In response to the Russian Duma authorization for use of force on Ukrainian soil by Pres. Vladimir Putin, the interim government in Kiev on Mar 2 issued mobilization orders for all Ukrainian reservists to report for duty.
Ukraine’s acting president; Oleksandr Turchynov also put active duty Ukrainian forces on a war footing which sets into motion military defense plans of airports, nuclear power plants and national infrastructure such as highways, bridges, dams and sea ports.
As these events unfolded diplomatic efforts to tamp down the mushrooming crisis continued with a ninety minute phone conversation between Pres. Barack Obama and Pres. Putin, which ended fruitlessly. British Foreign Minister William Hague also summoned the Russian Ambassador in London for a rare Saturday meeting in which the latter merely reiterated the same points Pres. Putin made to Pres. Obama.
The most revealing point made is the Russian government insistence that Russia has the right to protect ethnic Russian lives and national interests in ‘eastern Ukraine’. This is revealing in that it is not inclusive of or specific to Crimea, which the Russians are obviously treating as a separate matter.
In acknowledging Russian troops were in Crimea, the Russian government has been citing security agreements with Ukraine as justification, though the envelope of those agreements has been pushed to the limit and beyond already.
Pres. Putin’s actions are now shifting from political/diplomatic maneuvering to military strategy. As the buildup of Russian combat troops in Crimea continues, running in tandem are very public clashes in eastern Ukraine between ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians.
Donetsk, Kharkov, Dnepropetrovsk have all seen these clashes play out; no doubt the result of a little ‘community organizing’ in the shadows as domestic Russian media echoes more and more jingoism and continues to paint Ukrainians as fascists and Nazis while reminding Russians of Ukrainian collaboration with invading German forces in 1941; history that does have basis in truth.
One city where ethnic clashes have taken place is the city of Odessa in the south of Ukraine which lies between Crimea and Transnistria, a breakaway republic founded after the Soviet collapse which is effectively a Russian enclave similar to South Ossetia and Abkhazia which were carved out of Georgian territory.
Ukrainian forces which are more heavily concentrated in western Ukraine rather than the east could occupy Transnistria in response to a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine. It’s likely they would be successful since Russian forces advancing from the east, would have to cross eastern Ukraine and fjord the Dnieper River before then advancing to rescue the approximately 1,500 Russian troops in Transnistria.
And added prize for Ukraine would be the enormous ammunition depots still present from Soviet days; provided the Russian troops guarding them are defeated before they can blow up the depots.
A secondary Russian force striking north out of Crimea into Ukraine and pivoting west could reach Odessa, then Transnistria far more quickly than Russian troops currently mobilized on the eastern border of Ukraine. Additionally, an attack out of Crimea could also employ flanking Russian amphibious assaults behind Ukrainian lines along the Black Sea coast to force retreats and speed up the Russian advance.
A Russian advance south out of Belarus could also be employed. However, it would be moving through majority ethnic Ukrainian territory where the bulk of Ukraine’s land forces are positioned. The advance would be much slower and likely be harried by both Ukrainian combat formations and partisan militias.
When Russia attacked the former Soviet Republic of Georgia in 2008, the authorization of force was executed with lightning speed after passage in the Duma. There is a delay this time with Ukraine and a buildup of a strike force in Crimea is the most logical explanation, since the longer Putin waits the more time Ukraine has to prepare defenses in the east and assemble reserves into combat units.