Reflections on Russia’s military objectives in Ukraine

I suspect that yesterday will go down as the day that a war to suppress separatists in eastern Ukraine became the first “Russo-Ukrainian War.” It is now clear that regular Russian military units are fighting alongside Ukrainian separatists and Russian irregulars (“military tourists,” many of whom have received training at a base near Rostov). Over the past several weeks, it appears the Russian irregulars have begun to outnumber Ukrainian separatists among the combatants. They have now been joined by growing numbers of Russian regulars, including elite special-forces (Spetsnaz) units – the “Polite Little Green Men” who were so effective in taking control of Crimea in February and early March. US intelligence sources claimed today that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are now in Ukraine, and informally American officials are telling reporters that figure is probably more like 2,000 or more. Continue reading

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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How will Russia react to Ukraine’s battlefield successes?

Ukraine’s armed forces continue to make significant progress on the battlefield. Rather than trying to take Donetsk and Luhansk immediately, they are pressing down from the north between the two cities in an apparent attempt to cut off supply lines between the two cities and from Russia to Donetsk. (Surrounding Luhansk will be more difficult because the city is so close to the Russian border.)

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The Ukrainian and North Caucasus insurgencies compared

The violent uprisings in eastern Ukraine differ from the insurgency that has been underway in the North Caucasus since the early 1990s in many ways – the mobilizing ideologies of the resistance movements are different, the terrain is different, the social context is different, the geopolitical implications are obviously very different, and so on. There are three differences, however, that strike me as particularly noteworthy: (1) the greater firepower of the Ukrainian insurgents; (2) the extent of media coverage; and (3) technological changes (the internet, digital cameras, smart phones, and social media) that account for what I will call the “crowdsourcing of intelligence” in the Ukrainian uprisings.

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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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Ukraine, Syria, and iIliberal unilateralism: Anne-Marie Slaughter in yesterday’s New York Times

In an op-ed in The New York Times yesterday, Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and chief executive of the New America Foundation and from 2009 to 2011 director of policy planning at the State Department, argues that the Obama White House should have listened to her and others in the State Department (including presumably her boss, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) who argued that the United States should provide weapons to the moderate opposition in Syria as the country began its descent into civil war. Had it done so, she argues, it “could have stopped the carnage spreading today in Syria and in Iraq.”

This claim strikes me as implausible in the extreme.

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No own goals at the September NATO summit

NATO is facing a host of difficult choices about how to respond to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its role in the uprisings in eastern Ukraine. The alliance has already taken steps to bolster its eastern defenses, and additional decisions will be made as events unfold over the coming three months. But most crucial decisions are going to be made at the September 4-5 NATO summit in Wales. The alliance is being urged by its eastern members to take additional measures to deter Russia from further acts of aggression and intimidation. It is also facing an extremely difficult decision over how to handle Georgia’s push to join the alliance.

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