bodyguards put up resistance. They were pursued by soldiers and were unable to contact anyone as they did not have phones on them. By 21:30, Groisman was captured and taken into custody, though Poroshenko and his guards held out at another residence of his.

Policeukraine

Ukrainian police officers during the coup.

Around 21:40, skirmishes began breaking out between policemen and soldiers at the Interior Ministry. Reportedly, a military officer ordered everyone to remain inside, but a policeman overheard that a coup was in progress. Several police officers tried to break out of the army cordon, which resulted in a gunfight. A similar situation occurred at the military HQ and the Defense Ministry, which were aware that there were no planned military exercises. Communications were cut from their buildings, but the personnel inside tried to force their way out.

The gunfire alerted citizens and other government officials that something was wrong, and soon the situation in Kiev became more chaotic. Some anti-government protestors went outside to support the mutinous soldiers, with the news spreading that a coup had begun.

At 22:00, the Channel 1 news station (which was taken over by the coup faction) played a broadcast in which an army officer read a statement. It announced that the President and Prime Minister were in custody and that an interim Salvation Committee was in power in order to "prevent Ukraine from collapsing" and "protect the Ukrainian people from the ruling oligarchs." He also urged all citizens to not resist and for all military and police personnel to surrender to the Committee.

Ukraineforces2

Soldiers on the outskirts of Kiev.

Around 22:20, army troops surrounded the Boryspil International Airport and the smaller Zhulyany Airport. Flights continued as normal, and it was stated the soldiers were there for extra security.

By 23:00, large crowds formed in front of the occupied Verkhovna Rada building, some protesting the coup, others supporting it. Clashes broke out in different districts of Kiev that night as the army attempted to secure the city.

Attempted response

President Poroshenko made a statement at 01:30 on the morning of 25 August, having left his residence under heavy guard by police officers and agents of the State Security Administration.

New authorities

Salvationcommitteeua

Officers of the Salvation Committee during its meeting on 24 August 2016.

Aftermath

Reactions

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