What Putin may offer Poroshenko in Minsk

There are more indications today that Russia is ramping up military pressure on Ukraine and that its slow-drip invasion may accelerate if an agreement is not reached in Minsk tomorrow. There are multiple reports that a column of 40 or more armored vehicles has broken through the border near Novoazovsk in the south of Donetsk oblast and are headed toward Mariupol, Ukraine’s primary port on the Sea of Azov. Continue reading

Why a political solution in eastern Ukraine is unlikely until there is a military solution

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin are scheduled to meet on Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus, to discuss a possible political solution to the violent uprisings in eastern Ukraine. Unfortunately, I think the likelihood of success in Minsk– that is, an agreement that brings an end to the fighting and sets the stage for a political settlement with the separatists – is very low. Continue reading

What happens if Russia does not invade Ukraine?

Although pro-Russian fighters and armaments continue to cross the border from Russia into Ukraine, and the intensity of the fighting in eastern Ukraine has increased, the Ukrainian offensive has continued to make progress. Ukrainian forces appear to be on the verge of taking Horlivka, have entered central Luhansk, and are pressing in on Donetsk. Whatever unified political and military leadership there was among the separatists also appears to have collapsed.

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Whither the convoy? A fateful decision for Putin and his advisors

The humanitarian convoy that left the suburbs on Moscow on Tuesday did not, as expected, continue down the M2 highway straight for the border crossing to the north of Kharkiv. Instead, it took a left turn in Tula and proceeded on to Voronezh, where it has remained since. From Voronezh, if the intent is to deliver aid to Luhansk, it can either head southwest toward the Shebekino crossing near Kharkiv, or it can head south toward the border crossings in eastern Luhansk oblast that are still controlled by the separatists (see map). Continue reading

Reflections on four months of blogging

I started this blog four months ago because I wanted to contribute to the public debate over the unfolding drama in Ukraine. I had given a number lectures and interviews on the crisis, and had written two opinion pieces, but events were unfolding very fast and I wanted a way to contribute quickly and frequently, so I decided to try my hand at a blog.

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Russia’s Ukraine policy: A strategic mistake made worse by tactical blunders

I have been convinced since last fall that Russia’s policies toward Ukraine would ultimately backfire. Assuming that the Kremlin’s goal was to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence, it was a mistake to have been so heavy-handed in pressuring Kyiv to reject the EU association agreement last November.

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The implications of the downing of two Ukrainian SU-25s today

The Ukrainian government has announced, and there is video evidence and journalist reports confirming, that two Ukrainian SU-25s were brought down in the vicinity of the crash site of MH-17. The fighters came down around five miles from the Russian border near the town of Dmytrivka (see The New York Times map on its Ukraine Crisis in Maps page). According to the spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense and Security Council, Andrey Lysenko, the planes were flying at an altitude of 5,200 meters (a little over 17,000 feet). Continue reading

No quiet on the eastern front: The battle for Donetsk commences

It appears that the battle for Donetsk has begun and that the war in eastern Ukraine is coming to a decisive head. My guess is that Kyiv has decided to take advantage of the downing of MH-17 by pressing ahead with its offensive against the rebels and will try to defeat them decisively in their stronghold, the city of Donetsk.  Continue reading

The Kremlin between a rock and a hard place in Ukraine

It is sometimes said that the Kremlin’s goal in Ukraine is either the country’s decentralization or federalization. That, in my view, is incorrect. The Kremlin could care less about whether a regional legislature in western Ukraine is competitively elected, selects a regional governor independently of Kyiv, raises taxes independently, or spends money independently. Nor does the Kremlin care particularly about the treatment of ethnic Russians or Russophones in Ukraine (although, thanks in no small part to Russian state propaganda, a great many Russians are genuinely outraged by the fate of their “compatriots” at the hands of the “fascist junta” in Kyiv). For the Kremlin, decentralization, federalization, or language rights are means to an end, not ends in themselves. That end, I remain convinced, is keeping Ukraine out of the Western institutional order in general, out of the EU in particular, and out of NATO above all because of the perceived threat the alliance poses to Russian national security. Continue reading

Update on the crisis: A Ukrainian victory in Slavyansk but Kyiv still facing a major challenge in trying to secure Donetsk and Luhansk

The Ukrainian military delivered some welcome news to Kyiv today. Ukrainian forces have driven the separatists out of their stronghold in Slavyansk and have taken control of the city. They also appear to be on the verge of doing the same in Kramatorsk. In Slavyansk, the separatists abandoned a good deal of equipment and appear to have lost many fighters, and they lost additional assets, including armored vehicles, during the retreat.

That said, I very much doubt that Kyiv is on the verge of a decisive victory in the Donbas. Continue reading

Transnistria: A bridge too far for the Kremlin?

While the Kremlin’s long-term objective in Ukraine has been, and remains, the country’s integration into a Russian-dominated Eurasian Union, my guess is that its endgame in the current crisis is the establishment of a breakaway region in the east modeled on Transnistria in Moldova. Continue reading

What’s driving Russia’s “humanitarian intervention” in eastern Ukraine

The Interpreter magazine’s “Ukraine Liveblog” site has posted compelling evidence that what amounts to a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine is underway. Many video clips are available on the Internet showing what appear to be unmarked Russian tanks, military fighting vehicles (BTRs), multiple rocket launchers (MRLS), artillery, and transport trucks moving deep into eastern Ukraine.

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The annexation of Crimea as an historical turning point

I generally avoid unfalsifiable generalizations about historical epochs, but in this case I will indulge myself. I believe that Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea is going to prove as much of an inflection point in post-Cold War history as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Continue reading

Why a settlement in the Donbas is unlikely

Last Friday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s then President-elect (now President) Petro Poroshenko met in Normandy during the 70th anniversary of D-Day celebrations. In an interview with a Russian television station afterward, Putin stated: “I can only welcome Mr. Poroshenko’s position that the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine must be stopped immediately. I cannot say for sure how that can be implemented in practical terms, but overall it seemed to me to be the right approach.” Continue reading

The uprisings in Ukraine: the known knowns, probable knowns, and known unknowns

It is difficult for someone not on site to know what is going on in a region as volatile and chaotic as Ukraine is today (although it is also true that being on site has its own information and bias problems). It is particularly difficult when the contending forces are as determined to frame events to their advantage as they are in the current crisis. Nevertheless, having followed the reporting coming out of Ukraine as closely as I could since last October, I have the following take on some of the disputed fact claims. Continue reading

Reading Russia on Ukraine (2)

As I suggested at the end of my previous post, how one reads Russia on Ukraine has implications for how the West responds to the annexation of Crimea and Moscow’s destabilization of southeastern Ukraine. If the Wag the Dog school is correct, then Putin and his advisors (“cronies,” in this reading) are motivated primarily by insecurity about the stability of Putin’s regime and by fear of losing their power and privileges. Thus, it is weakness and vulnerability, not strength, that is driving Kremlin policy. And it is not NATO that worries the Kremlin most, but the risk of contagion from a democratic, liberal, pro-Western regime in Kyiv. Continue reading