Sunday, April 20, 2014

Ukraine thoughts

So now that NATO is rediscovering why it exists and squaring off against Putin's Russia, and RCAF is redeploying CF-18s to the Soviet Russian frontier in Europe, does anyone wanna argue for why the still-undeployable F-35 is the best warplane out there?

Back to the Ukraine, the media is still reporting Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine as "pro-Russian activists". There are pro-Russian activists in the east, and they look like this, or like this. Note the mix-n-match clothing, with some hunting-type camouflage, civilian jackets, etc. None of them are carrying any visible webbing or magazine pouches, the only visible ammunition they carry are two taped-together rifle magazings. Their AK-74s are older model, worn, with wooden furniture. They are also portly and many of the photos we've seen show a mix of men of all ages and fitness.

Pro-Russian activists
The crowd of characters below are uniform in all aspects of dress, equipment, and weapons, with  AK-74s of the same pattern seen on actual Russian troops in Crimea. The subtle differences in dress, such as beards and soft-caps, and the sensitivity of the mission in Ukraine suggest these are commandos of some sort. In other photos some are carrying disposable anti-tank rockets.

Russian troops
The point is that there is a Russian military presence in unannexed Ukraine, and NATO/Western leaders are exactly right when they say it's unfolding much like the annexation of Crimea was. It is probably very likely that Russia is in the process of annexing a large piece of Ukraine, perhaps gambling that the West and the new Kiev government will do anything to avoid full-on war with Russia. First, Ukraine couldn't survive such an engagement without US/European military support. US/Euro support eventually means arms, which in turn puts it in a very direct military confrontation with Russia, in Europe and not safely away in some far-flung former colony.

This is a very dangerous gamble because the fear behind it isn't so much Europe's (and global, price wise) dependence on the availability of Russian oil and gas, but the fact of Russian nuclear weapons.

Now, progressive peers will point to the West, Obama, and so on as myopic blame for events in the Ukraine, based on perceived motives behind NATO expansion. Whatever the merit to these arguments (and I think some border on paranoia), they pose no solution.  This kind of assessment conveniently ignores the fact that Russia is militarily annexing a neighbouring state, taking advantage of internal political weakness, which it had a good hand in sowing through its support of Ukraine's former leader. If we're quick to condemn the US for Iraq and Afghanistan, it's just as bad when Russia does likewise. The realist in me says Russia can have Crimea, but if it does not withdraw its forces from eastern Ukraine, that country is on a path to civil war, which the Russians will effectively win if the West does not step in.

If Russia's goal is to annex as much of Ukraine as it can, then anything it says otherwise at high-level international meetings that indicates otherwise is a delaying tactic.

IF this is the case, we have an incredibly serious problem.

We are 25 years from the end of the first Cold War. That's enough time for an entirely new generation of diplomants, thinkers, and military/intellegence people to come of age, and associated institutional culture changes and memory losses on all sides.

Once again, rearward facing views rooted in notions of cultural or ethnic purity that attempt to redress the past eventually lead to very ugly places.


The Mound of Sound said...

Hi Boris. Did you read the interview with Princeton prof Stephen Cohen?

Steve said...

For sure Russia is upsetting the applecart in Ukraine. However Putin was provoked. What would the USA do if pro Russian forces evicted the corrupt goverment of Mexico?

Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Neo cons up up to their PNAC tricks in the Ukraine, and once again the world will be the loser.

Edstock said...

Next Fall, all Putin has to do is turn off the methane gas and central Europe freezes. A week at -20°C with no heat will give a lot of folks an entirely new POV about the new Russkie reality.
The point is, it truly sucks when you have to depend upon somebody who is your adversary — and it places severe restrictions on the range of choice in dealing with Vlad.

Boris said...

Edstock, the gas issue isn't that significant and this is being re-evaluated now as it's now widely recognised as a strategic weakness for some European countries. The problem I think would more of a question of what happens to global prices if Russian energy becomes jinxed through sanctions or whatnot.

I wonder if Putin thinks he has US/Euro by the short and curlies because of energy issues and is moving fast to advantage of his upperhand to do what he likes thinking that there won't be much of a NATO response. The problem I think is that he's over-stepped. As someone pointed out on Twitter, he'd need more of a reaction than a few dead activists (or Russian troops) to justify sending his army over the border in force. That hasn't happened yet, and what he may find is that he's picked a fight, gone outside, and his opponents stayed in the bar drinking. Instead of sheepishly taking Crimea and shutting up, he could do what he wanted to do anyway, assuming he wants a sizable chunk of Ukraine.

The problem is that these little wars of opportunity tend to turn into decade long affairs of low-intensity attrition. Or in this case, stumbling into the utterly terrifying prospect of a shooting war with NATO. Both of those outcomes represent many dead and colossal failure for all concerned.

Anonymous said...

Europe could survive Putin cutting the pipelines off. The question becomes can Russia, not Putin, survive the lack of money it receives from Europe.

Putin grew up learning to hate Germany. He may view the e.u. as Germany's creation. as it currently is, Putin may well march all the way to the German border. people in europe have no appetite for war. they went through WW I and II. the current european leaders may not have experienced it, but they heard about it from their parents and saw the remnants of it. an urban war in densely populated areas is not fun. Just have a look at Syria.

Can Putin be stopped. Sure he can. The question is do the europeans want to pay the price.

Harper is out of line with his comments and sabre rattling. The war won't be fought on canadian soil. If it were Harper would be soiling his pants.