As the Ukrainian crisis ramps up, it’s hard to see exactly when – and under what terms – a reconciliation can take place. The possibility of an open conflict between Ukrainian and Russian forces is unthinkable, but the escalation that has taken place over recent months leaves it hard to imagine how, when, and under what terms any sort of reconciliation can take place. It’s hard to see Russia remaining content with what it has, for both political and strategic reasons.
The Royal United Services Institute has been putting out some interesting briefings over the last few weeks. Dr Igor Sutyagin – who has an interesting history of his own, having spent over four years in a penal colony near Arkhangelsk on charges of treason – has some great insights into options and outcomes for both Russia and Ukraine. You can see a couple of recent articles by him on the state of the Ukrainian armed forces here:
The results are roughly what you’d expect Russian forces would outnumber and outgun the Ukrainians if it came to a full-on dust up. It would not be plain sailing for Russia either, particularly given that there it relies on Ukraine for some strategic resources, such as for its nuclear arsenal and air force, but this potentially even increases the incentive for Russia to annex further territory. Indeed, current shortages in Crimea might even necessitate further action of this sort.
Ukraine is both strategically and symbolically split by the Dnieper river, and most of the industrial ‘heartland’ of Ukraine falls east of it. Somewhere in the Kremlin, surely a plan has been mooted which would involve seizing of everything that side of the river, holding it against international condemnation, and slowly letting the rest of the world appreciate this as the new status quo.
The notion of being an ‘expansionist’ power seems to have almost passed into the history books, and it certainly feels like the world didn’t know how to react to the Russian move into the Crimea. The tactics certainly aren’t new though: if you can create enough ambiguity in the situation, you can give the Western powers enough reason/excuse to step back and not react with a ‘kinetic’ solution. The referendum was clearly a sham – it’s generally ill advised to hold a plebiscite on joining a foreign country while the country in question has troops on the ground – but the overwhelming majority vote was enough to make some democrats question whether we should be involved at all.
More on this in a future post, but certainly keep this in mind as you follow the progress of the ‘pro-Russian militants‘ currently occupying buildings in eastern Ukraine. These guys have a little bit more official sponsorship than they’re letting on, but what line do they need to cross before somebody steps up and does something about it? In the Cold War, the answer was simple: we stop them before they take an inch, lest they take a mile. But these are different politicians (with the exception of one), the Cold War has supposedly been over for over two decades, and the inch was somewhere in the Caucasus back in 2008.