by Dish Staff
On the ground, Ukraine troops in the southeastern city of Novoazovsk told Vice News that they’re not getting the support they need to repel invading fighters. Russia Today released a video of a separatist flag being raised over a Novoazovsk state building. And Ukraine’s security council distributed a video of what it said was a Russian tank in Novoazovsk[.]
Overnight, Russian president Vladimir Putin issued an appeal to the separatist groups to create a “humanitarian corridor” in order to allow besieged Ukrainian troops to return “to their mothers, wives and children.” But in addressing the rebels as the “Novorossiya militia,” he employed a provocative Czarist era term that implies Russian ownership of a big chunk of modern-day Ukraine. A separatist leader said that his forces would grant safe passage for Ukrainian troops to flee the fighting, on the condition that they left all of their weapons behind.
Max Fisher is perturbed by Putin’s use of the term “Novorossiya” or “New Russia”:
The statement itself was otherwise banal, but in giving the rebels this name, he is seemingly not just referring to them as an extension of Russia (everybody already knew this) and not just adopting the heavily loaded imperial terminology, but endorsing that the rebels and the land they stand on are, in a sense, part of Russia. In other words, Putin’s choice of phrasing — and picking such a hotly political phrase is no accident — sounds an awful lot like a rhetorical step toward annexing all or part of the rebel-held territory. Significantly, earlier this week Russian forces invaded a part of Ukraine where there had been no previous fighting, along the southeastern-most coast with the Black Sea. That is not a rebel-held area, but it is prime Novorossiya territory.
Linda Kinstler observes that the Kremlin is still pretending it has nothing to do with the events in Ukraine:
At Thursday’s UN Security Council emergency meeting, Russian UN envoy Vitaliy Churkin said, “The current escalation is a direct effect of Kiev’s criminal polices and war being waged against its own people”—it has nothing to do with Russia, the Kremlin line goes. The Russian Foreign Ministry is claiming that the only reason Kiev has sounded the alarm of a full-fledged Russian invasion this week is because the Ukrainian “anti-terrorist operation” is failing in the east, RIA Novosti reports, leaving aside the obvious reason why the Ukrainian military has suffered setbacks recently, which is that Russia opened up a new front in southeastern Ukraine this week. Izvestia reports that Ukraine is accusing Russia of invading only because the “President of Ukraine is looking for an external enemy” to fend off domestic disapproval.
This absurd commitment to denial leads Joshua Keating to label the invasion “postmodern”:
The Russian government continues to deny that Russian forces are crossing the border or that the government is arming the rebels. One can only imagine what creative explanations they’ll come up with next. Just a few weeks ago, in the wake of the MH17 crash, the conflict seemed on the verge of being snuffed out with Ukrainian forces rapidly regaining rebel-held territory. Now, even as Ukrainian forces close in on the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhanks, Russian troops appear to have opened a new front of the battle along the southeastern portion of the border. Incredibly, this has been done in such a way that President Vladimir Putin can continue denying that Russia is playing a direct military role in the conflict while holding talks this week with Ukrainian President Poro Petroshenko.
Elias Groll and Reid Standish get the sense that Putin is making up his strategy as he goes along:
“Putin has been throughout this crisis a bit of a gambler,” said Jonathan Eyal, the international director at the Royal United Services Institute, a British think tank. “We underestimate the element of improvisation within the Russian decision-making in this crisis.” … Regardless of whether Putin expands the offensive, the Russian leader in the meantime achieves his short-term goal of propping up the separatists he backs. “He wants a failed, destroyed Ukrainian state and to prevent Ukraine from falling in the Western sphere of influence,” Eyal said. “The strategy is to not have a strategy.”
Leonid Bershidsky is pessimistic:
As a Russian, I get a sinking feeling when I think about my country winning this war. It is being fought against a peaceful, Russian-speaking people whose only transgression is a desire to be part of the European Union rather than a Russian client state. They even managed to topple a corrupt dictatorship — a task in which the Russian people have failed. A military victory against Ukraine would bring Russia no glory and cost many lives. “We can stop this,” billionaire and former political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky said today. “It’s enough to just take to the streets and threaten a strike. The authorities will deflate immediately, they are cowardly.” That may be true, but it’s not likely to happen, because most people in Russia believe Putin’s propaganda. Unless the death toll mounts so that everyone knows a dead or injured soldier, this is not a war that protests inside Russia are likely to stop.
Brian Whitmore compares this episode with Georgia and fears it will end up the same way:
When Russian-backed separatists seized control of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in the early 1990s, it didn’t make international headlines. Likewise, when separatist fighters in Moldova’s Transdniester region took control of that strip of territory with Moscow’s implicit blessing, it was largely met with a collective yawn in the international community. The script and the playbook have been the same as has the result: exploiting a local ethnic conflict, the Kremlin has repeatedly used local proxies, and then its own troops to seize de facto control of a breakaway region in a former Soviet state. And all the while Moscow has maintained a semblance of plausible deniability that it was the conflicts’ principal instigator. The result was a series of “frozen conflicts” that Moscow has been able to use to influence and pressure its neighbors.