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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

With the intensification of the conflict, what is Putin's goal in the Ukraine?

Links: A. Fears of New Separatist Offensive in Ukraine.
           B. Concern over likely new Offensive.

The conflict in Ukraine shows no indications of de-escalation, as Russian-backed separatists continue to dictate the course of events.  Since last September's "cease fire", the Separatists have conducted a number of important operations, including the seizure of the airport at Donetsk and the occupation of the strategic town of Debaltseve.  So what, exactly was the purpose of the cease fire?  A serious analysis of the conflict over the past year, with a focus on where both sides are today, makes it apparent that the Russians have had no trouble outmaneuvering, outgunning, and outthinking the Ukrainians.  Yes, the sanctions are in place, and yes, they have damaged the Russian economy.  But they have failed miserably in their intention, which was to encourage a cease fire and pressure Russia into de-militarizing eastern Ukraine.  In fact, the opposite has occurred.  No doubt we here at MB were not the only bloggers who predicted that Russia would thumb its nose at sanctions.  The Russian people no do respond well to that type of pressure.  Traditionally, they have shown much more understanding for conflicts that are settled on the battlefield.  We predicted that the Russian people might become even more galvanized behind Putin if the west insisted on a sanctions regime.  Evidence points to our correct interpretation of the circumstances.  The Russian media is loath to print or air a story that is critical of the Separatists, and the concocted stories regarding the Ukrainian government and alleged "atrocities" against ethnic Russians take a page right from Nazi tactics on the German-Polish border, circa 1939.  Someone needs to deliver a polite message to Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande and Barack Obama: Sanctions have failed.  Please tell us you have a plan B.  If not, Putin may be tempted to split Ukraine right in half.

The Ukrainian military has not shown the strength and decisiveness that MB had predicted.  Outgunned and outflanked repeatedly, the Ukrainians have been obliged to evacuate a number of strategic towns and locations.  Its possible that this is a direct result of the lack of military support from the west, in particular the United States.  With Congressmen of both parties urging President Obama to start providing weapons and supplies to the Ukrainians, Obama did nothing, although U.S. military advisors are on the ground, as well as instructors, and the United States has been sharing sensitive imagery and intelligence with the Ukrainians from the beginning of the conflict.  One disturbing trend has been the increasing number of foreign mercenaries that have been fighting on behalf of Ukraine.  The rest of Ukraine continues to function normally, as Russia has not curtailed the supply of gas.  It does appear that the port city of Mariupol is the next strategic target for the Separatists, which would make sense, given Putin's obsession with the turning the Black Sea into a Russian lake.

As of mid-April, 2015, the military situation is extremely delicate for the Ukrainian government.  While its true that the majority of Ukraine's military has not been brought into the conflict, there are reasons for that decision.  The government has the obligation of ensuring at least a modest defense of the capital city of Kiev, should the conflict escalate.  If the actions of the present Ukrainian government are any indication, then the military decisions have been made conservatively and the bulk of Ukraine's armor and air resources have not been deployed (although a great deal of artillery seems to have made its way to the front).  The Ukrainian military authorities are concerned that the regular army, with so many new conscripts, will get pulverized on the eastern front.  So the arrival of U.S. advisors/instructors is welcome.  But the United States must set an example and demonstrate that it can discern the difference between the "good guys and the bad guys".  If we can arm Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Turkey, then we should be able to assist Ukraine in a battle for survival against a 21st century fascist state.

As for Putin's goal, your guess is as good as ours.  It appears that possibly he has decided to emasculate Ukraine by splitting it in two and depriving Kiev of any port access to the Black Sea.  I can understand why some analysts might hypothesize that Putin intends on destroying independent Ukraine.  No matter how we size it up, we cannot imagine that Putin actually intends on occupying the entire Ukraine.  Western Ukraine is very Nationalist and Russia in particular is despised (with good reason).  Trying to occupy anything west of Kiev would be more trouble than its worth, not to mention the Ukrainian military, such as it is, would take a toll on the Russians before all was said and done.  But Putin has become hard to predict.  In fact, he new policy seems to be, "what can I do to surprise the west today", so truly, the only surprise would be if Putin reverted back to what we believe was the original strategy and offers to evacuate eastern Ukraine in exchange for official recognition of Russian suzerainty over the Donbas Basin.

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