The US is considering lethal defensive aid to Kiev, and I seriously doubt this will lead to World War 3. It’s not clear that Ukraine will last long enough for that to happen. I’m just a mom, but I read both Russian and Ukrainian, and deciphering Russian strategy is not that hard if one reads their media. Russia is doing a Kutuzov in Ukraine, bleeding their opponent dry of resources, and by that I don’t mean the gas supply to Ukraine’s frosty cities. Or even the fact that the Ukrianian economy is in free-fall – the decline is exasperated by Russia’s own economic crisis.
It’s said that Putin’s inner circle consists of people who supported the outright annexation of south-east Ukraine and those who prefer a “frozen war” to eventually gobble up the region. Apparently they had Putin’s ear. I first expected to see Russian tanks in my birth city — because the city’s leadership wanted them there and because the tanks were posed in Belgorod, a stone’s throw away. I was wrong.
Since the beginning of the war Russian-lead East Ukrainian rebels were playing cat and mouse with the Ukrainian military in the structure formerly known as Sergei Prokofiev* Airport in Donetsk. Why the airport? Nobody knows; I’m reading that it has no strategic value, but I guess it was big of the parties involved to select its cement terminals for their shoot-outs, as opposed to a high-rises populated with civilians, as they did elsewhere.
For a month or so Ukraine held the second or third floor, then the rebels took over, then Ukraine again, and so on. The Ukrainian media, hungry for legends of martial grandeur concocted the story of a cyborg army. Some in western media, not knowing whom or what to trust, picked up on that. In reality, poorly trained Ukrainians, some militant Maidan veterans, some pros and some hapless conscripts, were facing a Russian-led levy patiently wasting Ukraine’s resources. When the bombed out airport finally fell, the Ukrainian media christened it “our Stalingrad”.
It fell in late January when separatists went on the offensive, swept up the airport killing more than 400 Ukrainian men on Russian live TV (banned in Ukraine, but everyone watches it online anyway). Then the rebels boasted of surrounding 6-10K Ukrainian soldiers in Debaltsevo. Russian TV filmed the superstar separatist commander Givi forcing Ukrainian captives to eat their badges and an amateur video showed another group of captives coerced into singing the Soviet anthem, which, turns out, they all knew.
Would you like to be one of these men? Neither do Ukrainians. After the annexation of Crimea, Ukraine mobilized its reservists. Back then I noted that they’d have a tough time with that, and now at the fourth troop rotation their troubles multiplied. Russians are estimating that upwards of 1 million men between 20 and 40 are hiding from the draft on the territory of the belligerent, and in light of that Putin promised to extend the length of visa-free stay to this segment of Ukrainians. Poland, on the other hand, stopped issuing work visas to men of military age.
Women from Ivano-Frankovsk to Kherson rally against the draft. In Kharkov reservists don’t open their doors to persons serving military writs, so the men will now be served at work; in Lwow it’s the job of the traffic cops. Surprisingly the highest levels of draft-dodging are among the fiercest nationalists in Western Ukraine. In Ivano-Frankovsk 67% of those served their notices do not report to recruitment centers, and in Chernovtsi 17% left the country in the wake of mobilization. The ones who do report often seek exemptions.
What’s going on with Ukraine’s “elite” National Guard is another matter. Late January hundreds of fighters of Aidar battalion (one of many semi-independent fighting units) left their positions and turned to the capital where they surrendered to the Defense Ministry an act that Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov defined as treason. This is not the first time something like this is happening.
Ukraine’s combative “battalions” were the destination of Maidan radicals who after the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovich found themselves unable to return to everyday life (or what’s left of it). Ordinary Ukrainians, on the other hand, have a different mentality; what they want most is to be left alone. They are a pacific, hospitable people and a practical people. Half of them sought expanded ties with the European Union, true, but at what cost? Nobody expects another Holodomor, but the loss of a male breadwinner is felt sharply.
The current situation in Ukraine reminds of an 1960s Soviet musical comedy “Wedding in Malinovka”. Set in a bucolic Ukrainian village at the time of the civil war that unfolded after the Bolshevik revolution, it shows Ukraine ravaged by multiple warring parties. As governance changes, villagers try to live their lives — until the Reds come and the beautiful bride gets to marry her beloved. I suppose the insights of the film transcend the Soviet clichés. Recall, all previous attempts at Ukrainian independence ended in bloodshed and chaos leading to the strong hand from the east imposing order.
When Russia and Ukraine signed an agreement in Minsk, IMF pledged $17.5 billion to Ukraine, which will keep it on life support a little longer, which may give the US enough time to arm and train some kind of native fighting force. It’s hard to follow our president’s very public thought process on this matter, but many parties are eager to drop a billion dollars on this, apparently, so it might just happen. Next thing you know another infusion of money will come due. After that we’ll have to station NATO troops in this unfortunate country… supply it with gas. Actually, we are not going to get to there because at this point, even if Ukraine is still around, the US is blinking, blinking, blinking.
*The great Russian composer was born in Donetsk region.