By Harry C. Blaney III
News reports have Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers coming through the Ukrainian border while NATO reports that the Russians have unleashed rocket attacks from both inside Russia and Ukraine. Added to this are reports that Russian paratroopers were captured inside Ukrainian territory just at the moment when key talks in Minsk were attended by the presidents of Russia and Ukraine and with representatives of other European countries.
More recent disturbing reports from Ukrainian government sources say the town of Novoazovsk was under fire by Russian forces and separatist groups. The assumption is that these forces entered from Russia and not from separatist controlled areas in Ukraine. Further, a Ukrainian official said there was fighting along the Sea of Azov, with heavy casualties. Ukrainian officials also said three Russian military helicopters violated Ukrainian airspace over the Kherson region that borders Russian-occupied Crimea at the end of the road skirting the Sea of Azov and its offshore oil and natural gas drilling platforms.
Further, Russia threatens to send more “relief” truck columns into Ukraine this week to the separatists held cities in the East. The last relief effort was without the permission of Ukrainian authorities and the International Red Cross and violated international law and Ukrainian sovereignty. Conflicting reports have many of the trucks largely empty. Others said they were a cover to deliver military supplies and military armor to the separatists. All of this adds to the confusion and fear over what exactly will be the outcome of these events and whether the situation will escalate beyond control.
Given that these actions and the failure of the Minsk meeting to reach any cease fire or other agreement that would stop a Russian invasion, combined with the statement of President Putin in Minsk that the war would drag on until Kiev realizes it can’t achieve a military victory, indicate continued aggression. Further, Putin declined to take part in peace talks over the Ukrainian crisis. He simply repeated his claim that Russia isn’t involved; saying that the bloodshed is “Ukraine’s business.”
These added actions and statements show that Putin is pushing towards a very dangerous and high stakes game that may change, as did the Crimea invasion and occupation, a reassessment by the NATO nations and others of the nature of Putin’s aims and willingness to use brutal force on a independent state in ways reminiscent of Hitler’s initial aggression in the 1930’s – it seems he has simply stolen the Nazi play book. It is not still likely that Russia will invade and occupy all of Ukraine, but it aims to make Ukraine bend to its will and destabilize the Kiev government.
While the common assumption is that the NATO countries will not take military action, especially putting their forces on the ground, there will likely be a stronger call to assist the Ukrainian armed forces militarily. Further, Putin’s actions seem to be timed in a moment when America is mostly focusing on the ISIS crisis in Iraq/Syria. Putin may assume that the West’s capacity to deal with a multitude of crises is limited and he notes the especially weak response of the European members of NATO. In this he could be proven right. But in the end the cost will be Putin’s.
If indeed these actions continue, there will be great pressure to add new and more severe sanctions than heretofore. But an important question is, can the West and the international community, as a result of these actions, strengthen Eastern Europe’s military capacity and security? More importantly, can they strengthen their economies and lessen their vulnerabilities to Russian leverage and pressure? This can best be done by a massive assistance effort in Ukraine, but also throughout Europe, and with America – a kind of joint “Marshall Plan” – that will finally take Europe out of its now fumbling austerity policies. It can’t just talk about a new energy infrastructure, but must actually urgently implement such an effort that will revitalize the industrial and energy base of Europe and thus in time take away from Russia its main source of government and military funding.
The West has to think deeply about the fate of Ukraine and its meaning. Contemplating the possibility of heavy Russian troop presence along Poland’s eastern frontier if Ukraine falls under Russian aggression, Eastern European countries will fear they are next. With this outcome and no EU and NATO response, the people of Europe may fear there will be then no clear plan to address their economic and military security.
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