Saturday, January 24, 2015

Ukraine: Flash Override

Stratfor just sent out an email alert that Russia may be beginning an offensive at Mariupol, which could signal an attack in Donbas or even a drive to link up with Crimea over the north shore of the Sea of Azov. Or just be a signal for purposes of negotiations. I wouldn't put too much down on the latter bet, however.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has more.

Reports of Russian forces in Crimea being put on red alert, too.

UPDATE: Here's the Stratfor alert.

UPDATE: For those wondering why Putin would escalate while his economy is shaky, the answer is he is doing it because as long as the crisis lingers, his economy will be shaky--threatening his base of support from oligarchs and making it less likely that Europe (and America) will get back to business as usual with Russian trade relations.

Ukraine will lose territory in a war with Russia. The only question is whether Ukraine kills enough Russian troops to make Russia too wary to try again for bigger stakes.

UPDATE: Also note that if this is a big war of movement, Putin timed it while President Obama is going to India. You can't wait for Olympics games for every act of aggression, after all.

UPDATE: More from AP:

Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, two schools, homes and shops Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, killing at least 29 people, authorities said. Ukraine's top rebel leader said an offensive had begun on the strategically important port. ...

Clashes were also taking place across the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where a separatist insurgency emerged in April. ...

Russia insists it does not support the rebels, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim.

An AP reporter saw convoys of pristine heavy weapons heading into rebel territory this week.

Yeah, Russia isn't involved because as everyone knows, Putin has no more territorial ambitions.

If Ukraine has ballistic missiles that can reach Sevastopol naval base, I'd get them ready to do some damage.

Ukraine's military has two main jobs if this is the balloon going up: keep their army intact and kill Russians. As I wrote earlier:

If Putin does escalate to openly waged warfare against Ukraine to take eastern Ukraine, Ukraine needs to do three things: preserve the Ukrainian army; wage irregular warfare in eastern Ukraine to stress Russia's still-inadequate ground forces; and strike Sevastopol.

Make Ukrainian territory too costly to purchase again. Ukraine failed to do this for Crimea and got Donbas. Let's stop the losses, eh?

UPDATE: President Obama will already pare down the tourist stuff during his visit to India in order to go to Saudi Arabia to pay respects for their king's death.

How likely is he to cut short a trip of this symbolic importance to deal with Ukraine?

Of course, how likely is it that he'd do anything if he was here?

UPDATE: President Obama was probably in the air as the first rocket barrages went outbound.

Will the president make a statement when he lands in Germany for refueling?

UPDATE: On Sunday, this does not look like a Russian offensive. Yes, the secessionists proclaimed an offense--and there were reports of violence around Donbas, including the bloody rocket barrage at Mariupol killing 30 civilians and wounding 97, it seems--but there is no indication that Russian troops are mounting a war of movement.

So why was the Stratfor red alert wrong?

Certainly, it was not out of line to warn of something. And the use of rocket barrages was seen as a reliable indicator of an offensive. Was the barrage believed to be larger than it really was?

Have the secessionists gotten enough rockets that they can use them for mere bombardment, so it is no longer a significant signal event?

Could it even be that some units prematurely attacked and that an offensive really is about to begin?

It is even possible that the recent Ukrainian counter-attack served as a spoiling attack that interrupted Russian preparations to attack.

Yet given recent events in Donbas, a red alert about a pending offensive was hardly something that contradicted apparent trends.

So we'll see if this warning was wrong or just premature.

UPDATE: If this was a real war rather than a conflict where only Russia is allowed to attack, Ukraine would be launching spoiling attacks on secessionist frontline positions and using artillery fire to smash up enemy troop concentrations and supply concentrations.

UPDATE: A follow-up from Stratfor.

And secessionists are still shooting along the front:

Kiev officials said the offensive continued on Sunday along other areas in the front, which winds through two eastern provinces partially controlled by the separatists.

"Rebels are attacking the positions of anti-terrorist operation troops extremely intensively, using artillery, mortars, grenade launchers, tanks," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing.

The Russians are poised and  could declare H-Hour at any time.