Russia’s Stealth Invasion of Ukraine

It appears that the Russian invasion of Ukraine that I have feared since March has now begun in earnest, with the opening of a new front in the vicinity of Mariupol on the shores of the Azov Sea and a major counterattack in Luhansk Oblast leading to the retreat of Ukrainian forces from positions they have occupied (in some cases) since before the June ceasefire. This separatist counter-offensive has generated a lot of discussion among analysts and commentators about whether the forces attacking Novoazovsk and Mariupol belong to regular Russian units or irregular forces, as part of an effort to determine whether or not these new developments amount to a Russian invasion or just a new escalation by separatist forces.

I would argue that the specific provenance of the fighters involved doesn’t actually matter very much in this context. There is no doubt that the forces attacking in the south, near Novoazovsk and Mariupol came directly from Russia, not from territory already controlled by the separatists farther north. To do so, they had to be allowed through the border by Russian border guards. Furthermore, there is also no doubt that they are using weapons and equipment supplied by the Russian government, since they are no longer even trying to claim that the equipment they are using was captured from defeated Ukrainian forces.

In these circumstances, why does it matter which specific people are sitting in the tanks? 

And if it did matter, there is now more and more evidence being uncovered in Russian social media and in independent reporting that active duty Russian personnel ARE fighting in Ukraine. This includes the 10 Russian soldiers that the Ukrainian government has claimed to have captured on Ukrainian territory, as well as the various Russian soldiers from units such as the 76th Airborne Division based in Pskov who have been reported to have died recently in unexplained circumstances. 

One can invade a country through a direct frontal assault. Or one can do it in secret, a little bit at a time. The Russian government has chosen the second path. It doesn’t make it any less of an invasion.

It also means that the Minsk talks are almost certainly a diversion, meant to distract Western leaders from the reality of what is happening on the ground. The idea is that as long as world leaders think there is a chance at successful peace talks, they will refrain from strong words or actions condemning what Russia is doing in Ukraine. This seems to be working out for Russia so far, but it should not distract us from events on the ground. 

I should be clear that I don’t think Russia is currently planning a full takeover of any part of eastern Ukraine. The goal remains what it has been for months now: to ensure that Ukraine remains unstable and weak. For now, in order to accomplish this goal, Russia needs to make sure the separatists are not defeated and remain a viable force. Both the escalation in assistance and the opening of the new front are a response to the losses that the separatists had suffered in recent weeks.

In the long run, the only acceptable end to the conflict for Russia is one that would either freeze the current situation in place with separatists in control of significant territory in eastern Ukraine (the Transnistria variant) or the removal of the pro-Western Ukrainian government and its replacement by a pro-Russian one. Participants in peace talks have to understand that this is essentially a red line for Moscow. Putin will not allow the restoration of control over eastern Ukraine by the current Ukrainian government by peaceful means and is clearly willing to directly involve Russian forces in military action to ensure that it doesn’t happen through a Ukrainian military victory. 

Given Russia’s superior military capabilities this is a war that Ukraine cannot win, at least not by military means. The alternatives are to make a deal with whatever terms are possible or to continue the struggle for a long time, hoping that inflicting a high cost on Russian forces will eventually turn Russians against their government’s adventure. The former will lead to the collapse of the Ukrainian government. The latter will take a very long time at best and result in huge numbers of civilian casualties. 

11 thoughts on “Russia’s Stealth Invasion of Ukraine

  1. Nice post and aligns with what I’ve observed over the past 48 hours on various Russian social media sites. I suspect that the Kremlin leadership understands that NATO/US is not about to intervene militarily to fight back against this not-so subtle invasion. Despite all the rhetoric out of Brussels and Washington, I hope that the Ukrainian leadership also understands that the western cavalry is nowhere in sight. Unfortunately, once this message is clearly understood within the Ukrainian ranks (both government and nationalist forces), there could be calls to take the war into Russia proper. Ukrainian terrorist acts in the heart of Moscow would then allow the Kremlin leadership to take the gloves off and hit back hard. Potential for escalation remains high.

    • Talk of Ukrainian terrorist attacks in the heart of Moscow is an eerily good fit to the “terrorist attacks” in Moscow and other parts of Russia in 1999 which are now generally believed to have been the work of Russian clandestine forces. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_apartment_bombings). Then, too, they most conveniently provided a cover story for escalating the war in Chechnya. The difference being that the war in Chechnya was a Russian civil war, and this war is just outright Russian aggression.

      There is no real evidence of the existence of “Ukrainian terrorists”, much less that they have capable cells in Moscow.

