Make No Mistake: Russia Is Invading Ukraine

Image: Make No Mistake: Russia Is Invading Ukraine

Tuesday, 22 Apr 2014 03:25 PM

By Mark Nuckols

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Ukraine is under invasion. The fact that it is an invasion being conducted by stealth, with no declaration of war, makes it no less an act of war.

Increasingly, it is becoming evident that Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, is determined to destabilize and partition Ukraine by undertaking covert military operations. This despite Russia's recent signature to a diplomatic agreement in Geneva designed to end the violence and illegal takeovers of government buildings in eastern Ukraine.

The story begins with former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's abrupt decision last November to reject a trade and association agreement with the European Union. For many Ukrainians, the proposed agreement seemed to be a way out of the dead end Ukraine has been stuck in since independence — a corrupt post-Soviet state offering no hope of a better life for the vast majority of its citizens.

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Instead, Yanukovych opted for a Faustian bargain offered by the Kremlin. If Yanukovych would turn away from Europe, Russia would offer discounted natural gas and a substantial loan, with virtually no strings attached. The one single real condition was Ukraine's perpetual subordination to the Kremlin.

People came out to Maidan — Kiev's Independence Square — to protest. They stood vigil for three months, hoping for people power to overcome Yanukovych's authoritarian and utterly corrupt regime. And in the wake of an orgy of violence when Yanukovych's thugs killed nearly a hundred protesters, a people's revolution drove the Kremlin puppet out of Kiev to exile in Moscow.

Well, Vladimir Putin wants this democratic revolution to fail. According to the official Kremlin line, Russia is concerned about the civil rights of Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine. In light of the Russian government's scorn for the rights of its own citizens, this is outright laughable.

Another reason often put forth is that for Russia, control over Ukraine is vital to its national security. But in fact, the real motive for Putin to want to control Ukraine is that he is terrified that the Maidan revolution may one day provide an example to Russia's own repressed citizens. This is for him an intolerable risk, and as a result he feels he must destroy Ukraine's independence before the national elections scheduled for May 25.

Therefore, we are now beginning to see what plans the spy master in the Kremlin has cooked up. In Donetsk and other eastern Ukrainian cities, shadowy militias have sprung up, taking control over government buildings. From the beginning, these so-called citizen militias displayed all the hallmarks of a Moscow-directed operation.

Ukraine now has proof that eastern Ukraine is being occupied by a Russia-directed stealth invasion. Ukraine has submitted to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe photographs of uniformed and heavily armed men who claim to be local residents, but who in fact are members of Russian Special Forces. Pictures of them match photographs of Russian troops in Georgia in 2008 and other photographs of special Russian military units.

Writing for its blog, NATO commander Philip Breedlove sums up the situation in eastern Ukraine:

"It's hard to fathom that groups of armed men in masks suddenly sprang forward from the population in eastern Ukraine and systematically began to occupy government facilities. It's hard to fathom because it's simply not true," Breedlove wrote. "What is happening in eastern Ukraine is a military operation that is well planned and organized, and we assess that it is being carried out at the direction of Russia."

Breedlove notes that these purportedly local militias "exhibit telltale military training," handle their weapons like professional soldiers, are equipped with Russian military gear, and act as coordinated units, not as amateur citizen militias. He writes that individually, none of these constitute proof, "but taken in the aggregate, the story is clear."

It is very easy reading the Russians' intentions. For all their apparent skill at "masked warfare," they completely lack subtlety in their operations. From accounts of a fatal shootout at a pro-Russian checkpoint near the city of Slovyansk this weekend, there are obvious signs that it was a Russian-organized provocation.

Russian state TV reports that after the firefight, pro-Russian fighters found the business card of Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of Right Sector, in a vehicle abandoned after the fight, as well as "stacks of American dollars."

Right Sector is a Ukrainian nationalist group that Russia accuses of planning violent attacks against Russian speakers in Ukraine, and serves the Kremlin as an excuse for meddling in Ukraine's affairs. If Right Sector really wanted to launch an attack on a pro-Russian checkpoint, it is preposterous that they would leave behind a business card implicating themselves while denying responsibility, and that they would be carrying "a stack of U.S. dollars" to implicate their purported CIA handlers.

Predictably, in the wake of this firefight, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is now loudly accusing Ukraine of violating the Geneva agreement. And the Kremlin propaganda machine is accusing Washington and Kiev of fomenting violence and chaos, particularly the firefight near Slovyansk, when it is Russia itself which is directing these events.

Make no mistake, Russia is waging an undeclared war in Ukraine, and its signature on the four-way diplomatic agreement in Geneva is not worth the ink it was written in. The Kremlin is acting in bad faith, and its promises cannot be relied upon.

But Putin and his cabal are actually weaker than they seem.

If Ukraine manages to hold national elections on May 25, it will be clear just how little actual support the Kremlin really has in Ukraine, east or west. And with a newly constituted government and Western assistance, Ukraine can begin to chart its own course as a sovereign and independent country. This is the fervent hope of the vast majority of Ukraine's people, and Vladimir Putin's personal worst geopolitical nightmare.

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