Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 01.06.2020
A tactic of Russia’s war against Ukraine is now being used in the United States. Titushki are being directed by regime authorities against American citizens who are protesting for a better life.
Titushki are organized gangs of thugs. They are sponsored by authoritarian regimes, and they’re handled and paid by third parties. Their function is to act as agents provocateurs in the middle of peaceful protests. They instigate violence to pervert civil dissent and to justify a police crack-down. Sometimes police protect or are covert operatives within the titushki.
The term originates in Ukraine, where in 2013 a man named Vadym Titushko attacked journalists who were covering an opposition rally. Opposition to the corrupt Yanukovych Clan was growing in Ukraine, and reached a climax at the end of 2013 and beginning of 2014 with the Revolution of Dignity (also known as EuroMaidan). Street protests grew in size and support, and there were a few million person-plus rallies in central Kyiv during the bitterly cold winter. Even though there was no government control over the Independence Square district in Ukraine’s capital for three months, there was no looting. EuroMaidan protestors practiced direct democracy, organized themselves into self-defence units, and carried out the business of a mini-city within the city.
To break this up and to justify using police violence, then President Viktor Yanukovych used titushki aggressively, starting in late November 2013. Large numbers of poor young men were offered a small amount of money and sent into the middle of protests to cause violence.
By the time of the dictatorship laws – rammed through Ukraine’s parliament on Black Thursday, 16 January 2014 – Yanukovych was taking advice exclusively from his Russian advisors. Putin’s hard men instructed Yanukovych to use titushki, particularly against protestors and the press as they were going and to and from Maidan. With the help of Russian trainers of the “Alfa Group” of snipers and Russian “tourists” among the titushki, Yanukovych unleashed the Maidan Massacre on 20 February 2014. At least 21 protestors were killed that day and well over a hundred killed overall during EuroMaidan. They are known in Ukraine as the Heaven’s Hundred.
Also on 20 February 2014 the Russian Federation invaded Ukraine. Fleeing the capital Kyiv, Yanukovych wrote to Putin appealing for the Russians to invade his country (a crime for which he was subsequently convicted of treason, in absentia). The Russians began their invasion of Ukraine in Crimea. Putin extended his war on Ukraine into the region of Donbas in April 2014.
Titushki are a big part of what is sometimes called Putin’s “hybrid warfare” against Ukraine. Agents provocateurs tried to turn a large, peaceful, pro-Ukraine rally of Crimean Tatars in Simferopol on 26 February 2014 into a violent confrontation but they failed. Putin was obliged to send a large invasion army – flimsily disguised as “little green men” – to seize Crimea. Titushki were then deployed by the Russians – in the name of the puppet Yanukovych – to Donetsk, Luhansk, Odesa, Kharkiv, Dnipropetrovsk (now Dnipro) and other cities. Only in Donetsk and Luhansk did the Russians succeed, and a Russian occupation army moved into that part of Donbas.
The Russian Federation has been at war with Ukraine now for over six years. Titushki are still being deployed, but these days more by so-called populist politicians within Ukraine who have Russian backing through third parties. Mikheil Saakashvili, the failed ex-governor of Odesa oblast, used a violent rent-a-mob to crash over the Poland-Ukraine border on 10 September 2017.
Which brings us to Trump. Trump was decisively backed to be the U.S. President by aggressor Russia. He has never said Crimea is Ukraine or told Putin to get out of Ukraine. He has never criticized Russia or Putin. Trump adopts Russian propaganda memes and tactics of political warfare, such as gaslighting. Starting with the COVID-19 pandemic and increasing with Black Lives Matter, Trump is now deploying American titushki.
To anyone who has carefully watched Russia’s war against Ukraine expand to the Russia-backed Trump-for-President campaign, events in 2020 are reminders of 2014.
Instead of acting promptly and wisely to contain the COVID–19 virus, Trump dithered for two months – with deadly consequences for Americans. He then agitated on Twitter for the “reopen America” and anti-mask movements. Part of the maskirovka Trump’s backers started to use was to sponsor titushki. They were sent to confront state governments that were attempting to carry out scientifically-guided policies of social distancing.
On 30 April 2020, a group of armed, white gunmen stormed the State House in Lansing, Michigan. Threatening violence by their presence and trespass, these people were tituski – guided to be there by Trump’s propaganda campaign against Governor Whitmer. In contrast to unarmed black protesters, these heavily-armed white people – simulacra of protesters – were not arrested or subjected to force by the police.
An unarmed black man, George Floyd, was killed by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota on 25 May 2020. Protests began to be held throughout the United States, reviving the name “Black Lives Matter” that had been adopted after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri on 9 August 2014. Almost immediately, titushki began to be used to corrupt the peaceful Black Lives Matter movement and turn it into a what is meant to appear as a violent insurrection.
Black Lives Matter is anchored in the African-American community. But organized sub-groups of white “protesters” – sometimes with the garb and equipment of Antifa – are getting the most media attention by smashing windows, vandalizing, committing arson, and looting.
In common with Ukraine, these American titushki are not known to local people in the communities. Outsiders with an agenda of violence are being deliberately sent to discredit Black Lives Matter. In Ukraine, “protesters” who nobody knew and who spoke Russian with Moscow accents showed up at peaceful rallies and started riots. With their sardonic sense of humour, Ukrainians fed back Putin’s flimsy propaganda lie that these unknown people were “tourists” or “miners and taxi drivers.”
Lost in the headline-grabbing planned fury of titushki are the incidents of protesters acting as peacemakers. At a Black Lives Matter protest in Louisville, Kentucky, a black crowd protected a white police officer who had become isolated. This is reminiscent of an incident during EuroMaidan when a group of riot police were trapped and captured in Ukrainian House in Kyiv. They were not harmed and were escorted out through the barricades by the protesters.
I know the commander of a “sotnya” during the Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine whose group followed principles of non-violence and civil disobedience as espoused by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. He is nothing like the Russian propaganda stereotype of a Ukrainian nationalist.
In Ukraine in 2013-14, the people of moral principle were the ones who protested for a normal life and hopeful future for themselves and their children. The titushki were sent by the Yanukovych Clan and aggressor Russia to turn an uplifting expression of the democratic spirit into violence and war.
In the United States today, the people of moral principle are the ones who protest to assert that Black Lives Matter and to put an end to intolerance, hate, and racism. The titushki sent by the Trump regime are there to bring about the race war that Kremlin propagandists have wet dreams about.
Trump is doing to Americans what Yanukovych did to Ukrainians. The two men, who were both brought to power by Paul Manafort and with decisive Russian backing, instigate violence against their own citizens. One of the most insidious tactics is the deployment of organized groups of violent thugs: titushki.