The Russians are Coming  


By Walter Derzko


After the much anticipated Russian invasion of Crimea, the entire world has unilaterally reacted, supporting Ukrainian sovereignty and independence. The risk of eastern oblasts destabilization and invasion is high too.

Russia can start a war in Crimea, but they won’t easily win it.  Look at the ratio of professional soldiers to conscripts. Ukraine’s armed forces are 60% professional; Russia’s only 30%. There are hopeful signs of eventual de-escalation. The 16,000 invading Russian troops are docile. So far, no shooting, bloodshed or loss of life. Russia has not undertaken any false flag operations yet but may still kill Russian-speaking citizens to provoke and justify a war.

Russian aggression is uniting all Ukrainians. Mass pro-Ukrainian rallies were held to oppose the invasion in Kharkiv, Odesa, Sumy, Mykolayiv, Kherson, Poltava, Kryvyi Rih and Dnipropetrovsk. Ukraine is mobilizing  its military reserves and patriotic Ukrainians are voluntarily enlisting. Tatars will not recognize separatism, and will fight to stay in Ukraine. Putin’s goal is to discredit Maidan so it won’t spread, domino style, to Russia and threaten his own regime. Russia invaded Crimea to protect ethnic Russians minorities. Many members of this supposedly oppressed minority reject Putin’s military interventions. Normally endangered people get evacuated, not invaded.

In a stabilization plan, Oleksandr Turchynov announced on March 2, the appointment of two oligarchs as Oblast governors – Sergei Taruta in Donetsk and Ihor Kolomoysky in Dnipropetrovsk. Steven Pifer, former American ambassador to Ukraine, said “They need people who have credibility in eastern Ukraine. The risk is this will be seen as business as usual by putting wealthy people in government. That has been part of the problem for the past 22 years.”

Seventeen US war ships and three nuclear subs are now in the Aegean Sea on “standby” and if Ukraine requests, other Sixth fleet vessels could eventually form a naval blockade to choke off Crimea  from Russian war supplies. This will be strengthened if Ukraine closes the Russian boarder or announces a No Fly zone, or threatens to simply cut off fresh water supplies to Crimea for a day or two. Ukraine’s envoy to the UN said that Kyiv would ask for international military support if Russia expanded its military action in his country. NATO troops are being deployed to Poland.


Russian Isolation and Collapse?

While the situation currently looks dark for Crimea, I think we are seeing the early warning signals of Putin’s downfall or even a break-up of the Russian Federation. Sound improbable?

Russia could turn out to be a victim of its own medicine. A Russian Duma bill allowing Russia to “absorb new territories from neighbouring states” by  local referenda that override international agreements, could backfire on Russia and even lead to its self-destruction claims Moscow commentator Irek Murtazin in  Two can play that game. What will happen, Murtazin asks, “if tomorrow a similar law is adopted by China, Japan, Mongolia, Ukraine or Belarus? “If Tyva, for example, wants to combine with Mongolia? A couple of districts of Orenburg with Kazakhstan? Taganrog and Novorossiisk want to join Ukraine? And Smolensk and Pskov with Belarus? If any of those things happen, what will the Russian legislators of this new measure say?  That it “contradicts international law” given what they have done themselves?”

If fact, on March 1, China passed a similar law for annexing Russian land, likely targeting Siberia, so Putin has a choice: capture Crimea or jettison Siberia.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned that Russia could be ejected from the Group of Eight (G8). “ Putin, was “not going to have a Sochi G8, he may not even remain in the G8 if this continues, he may find himself with visa bans and asset freezes on Russian business. American business may pull back, there may be further tumbles of the rouble.” The MICEX stock index fell 10 percent and Gazprom was down more than 13 percent. “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped-up pretext,” Mr Kerry told the CBS program Face the Nation.

There are appeals to all liberation movements inside Russia to intensify their activities. Imagine, if “Muslim Maidans” break out simultaneously across the Russian Federation demanding freedom and self-determination. Then Putin will have a very difficult strategic decision on his hands: Do I keep armed forces in Crimea or do I take them out to prevent the breakup of the Russian Federation? A call on Maidan said: “if a single drop of Muslim Tatar blood is spilt in Crimea, Red Square in Moscow will become true to its name. By starting a war in Crimea, Mr. Putin, you are starting a war against all Muslims in your own country.”

What if the EU eventually decides to wean itself off Russian gas from Gazprom? This could very quickly bankrupt the Russian Federation, just as we saw in 1989 as the USSR collapsed. Last year, Germany’s E.ON signed an agreement with Canada’s Pieridae Energy for liquefied natural gas, or LNG to diversify away from Russia. The deal is worth several billion euros per year, supplying 5 million tons of LNG per year, over a 20 years period, starting in 2020. The deliveries start from Goldboro’s LNG terminal on Canada’s east coast, in the first quarter of 2020. Who is next?

Who will blink first and stand down? Putin or the West? You can guess my bet.