Sunday, 16 March 2014

Russia to move into eastern Ukraine?

At least according to Julia Ioffe  in New Republic. She says that Putin will need to do so for practical reasons, to ensure Crimea's energy and water supplies:
On Saturday, the two-week anniversary of the authorization, the Russian foreign ministry was already laying the foundations for such a seizure, saying that it was being flooded with requests from citizens across eastern Ukraine, asking the Russians for protection against the western Ukrainian fascists. 
But that’s just the pretext, not the reason. When Putin asked for and got his authorization, I wrote that, in predicting Russia’s actions these days, pessimism always wins. But, in this case, it isn’t just simple nastiness that’s going to drive this. For the first time in this manufactured crisis, Putin is going to be acting out of sheer pragmatism and necessity.
So let’s say the inevitable happens today and Crimea votes to enfold itself in the Russian Federation’s embrace. But what happens next? And what happens if, as is quite likely, Kiev cuts newly-Russian Crimea off from gas, electricity, and water, which Crimea has none of on its own? How will Moscow, the new owner, supply its latest acquisition with the necessities?
If you’re Russia, do you really want to ferry the necessities across the bay, or build an expensive bridge, or lay down expensive new pipelines? Wouldn’t you rather use pre-existing land routes (and pipelines)? Wouldn’t it just be easier to take the land just north and east of Perekop and the Swiss cheese area, now that you’ve already put in the effort to massively destabilize it? And while you’re there, wouldn’t you want to just take the entire Ukrainian east, the parts with the coal and the pipe-making plants and the industry? You know, since you already have permission?
Last night's rumoured clash between Russian and Ukrainian troops just outside Crimea's current borders might lend substance to these suspicions.

Putin and his friends might decide that, if they are going to take economic pain from Western sanctions anyway, they'll grab as much land as they can before the opposition are ready for them.

It's worth remembering the comments made after the 2008 South Ossetia War by Dmitry Rogozin*, now Russian deputy prime minister, then Russia's ambassador to NATO:
Everyone here [in Brussels] understands what we did, when we carried out such a large-scale operation and literally in three days not only shattered the Georgian army built on the money and under the leadership of the USA but stopped any opportunity for a third country to intervene quickly. This is not just a very serious military, psychological and moral victory for Russia – it is a gauntlet openly thrown down to the global leader of the modern world.
On the other hand, unlike Crimea, an invasion of eastern Ukraine would most likely be a bloodbath. So it's wait and see.

*As a diplomat Rogozin gained notoriety for his use of undiplomatic language. He is on Twitter  here. He doesn't comment much, but his latest tweet (made today) refers to Ukraine's ambassador to Moldova as a "son of a bitch".


  1. Have you seen Edward Luttwak's earlier piece in TNR? A more recent version is here

    Luttwak is a heavyweight but he's fond of controversial hypothesizing. "Novy Russia" must be Novorossiya, the historical name for the steppes of what is now Southern Ukraine and Russia's Rostov and Krasnodar, settled relatively recently, mostly in the 19th century (recall that Chichikov was buying up the dead souls to resettle them in the Kherson governorship). I wonder where Luttwak got the details on the flag.

  2. JCass ("Terry Lennox")16 March 2014 at 13:52

    No, I hadn't seen that. Interesting. It would make no sense for Russia to go beyond the Dnieper. I'm reminded of a passage in Andrew Wilson's history of Ukraine (read it two years ago - will have to dig it out again) where he says the USSR made a massive mistake trying to absorb Western Ukraine after WW2 as the region was unassimiliable and unsovietisable (is that a word? It is now).

    1. "It would make no sense for Russia to go beyond the Dnieper."

      It depends on the crossing point. I would suggest a map, a stylized one like this or a more detailed one. Crossing the Dnieper near Kyiv or Cherkasy means entering the so-called "west-bank (lit. "right bank") Ukraine". This area, including Zhytomir, Vinnytsya, Khmelnitsky, Kirovohrad and the west-bank parts of the Cherkasy and Kyiv oblasts, was annexed by Russia after the partitions of Poland, late in the 18th century. Daniel Beauvois has written much on this part of Ukraine from 1790 to 1917. It experienced Communist rule in full starting from 1919.

      Further east, Rivne and Volyn became Russian along with the rest of the west bank but in 1920, Poland seized these two oblasts and they escaped the fierce Sovietization of the 1920-30s.

      Lviv, Ternopil, Ivano-Frankivsk (Stanislaw), Uzhhorod and Chernivtsi were not part of the Russian empire and were fully incorporated in the USSR after WWII.

      But if you cross the Dnieper further south, in Dnipropetrovsk or Kherson, and enter the Mykolaiv and Odessa oblasts, you won't see much of a change because both sides of the Dnieper in the south were settled at about the same time, much later than the rest of Ukraine. There seems to be no significant difference between Odessa and Mykolaiv on the west bank and Kherson and Zaporizhzhya on on the east bank. The one exception is the southwest of Odessa between the Dniester and the Danube.

  3. Thanks. I'm still trying to absorb all this. IIRC The Ukrainian government claims it has negotiated some kind of peace deal until 21 March, but Russia could call this off at any moment and launch a surprise attack since it doesn't accept the legitimacy of the government in Kyiv.