Kiev has captured ten Russian paratroopers who admit crossing int Ukraine. And Russia has finally admitted what has been obvious since the start of the Ukraine crisis: Russian soldiers have been fighting Ukrainian forces in Ukraine.
Putin looks more like the Russian George W. Bush every day. Putin has whipped his country up into a war fever with fraudulent claims of atrocities being committed by the Ukraine government. Putin is fighting a covert war in the hope of provoking an excuse for an invasion. And every use of force by Putin has only made his political and military situation weaker.
Lets recap what has happened in Ukraine in the past twelve months.
This time last year, Ukraine was a close Russian ally, and the Russian lease on the Sevastopol naval base was completely secure.
Ukraine was considering closer ties to the EU, with a tariff agreement but that would benefit Russia almost as much as Ukraine.
Putin’s heavy-handed attempt to block the deal with the EU led to protests in the Ukrainian streets. And what the protestors were most insistent on rejecting was Putin himself. The Ukrainian opposition are not anti-Russian, they are anti-Putin.
By February, President Yanukovych of Ukraine was on the run as he faced impeachment proceedings and prosecution for embezzlement on a massive scale. Panicking, Putin ordered his forces already stationed in Crimea to commence an occupation leading to annexation in March.
The historical joke here is that the glorious Russian victory in capturing the Crimea was never much of a gain. The Crimea is a desert; the only strategic asset being the port of Sevastopol. And that is strategically worthless without control of the Bosphorus strait.
Annexing Crimea actually makes Russia’s long term position considerably weaker. It is a question of when, not whether, Russia relinquishes control yet again. It may take decades, a century even, but Russia will eventually leave. And Ukraine isn’t going to be at all friendly to Moscow until it does.
There is a large Russian speaking minority in eastern Ukraine. But speaking Russian is not the same as wanting Putin to rule your country. Americans, for example, speak English. That does not, however, mean that they miss the Queen.
Putin appears to be adamant that he will not allow Ukraine to leave Russia’s sphere of influence. But everything Putin does only deepens the divide. The only way that Putin can prevent the total collapse of his proxy forces in Ukraine is to mount an invasion, an enterprise that is surely doomed to defeat. The Soviet Union had a population of almost 300 million, but went down to ignominious defeat attempting to occupy Afghanistan with a population of a mere 10 million at the time.
The population of Russia is 145 million; off Ukraine, 45 million. Imagine for the sake of argument that a Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine succeeds, and Putin declares Mission Accomplished from the deck of a Russian battleship. Where does Russia find the troops to occupy Ukraine? And how does Putin prevent other parts of the decrepit Russian empire from breaking away while the majority of his armed forces are tied down in the southwest?
Unlike the US in Iraq, Russia does not enjoy an overwhelming military advantage over Ukraine. (And Iraq remains a thorn in America’s side.) What’s more, we are now in late August and winter is coming. It’s not exactly the optimal time to take over your neighbor.
Putin’s head is now in a noose of his own making. He can’t withdraw without a loss of face that would completely destroy the brutish self-image he has striven to create. But invading Ukraine might trigger the breakup of what remains of the Russian empire.
And then, Russia’s geopolitical foes, internal and external, will all be singing “Mission Accomplished.”