Is Russia Invading Ukraine… Again?

Ukraine’s military claims that a column of “32 tanks, 16 howitzer artillery systems and trucks carrying ammunition and fighters” crossed into the country from Russia yesterday:

“The deployment continues of military equipment and Russian mercenaries to the frontlines,” spokesman Andriy Lysenko said in a televised briefing referring to Thursday’s cross-border incursion.

Nato said it has seen an increase in Russian troops and equipment along the Ukraine border was looking into the reports. “We are aware of the reports of Russian troops and tanks crossing the border between Ukraine and Russia,” a Nato military officer told Reuters. “If this crossing into Ukraine is confirmed it would be further evidence of Russia’s aggression and direct involvement in destabilising Ukraine.” The report of a new Russian movement of armour across the border follows a charge on Thursday by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine that Kiev government forces had launched a new offensive – which Kiev immediately denied.

Morrissey calls this a move “directly out of the Crimea playbook”:

In that seizure, Russian troops infiltrated the peninsula in uniforms without insignia, seized control of the region, and then held a plebescite on annexation to the country that had occupied their land. Immediately afterward, Russia invaded Crimea militarily, this time openly, and secured its new possession. This is exactly what has unfolded in Donetsk and Luhansk, just over a longer period of time. …

It’s the classic fait accompli challenge: what is the world to do when an aggressor nation simply takes what it wants in defiance of the international community, especially on the arguable basis of self-determination with the phony plebescite? It’s always a bit dangerous to reference analogous actions from the 1930s, but this was also the way Adolf Hitler expanded German reach, with the Austrian Anschluss and the seizure of Czechoslovakia despite Western security assurances to both nations.

The situation on the Ukrainian border was already tense; Ukraine also claims to have killed around 200 rebel fighters with artillery shelling near the Donetsk airport yesterday. And that’s to say nothing of relations between Russia and the West in general. Even before the latest escalation, Dimitri Trenin sounded the alarm that these relations were in a state of permanent crisis:

In contrast to the Cold War with which the present Russian-Western confrontation is often compared, the current situation lacks agreed, if unwritten, rules, is characterized by gross asymmetry in power, and is utterly devoid of mutual respect. There is also a near-universal lack of strategic thinking. It is thus more prone than the US-Soviet conflict to lead to a collision in the style of 1914. The Cold War, after all, stayed largely cold. There is no such certainty about the present situation. Crisis management must ensure, at minimum, that there is no resumption of hostilities in eastern Ukraine. Should Kiev, with Washington’s blessing or its acquiescence, attempt to retake Donetsk and Lugansk, the Kremlin may not confine itself to restoring the status quo. It may be that the Russian military will then receive an order to go for Kiev.