Ukraine fears that an invasion from Russia may be soon, and those concerns were bolstered by Russia’s decision to call up military reserves for exercises and drills along their shared borders. NATO reports indicate that Russia has stationed more than 20,000 combat-ready troops along border areas of Ukraine. Earlier in the week, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk told reporters at a news conference that Polish intelligence suggests a growing threat by Russia to directly intervene in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s military spokesperson, Andriy Lysenko, says that Ukrainian intelligence sources estimate some 45,000 soldiers, 1,360 armored vehicles, almost 200 warplanes, and 160 tanks are stationed at points ready to cross the border. The Ukrainian military has made significant gains against separatist rebels in the Donbass region, an embarrassment to the Russian-backed rebels.
At the same time, the economic sanctions war is impacting the Russian economy. Previously, Vladimir Putin had brushed aside suggestions that Russia would retaliate against Western sanctions. Actions against Western companies, such as McDonald’s, and bans on Ukrainian and Polish food products, were labeled as purely coincidental. But on Tuesday, the Kremlin was in a different mood when Alexei Alexeenko, spokesperson for Russia’s food safety watchdog, announced that President Putin was preparing a ban on fruit and vegetables from Europe. The ban also includes all meat products and produce from the United States. Reuters reports that Alexeenko described the bans as “quite substantial.”
On Wednesday, Russia convened an emergency session of the UN Security Council to deliberate what Russia portrayed as a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Ukraine. As Ukrainian forces close in on pro-Russian rebels, Russia’s ambassador to the United Stations, Vitaly Churkin, told Security Council members that Russia wanted to send a convoy of “humanitarian assistance” into Ukraine. Churkin listed Donetsk and Luhansk as areas of assistance, but did not elaborate on what Russia defines as “other inhabited areas of Ukraine.”
Ukraine fears that Russia plans to invade soon, using the cover of a so-called peace keeping mission, and thereby allowing pro-Russian separatists to preserve territorial gains in eastern Ukraine. Writing in the Kyiv Post, Timothy Ash, senior analyst of emerging markets for the London Standard, speculates that Russian troops would have no difficulty in defeating the Ukrainian army. He suggests that Russia would benefit from a ‘‘frozen conflict’’ scenario, much like the long-running conflicts over sovereignty in Nagorno-Karabakh, northern Cyprus, Trans-Dniestr, or South Ossetia and Abhazia.
The Donbass region has a large ethnic Russian minority, but the majority of residents are ethnic Ukrainians. Ukraine is also concerned about Moscow exercising the so-called “Putin Doctrine,” the idea that Russia has the right to intervene, anywhere in the world, when the Russian government feels that the safety of Russian citizens are in jeopardy. Sergiy Fedunyak, of the Kennan Institute in Kyiv, writes that the Putin Doctrine means waging battles not only using conventional forms of warfare, but also of conducting regional “hybrid wars,” using specialized soldiers with high autonomy, embedded within the borders of a foreign territory. Those subversive units would appear to be working independently, but have Russian support and backing.
Russia has made efforts to publicly counter Ukraine’s fears of an impending invasion. Speaking to reporters from Russia Today television, Defense Ministry spokesperson Igor Konashenkov said, “…it is impossible to perform such a maneuver with thousands of soldiers with weapons and military equipment in such a short time.”
By Jim Hanemaayer