— Alex Felton (@alexfeltonCNN) March 31, 2014
Michael Weiss thinks an invasion of Eastern Ukraine is imminent:
As of this writing, Russia has amassed as many as 50,000 troops at various points along the Ukrainian border, including in Russian-occupied Crimea. Videos uploaded to the Internet show armored vehicles being taken off flatbed freight trains in Voronezh, a city northeast of Ukraine’s Kharkiv, and in Novozybkov, which is 50 miles north of Kiev. (Tanks there are already rolling on the ground, in fact.) The Russians have also moved food, medicine, and spare parts into position, which would not be needed for any short-term military “springtime exercises,” as the Defense Ministry now claims is all they’re up to. A field hospital has been erected in the Bryansk region, as Voice of America reported: that’s just 12 miles away from Ukraine’s eastern border, which is now heavily monitored by Russian drones. Furthermore, Moscow has resorted to subterfuge to hide its activities — not a terribly good sign of its sincerity.
But Fred Kaplan points out that an invasion would be very costly for Putin:
Politically, Putin would find himself on very shaky ground. Already, he mustered only 10 other countries—the likes of Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Syria—to oppose a U.N. resolution condemning the annexation of Crimea. If he invades Ukraine, a sovereign nation with a United Nations seat, his isolation will widen and deepen politically, diplomatically, and economically.
If he crosses that line, he will also do more than anyone ever has to rouse the European nations out of their post-Cold War stupor. He can count on Britain, Germany, and France to boost their defense budgets, and in a way that confronts Russia. He can also count on the United States to station more troops, fighter jets, maybe even armored weapons in Poland and the Baltics—to hell with concerns about provocation. And he must know the lesson that other nation-states have learned in recent years: that if he prompts a conventional conflict with the United States military, he will lose badly.
Kirchick relays the concerns of Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov:
Avakov … is concerned about Russian meddling in the country’s East, where he says there are anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people working on behalf of Moscow to stir up trouble. He shared pictures of weapons and propaganda materials seized by Ukrainian police, allegedly found in the possession of pro-Russian provocateurs, including posters of the late Ukrainian nationalist leader Stepan Bandera. Vladimir Putin specifically mentioned Bandera in his speech last week to formally announce the annexation of Crimea. Following an attack by members of a pro-Russian organization on a Ukrainian nationalist group in the eastern city Kharkiv in which two people died, Avakov says, “Russian broadcasters were there before the fight started and before the police arrived. We have a radio interception of telephone conversations on the subject, certifying that it was provoked by the Russian secret service.”
Meanwhile, Robert Farley passes along this news about Ukraine’s navy:
Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control. In the eight days following the controversial referendum on 16 March that opened the door for Crimea to be absorbed in the Russian Federation, almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defence units.
That probably understates the overall loss, which also includes infrastructure, communications, and training equipment. More captures may come, as the Russians continue to blockade Ukrainian ships in Lake Dunuzlov. I can think of two long-run upsides; first, the ships and equipment lost are relatively old, poorly maintained, and largely a drag on the Ukrainian defense budget. Two, Ukrainian military spending needs to be heavily refocused on land and air capabilities in any case, so a rump fleet (based in Odessa) is probably appropriate.
Previous Dish on Putin’s intentions in Ukraine here.