Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The New Twilight Struggle in Europe

The fighting in Ukraine is over, it seems. Russia now has control of Crimea and Russia has helped their proxies in eastern Ukraine survive. Now the twilight struggle begins.

Ukraine is the immediate battlefield that must strengthen itself to resist further Russian aggression and to prepare to regain what has been lost.

The Ukrainians seem to understand the basics of strengthening their economy and military to form the foundation of that struggle. Ukrainian President Poroshenko emphasized what must be done:

He said he had assembled a team of experts to help fight pervasive corruption, which he likened to "a cancer" eating away at the foundations of the Ukrainian state, but that improving the security situation remained the paramount concern.

Improving the economy will help Ukraine afford a better military, provide ammunition to keep Ukraine's eastern regions content to remain within Ukraine, and allow Ukraine to wage an information war against Russia's control of Crimea by undermining the local satisfaction of joining Russia.

Since we have a ceasefire with eastern Ukraine still legally part of Ukraine, I think Ukraine needs to reassert civilian control there. Sure, the fighting is over, but if Ukraine pushes in civilian aid, civilian police and administrators--all under the eyes of Red Cross and OSCE personnel--will Russia escalate back to fighting?

As for the military side, Ukraine needs to enlarge and improve their military reserves (at least, if they can't afford to really build up the active forces) to give them the ability to screen Crimea, guard the Black Sea Coast, defend Kiev, contest eastern Ukraine if Russia invades (including building up stay-behind forces to resist Russian control behind enemy lines), and create offensive forces to take the Russian enclave of Transdniestria on their western border and to attack Sevastopol with missiles, long range artillery, and naval mines off shore.

Our help is needed to prepare Ukraine's military. And our help is needed to punish Russia to deter further Russian aggression and to help Ukraine close the economic gap.

So far, we're still in the punishing business:

The United States announced more sanctions against Russia on Friday, affecting oil and defense industries and further limiting the access of major Russian banks to U.S. debt and equity markets to punish Russia for its intervention in Ukraine.

If NATO seriously reacts to improve our military capabilities in eastern Europe, Russia has more to worry about.

I'm relieved that we pushed NATO east. Our task is a lot better than when (much more numerous) Russian tanks were a hundred miles from the Rhine River.

And keep in mind that as long as Ukraine is friendly to the West and independent, NATO's main land mission is to defend Poland and points north into the Baltic NATO states.

We will have the luxury of a Ukraine shield to strike Russian forces in Crimea from bases in Romania and Bulgaria in a sea and air campaign.

Should we let Ukraine slip back under Russian control, NATO's new land front extends south all the way to the Black Sea--and Ukraine's military will once again be in the Russian arsenal, housed in those Soviet-era bases near the new NATO states in eastern Europe.

UPDATE: So Ukraine was defeated?

The West may yet get its act together and come up with a coherent response to a war of naked aggression by an ugly despotism on its doorstep, but it would take more determination and imagination than is currently on display.

In the meantime, the Ukrainians are doing the only thing they can; like Hitler’s victims in the 1930s they are signing away territory and rights that they cannot defend and reflecting on the value of all those inspiring promises of support they received from their Western friends back when times were good and the bear was far away.

Yeah. It took time to restore Ukraine's military to some minimum competence to contest the Russian invasions.

And to their credit, Ukraine was able to turn the tide of war in the east against Putin's proxies until Russia directly intervened with 10 battalions of troops (consider we invaded Iraq in 2003 with about 60 US and British maneuver battalions).

Whatever we did to help Ukraine, it was not sufficient to help Ukraine do the one thing that could have held Putin off--kill Russian soldiers sent to fight in Ukraine.

So yeah, Ukraine lost. We do not have peace for our time.

But it doesn't have to be the 1930s. Perhaps this will be like 1940 when we can say the Battle for Crimea is lost; but the Battle for the Donbas is just beginning.

Ukraine may need to do what it must to keep Russia at bay now. But going forward, Ukraine needs to rebuild their military to contest the east, contain Russia's Crimea bridgehead, attack Sevastopol and Russia's fleet there with missiles and mines, and rig their defense plants crucial to Russia's military for demolition should Russia continue their aggression against Ukraine.

Next time, make the Russian body count too big to hide.