Light at the End of Putin’s Tunnel
by Walter Derzko
In the midst of mostly bad news from Ukraine, there is some glimmer of hope.
In wartime, Ukraine has to utilise more misinformation directed at Russia. It did that successfully last week, announcing that it’s given up on Eastern Ukraine, possibly lulling Sloviansk separatists into a false sense of security, while staging a successful surprise attacked to recapture checkpoints around Sloviansk. But why Sloviansk?
In the event of a conventional Russian military invasion and confrontation, Ukrainian forces would lose. But Kyiv does have other military cards to play. Kyiv has a strategic reserve of Kalashnikov assault rifles and other light weapons dating back to Soviet times. According to a UK military institute: “[Kyiv] has hinted quietly but strongly in military back channels that it might be prepared to open this strategic reserve of weapons to eastern Ukrainians prepared to resist any Russian military incursions. Since the stockpile consists of up to five million weapons, the prospect would be a nightmare for Russian military planners. The prospect of civil war and an anti-Russian insurgency on an unprecedented scale with unpredictable consequences represents a real – if extremely dangerous – bargaining chip for Kyiv. At least half the strategic stockpile of light weapons on Ukrainian territory is concentrated near Slavyansk.” Hopefully they haven’t all been stolen.
But can Ukraine actually beat Russia? That’s a question many people are asking themselves.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former White House security advisor noted at the Atlantic Council recently that Ukraine will only beat Russia in one way: prolonged urban resistance, and not through direct conventional warfare against tanks, which is what I proposed in my OPED several weeks ago. Ukraine needs to fight a war of attrition (http://bit.ly/1lBuxz9 )
Brzezinski concludes: “I think we should be more open to help Ukrainians defend themselves if they are attacked, because they will only defend themselves if they are attacked, if they think we will help them. So there is kind of a duality here. I’m not in favour of a rush of forces into Ukraine or engaging in immediate massive shipments of weapons, but I do think if we are to deter the Russians from moving in, we have to convince the Russians that it will be costly and prolonged. It will only be costly and prolonged if the Ukrainians fight. The Ukrainians will only fight if they think they will eventually get some help from the west, particularly the kind of weaponry that would be necessary to wage a successful defence. They are not going to beat the Russians out in the open field where thousands of tanks move in. They will only beat them one way. Prolonged urban resistance. Then the war becomes costly. Then its economic costs escalate dramatically for the Russians. And then the war becomes futile politically. But to be able to defend the city, you have to have hand-held anti-tank weapons, you have to have hand-held rockets, you have to have some organization to make it difficult. But city fighting is the most difficult and most costly kind of fighting for any partner engaged in a war, unless one partner is prepared to use weapons of total destruction, which obviously don’t come into play here.” (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW3Yj5jLcOs)
Brzezinski must still have some sway in US foreign policy.
Last week a group of Republican senators in the US Congress tabled the Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014, which proposes far tougher sanctions on Russia and offers direct defensive military assistance, which Obama has not supported so far.
Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014
Background: The situation in eastern Ukraine has deteriorated in recent days. Pro-Russian separatists seized additional administrative buildings and police stations. Russia has not implemented the Geneva Agreement and refuses to call on the separatists to disarm and vacate occupied buildings.
U.S. Response: The United States’ response thus far has been reactive and has failed to impose the type of cost that will change Vladimir Putin’s calculus. This legislation seeks to change that dynamic by providing a comprehensive strategy that strengthens the NATO alliance, deters Russian aggression by imposing tougher sanctions, and supports our non-NATO partners in Europe and Eurasia. In particular, the legislation provides Ukraine with direct military assistance, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, as appropriate.
Sanctions: The legislation imposes immediate on four Russian banks: Sberbank, VTB Bank, VEB Bank, Gazprombank, as well as Gazprom, Novatek, Rosneft, and Rosoboronexport. Second, the legislation cuts off all senior Russian officials from the world’s financial system. In addition, tough sanctions would target any Russian entities owned by the Russian government across the banking, arms, defense, energy, financial services, metals, or mining sectors.
Military Aid to Ukraine: The legislation authorizes $100 million worth of direct military assistance to Ukraine, including anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons and small arms. It also encourages the sharing of intelligence with Ukraine.
Let’s hope both Republicans and Democrats support this bill in Congress and it’s done before the Russian army formally invades Ukraine or strolls in as “peace keepers”.