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Putin's gambit: Russia invades Ukraine

North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) Allied Command Operations in Mons, Belgium released to the public, today, Thursday August 28, 2014, satellite imagery, clearly depicting military equipment from Russia engaged in movement and fighting across the Russia-Ukraine border in Ukrainian territory. Images acquired in late August 2014 show clear evidence that Russian self-propelled artillery units were transiting territory in a convoy, across the Ukrainian countryside. The images also show these units establishing firing positions in and around Krasnodon, Ukraine. Located in southeastern Ukraine, Krasnodon serves as a strategic point of entry into Ukraine from the east for any army invading from the east, and the most notable aspect of this movement of at least 1,000 Russian commandos and special forces units is that this incursion stands to benefit pro-Russian separatists who have begun to seek a diplomatic solution to the ongoing territorial dispute with Russia.

Russian armored convoy inside Ukraine
Image courtesy of Digital Globe

Should Ukraine be forced into an armistice with Russia as the outcome of Russian President Vladimir Putin's significant and game-changing invasion of Ukraine, not only will Russia come out stronger and better than ever, with accompanying increases in population, popularity, and income, NATO would be left with one big black eye because of its, so far, muted and confused response to Russian agitation in Ukraine. When Ukranian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced from office due to an insurrection and popular uprising, Putin deemed this action to be a "coup" and an "unconstitutional overthrow and seizure of power" by pro-Kiev forces. With the departure of Yanukovych, Putin lost an important ally in the balance of power equation between Russia and the United States. With citizens in the east of Ukraine still bitter about their annexation and removal from Russia, most Russian sympathizers fighting Ukrainian military forces will see Putin's support as a critical component to helping their neighbors reunite with Russia.

President Putin understands that Ukraine and NATO are not a unified force. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and consequently, NATO has no defense obligation to Ukraine. Putin understands this, and once Russian military forces had seized and annexed Crimea to the Russian Federation, Putin saw an opening where he could exploit existing weaknesses in NATO's diplomatic corps, and their globalization strategy. At this point in time, Vladimir Putin has never been more popular in Russia as he is today. The ordinary Muscovite sees increased prestige, power, unity of the populace, and wealth as being factors which make supporting the rebels in eastern Ukraine a very easy decision for Putin to make.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations today called on the UN Security Council to mediate the ongoing dispute between Russia and Ukraine. "The international community cannot allow the situation to escalate further, nor can a continuation be allowed of the violence and destruction that the conflict has wrought in eastern Ukraine", said the Secretary-General, delivering his message through a spokesperson. "He calls for continuity of these talks, with a view to forging a peaceful way out of the conflict. All must do their part to contribute to the peaceful resolution of this conflict, in a manner upholding Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity", quoting the Secretary-General's statement. The UN Security Council is scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Ukraine today.

So far, both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department have not issued official statements regarding the U.S. government's position on the latest Russian escapade, beyond stating that the administration is "concerned". With an estimated 20,000 Russian ground troops positioned at the border with Ukraine, this incursion appears to be more of a step towards determining the response soon to be forthcoming from the West, and whether or not Putin believes that a similar, non-plussed response might be the case if all of those troops under his command were to enter Ukraine. At this point, Putin has no fear of a NATO response over this event. NATO has stated that the alliance is not going to take sides in the conflict between pro-Kiev and pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine. What do you think? Is Putin's ultimate goal annexation of eastern Ukraine?