Recently we published an article outlining the actions being considered by NATO to reassure the eastern NATO states that NATO would defend their sovereignty. In that article we noted that “President Obama has asserted publicly that he will not allow a US ‘military excursion’ into Ukraine against Russia.” It is highly unlikely that Russia will make any aggressive moves against the Eastern European NATO states because Russia’ actions in Ukraine have followed a pattern similar to that of its interventions in other parts of the former Soviet space over the past 25 years.
This pattern broadly consists of three categories of activities: the organization of ethnic Russian or pro-Russia social and political groups and movements in the country in question; the deployment or support of informal or unofficial security forces in key areas; and finally the launching of military operations. In the first two steps the Russians are laying the political groundwork for the eventual intervention. They are also testing both local and foreign responses before the actual intervention takes place.
In each such intervention the goal has been to keep independent-minded or Western-oriented territories that Russia views as within its sphere of influence away from the West and within the Russian sphere.
Fears of the second and ultimately the third phase grew this weekend as pro-Russian” gunmen” (there is informed speculation that these gunmen are actually Russian Spetznatz soldiers) conducted a series of coordinated assaults on police stations and security buildings in many Ukrainian cities. The goal appears to be occupation of critical infrastructure / facilities to enable the third phase—formal military operations.
In what is probably the prelude to a full invasion by the Russian military, masked men armed with AK-74 assault rifles and stun grenades seized two police stations and an intelligence headquarters in eastern Ukraine. The gunmen also set up checkpoints along local roads and began barricading the buildings.
The operations were accompanied by a statement by Russia’s foreign minister, that Ukraine was “demonstrating its inability to take responsibility for the fate of the country”.
The White House warned Russia against further military action.
“We saw similar so-called protest activities in Crimea before Russia’s purported annexation,” said Laura Lucas Magnuson, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council. Vladimir Putin, the country’s president, should “cease all efforts to destabilize Ukraine”, she added.
These recent activities are most likely a strong test of nerve for the Ukrainian security forces, who know that any serious bloodshed could give Russia the desired pretext to intervene to "protect" pro-Russian elements.
In an effort to threaten the European Union (EU) Russia increased the gas price for Ukrainian consumers by 80% saying Kiev was no longer eligible for previous discounts. A large proportion of the natural gas which EU states buy from Russia is pumped by way of Ukrainian territory. Therefore if Russia makes good on a threat to cut off Ukraine for non-payment of its bills, customers further west will necessarily have supplies disrupted. The Ukraine and the EU are working out ways to keep supplies flowing to EU states, and for those countries to then pump the gas to Ukraine by reversing the flow in their pipelines.
The Russian foreign ministry said its natural gas would increasingly be sold to Asia, as part of a strategy of turning away from a Europe, which the Russia considers unfriendly. 'It seems to me they (the Europeans) just don't understand. The politicians are behaving ... in a very short-sighted way.'
As we progress into spring when military operations in the Ukraine are not hampered by the weather will we see an invasion of the Ukraine? The Russian model when coupled with the administration’s unwillingness to support Ukraine would suggest that it is not a question of if, just when.
I just finished reading Tom Clancy’s book “Chain of Command” where a strong President resists a Russian invasion of the Ukraine and forces the Russians to withdraw. I recommend it as reading in light of the present situation.