I have had a couple more pieces published in RT in the last two days. One concerns the probably temporary closure of the Kyiv Post and why it seems to have provoked immense outrage whereas the previous shutting down of Russian-language Ukrainian media outlets did not. The other responds to a letter of resignation sent by Russian liberal journalist Konstantin [von] Eggert [MBE] to the Chatham House think tank in protest the institute’s decision to give an award to a BLM activist. I use this an opportunity to delve into different Russian and Western conceptions of rights and freedoms. You can read these here and here.
For this post, though, I intend to tackle another topic, which follows on naturally from my last one. In that, I mocked the idea being floated around in some circles that Russia was behind the Belarus-EU migrant crisis and somehow using it as a provocation for further aggressive action, including maybe a military assault on the ‘Suwalki Gap’.
As we now know from Bloomberg, this theory is nonsense: Russia has no intention of invading Poland, it’s planning to invade Ukraine instead. Or so say ‘American officials’, and as we all know you can trust their judgement 100%.
“The U.S. is raising the alarm with European Union allies that Russia may be weighing a potential invasion of Ukraine as tensions flare between Moscow and the bloc over migrants and energy supplies.
With Washington closely monitoring a buildup of Russian forces near the Ukrainian border, U.S. officials have briefed EU counterparts on their concerns over a possible military operation, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
… The assessments are believed to be based on information the U.S. hasn’t yet shared with European governments, which would have to happen before any decision is made on a collective response, the people said. They’re backed up by publicly-available evidence, according to officials familiar with the administration’s thinking.
… Russia has orchestrated the migrant crisis between Belarus and Poland and the Baltic states — Lithuania and Latvia share a border with Belarus — to try to destabilize the region, two U.S. administration officials said. U.S. concerns about Russian intentions are based on accumulated evidence and trends that carry echoes of the run-up to Putin’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, another administration official said.
… Some analysts argue that Putin may believe now is the time to halt Ukraine’s closer embrace with the West before it progresses any further.
“What seems to have changed is Russia’s assessment of where things are going,” said Samuel Charap, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. “They seem to have concluded that unless they do something, the trend lines are heading to Russia losing Ukraine.”
According to defense-intelligence firm Janes, the recent Russian deployment has been covert, often taking place at night and carried out by elite ground units, in contrast to the fairly open buildup in the spring.
Let’s take a look at all this. We have some statements from three anonymous officials, based on “publicly available information” (none of which I have seen that points to an imminent invasion) and some sort of secret information that the US hasn’t shared with anybody and so can’t be assessed. Now call me a sceptic, but unverifiable information from anonymous sources doesn’t sound like something very solid to me.
Beyond that, if the final lines from Janes are correct, we have a deployment of “elite ground units,” but you can’t invade a foreign country just using “elite” units, let alone a country the size of Ukraine. You’d need a massive build-up of a very considerable volume of rank-and-file line units. So, the actual evidence presented doesn’t fit the scenario portrayed.
As for Mr Charap’s statement that “They seem to have concluded that unless they do something, the trend lines are heading to Russia losing Ukraine,” I have yet to see any indication of this. Quite the contrary. Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev’s recent comment that Russia should do “nothing” about Ukraine and simply wait until the Ukrainians come to their senses, points to an entirely different conclusion. We are “patient,” said Medvedev, who is Deputy Chairman of the Security Council, and so one imagines, well versed in what is in people’s minds at the highest level. His comments hardly suggest that senior officials are thinking that radical action is urgently required.
The fact that American “officials” are briefing the press that war is possible, and that analysts from the RAND Corporation are backing them up, speaks to an awful lack of understanding of things Russian in the United States. The fact that Bloomberg then repeats these claims without serious challenge points also to a disturbing lack of critical thinking on behalf of the American press (no surprise there!), as well as reinforcing what academic studies of the media have long since noted – its worrisome dependence on official sources.
The only part of the Bloomberg article that gives readers a real sense of what’s going on comes in the following lines, which say:
Russia doesn’t intend to start a war with Ukraine now, though Moscow should show it’s ready to use force if necessary, one person close to the Kremlin said. An offensive is unlikely as Russian troops would face public resistance in Kyiv and other cities, but there is a plan to respond to provocations from Ukraine, another official said.
This strikes me as accurate. There is absolutely no reason for Russia to start a war with Ukraine. It would be enormously costly and bring no obvious benefits. Besides which, war needs careful advance preparation of public opinion. There have been absolutely no indications of the Kremlin doing anything of the sort. That said, as I have noted before, I have little doubt that if Ukraine launched a major attack on the rebel regions of Donbass, and if large numbers of civilians were killed as a result (as would be most likely), Russia would respond. And its response would likely be very tough, much tougher than it was in August 2014 when it very briefly sent a limited number of forces into Donbass to defeat the Ukrainians at Ilovaisk. If there is a Russian invasion of Ukraine, it’s likely to be large-scale, to settle the issue once and for all.
All this talk of war is therefore rather dangerous. It helps to ramp up tensions on Russia’s borders, and also serves to justify a build-up by NATO forces in the region. That in turn may send the wrong messages to Ukraine and encourage it to act rashly. Fortunately, I don’t think that things will go that far, but I do think that “American officials” and the press are playing with fire. They would be well advised to stop. Unfortunately, one gets the impression that their lack of knowledge and understanding makes that impossible. Sad times indeed.