Monday, August 04, 2014

Another Long War

The Ukraine crisis is getting to the point where Russia will need to send in conventional combat units to prevent Kiev from winning the battle for eastern Ukraine. Even if successful, Ukraine is now faced with its own Long War against Russian aggression.

Ukrainian forces continue to press their advantage in eastern Ukraine:

Government forces tightened the noose around the main stronghold of pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine on Saturday and, with diplomacy stalled, Moscow and the West stepped up their war of words.

The seizure of Krasnogorovka and Staromikhailovka, towns just outside Donetsk, brought the army to the edge of one of the last cities still in rebel hands following its advances in the past month. The other is Luhansk, near the border with Russia.

I'm relieved the Ukrainians didn't take our advice to go along with a ceasefire after the Malaysian airline shootdown, which would bizarrely reward the rebels and their Russian masters for killing 300 innocent people.

Russia has escalated their assistance to the separatists there from encouragement and special forces to increasingly sophisticated weapons, Russian-supplied rebels, and fire support.

Yet Ukraine's armed forces have recovered enough to retake territory from the separatists.

Russia will soon face the choice of escalating to open warfare against Ukraine or accepting the defeat of their proxies--even if Russia still foments unrest after the separatist defeat.

Even if Russia accepts defeat and the crisis ends, don't forget that Russia ends the crisis in possession of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, which was the first target of Russia's aggression.

Ukraine may survive the very clear declaration by Moscow that they do not recognize the validity of Ukraine's independence.

But there will be future Russian attempts to weaken and divide Ukraine in order to take more or all of Ukraine in the future.

Ukraine has a lot of work to do.

They need to rebuild their military and intelligence services for conventional and irregular warfare and purge them of Russian influence.

They need to battle corruption and build rule of law in order to advance their economy.

They need to build forces capable of challenging Russia's control of Crimea.

They need to challenge Russian influence in Belarus to forestall a Russian threat along Ukraine's long northern border.

They need to challenge Russian control of Transdniestria which is a potential airhead in Ukraine's deep rear area.

They need to bolster ties with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania to gain potential covert support in case of a future war with Russia.

And they need to encourage NATO to expand forces and logistics capabilities into the new NATO states of eastern Europe to make NATO support at least theoretically possible.

But first they need to defeat the Russian attempt to absorb eastern Ukraine and deter a Russian escalation to conventional war. Ukraine's Long War is now begun.

UPDATE: The Poles are worried:

Poland's prime minister says he has information indicating that there is a growing threat of a "direct intervention" by Russia in Ukraine.

I don't know what indicators worry the Poles. But there is reason to worry just from the numbers:

Over the past several weeks, Russia has built up 17 battalions — totaling 19,000 to 21,000 troops, according to one Western estimate — into a battle-ready force of infantry, armor, artillery and air defense within a few miles of the border. In addition, it has vastly expanded its firepower, increasing the number of advanced surface-to-air missile units to 14 from eight, and deploying more than 30 artillery batteries, according to the officials.

Don't forget the 20,000 or so occupying Crimea.

And what of Russia's Ministry of Interior troops? They would be fine for fighting in cities and securing lines of communication behind a spearhead of those 17 battalions--which could be the spearheads of a further Russian army reinforcement.

Ukraine may face a long war. But they have to avoid a short defeat first.