‘On the bus, off the bus,’ as they say in the army, a phrase that sums up the frustration soldiers feel at the confusing and sometimes contradictory orders that seem to make up military life. It’s felt a bit like that this week with the on again, off again Russian invasion of Ukraine.
We first heard about this invasion back in November, at which point the US government informed us that the Russian attack was likely to come in January. That month came and went without any sight of Russian tanks charging across the Ukrainian border, and as if to acknowledge that reality, the White House eventually backtracked a little and declared that it did not consider the invasion ‘imminent.’
Invasion off, or so it seemed for a bit. But as this week comes to an end, all of a sudden it’s back on again. Western diplomats have been racing out of Kiev in fear of their lives, advising their fellow countrymen to do the same. The United States, Canada, the UK, Israel, and a whole bunch of others have suggested that their citizens get out of Ukraine while they still can.
‘The Russians are coming!’
At least according to anonymous ‘US officials’.
For according to PBS defence correspondent Nick Schifrin, who Tweeted: ‘The US believes Russian President Vladimir Putin has decided to invade Ukraine, and has communicated that decision to the Russian military, three Western and defense officials tell me.’ Schifrin then followed up with extra Tweets, in which 3 officials miraculously expanded into 6: ‘The US expects the invasion to begin next week, six US and Western officials tell me,’ he wrote, adding that, ‘US officials expect a horrific, bloody campaign that begins with two days of aerial bombardment and electronic warfare, followed by an invasion, with the possible goal of regime change.’
Or maybe not.
Let’s face it, anonymous officials ‘believing’, ‘expecting’ and ‘anticipating’ isn’t really much by way of evidence. Do these officials actually know anything? Or do they just ‘believe’? I have to say that I was immediately sceptical.
And then, all of sudden, everything turned around 180 degrees. ‘The White House is not saying that Putin has made a final decision to launch an attack on Ukraine, [spokesman Jake] Sullivan says,’ reported the Washington Post’s John Hudson. ‘Sullivan underscores that it’s not the Biden administration’s understanding that Putin has made a decision to invade,’ he added.
Or maybe not. Who knows. Perhaps tomorrow, they’ll be briefing us that it’s back on again. At this point, one begins to wonder if these people are serious or are playing some sort of weird mind game with us or are just total clowns who don’t know what they’re doing.
Suffice it to say that I’m on the doubtful side when it comes to these invasion stories. My position has long been that Russia will most definitely attack Ukraine if the latter decides to launch a major military offensive against rebel Donbass, but short of that will keep its powder dry.
As I’ve said before, my view is that the problem with the West’s policies is precisely that they do nothing to discourage Ukraine from launching such an attack. I tend to the opinion that the Ukrainians know that an attempt to recapture Donbass by force would result in their utter destruction at the hands of the Russian army, but it strikes me as unwise to test that theory out in practice. As it is, the situation in Donbass isn’t looking good, with a vast recent increase in the number of ceasefire violations (HT to commentator Lola for the graphic below).
All this raises the danger either of a Ukrainian offensive in Donbass which provokes a Russian response or of a unplanned spiralling escalation of violence which gets out of control and produces the same result. Just as the Americans are talking up the Russian threat, Russian intelligence chief Nikolai Patrushev has been issuing regular claims of a build up of Ukrainian forces near the Donbass frontline, sparking speculation that a Ukrainian attack is imminent.
Are his accusations any more plausible? Who knows? But one thing is sure – we are in dangerous territory. It’s just that the danger may not be coming from the direction everyone in the West is expecting. Let’s hope it all blows over and that the troops get back ‘off the bus’ once and for all.