Politics & Policy

A Dreadful Inexorability

(Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)
Putin is likely to send his “peacekeeping” troops into Ukraine soon.

Serious sources are predicting that Russian president Vladimir Putin will send his forces into Ukraine — possibly under the guise of peacekeeping forces, as he did in Georgia in 2008.

The chief of Ukraine’s national-security council has stated that the risk of Russian incursions is very high. And a Moscow source of mine with links to the Russian foreign ministry — who has previously provided accurate information — has said that Putin is considering sending in his forces within the next few days.

A member of the German Bundestag, Marieluise Beck, has said that senior Russian diplomats have warned Berlin that Moscow’s military will enter Ukraine regardless of whether the EU imposes a third tier of sanctions against Russia.

Russia is angry that Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko ordered the Ukrainian military to resume its operations against pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine after a ten-day ceasefire initiated by Kiev. Although Moscow made statements about supporting the ceasefire, its proxies in Donetsk and Luhansk responded by stepping up attacks against Ukrainian positions, and men and heavy weaponry, including armored vehicles, flowed across the Russian border to reinforce the separatists.

Since resuming its operations, Ukraine’s military has inflicted heavy losses on the separatists. Ukraine claims that hundreds of them have been killed and some of the places they had occupied have been retaken. The Ukrainian military claimed that many separatists have surrendered (showing video of men with white flags). Kiev also says that Russia has sealed three of its border crossings, through which arms and men had been allowed through to join the separatists. Kiev says that separatists trying to flee Ukraine into Russia have been refused entry at those posts and even shot at.

The separatists have admitted suffering high casualties. One of their main military commanders, Igor Girkin (nom de guerre: Strelkov), admitted three of his lieutenants and dozens of men had deserted. But he said others will continue to fight. One Ukrainian soldier was killed when a group of separatists with white flags approached a government position in cars pretending to surrender and instead opened fire. His comrades returned fire and reportedly killed most of the separatists (some 15). I cannot confirm these figures, but from my own sources I believe the Ukrainian government is releasing largely accurate information.

Moscow has, predictably, accused the Ukrainians of deliberately wrecking a ceasefire (which had always — according to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe — been adhered to only by the Ukrainian side). The separatists and Moscow have accused Ukrainian forces of deliberately shelling civilian areas and killing civilians. Moscow has in the past week accused Ukrainian forces of firing artillery across the border into civilian areas in the Russian Rostov region.

Ukrainians deny both allegations and accuse the Russians or the separatists of deliberately firing on civilian areas to discredit the Ukrainian military. And if Moscow’s accusations are false, they accord with the Kremlin’s standard practice of providing a pretext to intervene to “protect” Russian ethnics in former Soviet territories — used in Georgia and more recently in February in Crimea.

Ukrainian sources have said that Russian armored vehicles painted in peacekeeping colors are concealed near the border. Members of the Russian Duma have apparently been told not to leave the Moscow area.

Meanwhile Poroshenko says he is ready for a new ceasefire if the separatists respond by halting attacks and laying down their arms. Ukraine. He has repeated guarantees that people without blood on their hands will receive full amnesty.

To me there seems to be a dreadful, almost mathematical, inexorability that Putin will go the military route and choose a partial or full invasion. Everything about his past behavior shows he will not entertain genuine compromise. His Crimean annexation gained him high approval (apparently 82 percent, according to the widely respected Levada Center). He needs more such strident action to sustain his ratings.

If past is precedent, it’s also likely that the EU will defer biting sanctions (next scheduled for review July 16) and will harp on about the need for talks and “contact groups,” those black holes for reality, all the while ignoring the consistent, deeply cynical lies and broken promises by Moscow. Ukrainians will die. But the EU will vigorously pursue inaction at all costs.

— Askold Krushelnycky is a London-based journalist and the son of Ukrainian refugees from World War II. He is the author of An Orange Revolution: A Personal Journey through Ukrainian History.

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