  2. Pingback: Russia’s Stealth Invasion of Ukraine | Atlantic Sentinel

  3. Dmitry,
    As long as you ignore the CIA/neonazi coup on Feb.22.2014 this waste of time addresses only stupid or ingorant public in the hope that by reading it they might become even more stupid and ignorant. Everybody with at least 1 brain cell and a bit of interest for Ukraine knows that this country has been infiltrated, it’s democratic structures completely destroyed and then occupied by predatory Wall Street interests on Feb.22.2014. Everybody in the country knows that the Nazi government is busy to erase the Russian minority of 45%, culturally (Russian is forbidden) and ethnically. The Nazi government refuses all Russian speaking war refugees to enter or resettle on government controlled territories. . The only country to send food an emergency supplies to the starving Russian minority there was Russia.
    “Putin invading” a country in this condition is an eufemism for the new predator owners who try to protect the pray they suck all the blood from to the death. These predators are your spnsors.

  4. Escalation would be stupid and would only serve western interests in making both Russia and the Ukraine weaker and suffer more.

    the situation in the Ukraine is a civil war and what should happen is that Kiev should stop killing their own people and should start practicing what the west preaches (yet rarely practices itself) and start talking to the rebels about what sort of country the Ukraine is going to become in terms of autonomous or separate regions.. if it is OK for Kosovo to be separate from Serbia then how can anyone defend a line drawn on a map that clearly groups people together that can’t live together.

    The west happily supported the opposition in Syria where the west shares no border and had no right to interfere, yet Russia is not allowed to show any interest in a country in Europe shelling and bombing its own people and calling them pro Russian terrorists.

    The illegal coup that put those in Kiev in power was violence and now the suppression of those that oppose that illegal act are called terrorists and are bombed and shelled… but you want to focus on potential support from Russia.

    the Ukraine has never operated the Javelin ATGM and Russia does not produce them and therefore cannot supply them yet Rebels are reported to have captured some… if the west can supply the illegal junta in Kiev why on earth would Russia not support the opposition?

    And Finally the EU and NATO have imposed sanctions on Russia for interfering and refuse to lift those sanctions… if Russia is going to be punished with no right of appeal or compensation… then I would suggest she might as well commit the crime because she has already been judged and convicted in the western press and the western government elite… ask Saddam or Gaddafi about that… not even a sorry.

    That raises another issue… When Saddam gassed his own people, the Kurds… his enemy, if I remember rightly the US State Department blamed the Iranians for a barbaric use of chemical weapons. When it turned out Saddam did it instead of condemning him they dropped the subject until the 1990s when he invaded Kuwaite and then his evil crime was trotted out as an example of how evil he was.

    Kiev is bombing and shelling their own people but nothing in the west is said about this.

  5. The real problem in the Ukraine is labels… nazi this terrorist that… pro EU and pro Russia.

    Take away the stupid labels and it is Ukrainians killing Ukrainians with each side getting support from either the west or Russia. So far the evidence of Russian support has been pathetic, but even if it was far more solid so what. talk of taking the fight to Russia via terrorist activities has been suggested by several in Kiev… I am sure this has nothing to do with regime change on the part of Russia, but I am also sure they wouldn’t mind some preemptive self defence if that sort of thing started to happen.

    Some Saudi nationals and some Pakistanis hijacked a few planes in the US and in self defence they invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. In comparison a few Su-34 strikes on certain buildings in Kiev is a measured response.

  6. You count tanks. The morale of the invaders after the crazy extremist nationalists have been spent, is going to be in the pits. Not so with the Ukrainians. A war of independence against lazy invaders commanded by imperialistic leaders is not mathematics.

  7. Everyone in the regions seems to have camera cell phones. From the rebel side almost hourly battle video is available often unedited and grim. If the Russian military were on scene it would be easy to record. So, where is the evidence? The Kiev authorities are becoming quite tiresome with their endless, hysterical fulminations. Put up or shut up.

    Oh, and those laughable satellite ‘photos’. Look at all that Russian hardware neatly and openly on view. If that’s how they’re going in it shouldn’t be hard to get some ground/battle shots. And where are these?

    In a week or two this will all blow over. No wonder Putin’s so damned smug. His opponents are contemptible. But what can you do?

  8. “There is no doubt that the forces attacking in the south, near Novoazovsk and Mariupol came directly from Russia…”

    Why is there no doubt?

    Had you bothered to check what the other side is saying, you could have followed rebels’ movement south along the border on the UKRAINIAN side on an hour by hour basis.

    So I ask again WHY is there no doubt?

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