Thursday, March 27, 2014

With Precedent Set, the Door's Wide Open for Putin in Ukraine. What will Ukraine and the V4 Do?

So, first thing's first: I was pretty wrong. Definitely no shooting war over Crimea.

With that said, the US, Canada, and NATO are all saying Russia looks pretty poised to invade the rest of Ukraine (either to take more of Ukraine or get to Moldova), so stay tuned! There may yet be a shooting war. (The ethnic Russians live in those really red bits and would be the likely target in Ukraine.)

Ukraine up and pulled its troops out of Crimea after Russian troops smashed into the bases. In what is ultimately a complete and unlikely miracle, nobody was shot during this entire process (save for some stray sniper rifle fire from who-knows-whom.) At least the dolphins don't look like they're going to surrender.

Why surrender so quickly?

Simple: it's pretty obvious that Ukraine lacks support. The EU and US just had no interest at all in risking a war with Russia, so they weren't going to come to the aid of the Ukrainian military (which would have lost on its own). Biden may have visited Poland specifically to tell them "no-go" on getting involved in Ukraine (they seemed otherwise chomping at the bit to get in there with the Visegrad 4, which I kept believing would happen).

The US is not considering putting Ukraine under the defensive umbrella of NATO.

The biggest sign of non-support for Ukraine comes from the pretty weak sanctions against Russia. So far, it's only against individuals (travel bans, asset freezes, etc). The US and EU are considering further sanctions if Russia invades the rest of Ukraine, which basically gives Putin a hearty thumbs-up to invade the rest of Ukraine. (The Daily Show actually nails it for once, explaining that "Putin Doesn't Give a S--t.")

(So I'll have to note here that my bias in this matter is pretty obvious. I think undeterred territorial-expansion invasions in Europe are a dangerous thing and set a very bad precedent for the stability of Europe in the future.)

So  let's assume a second invasion of Ukraine is pretty likely at this point. It's not clear whether or not Ukraine is going to fight a losing war for the rest of its eastern territories. Certainly Tymoshenko--most influential leader in Ukraine right now--is ready to "wipe out" the Russians and take up arms. Highly controversial statement, but it may get her swept into power quickly if Russia invades again.

Ukraine is clearly not going to get military support if it doesn't fight. I think in Crimea it was ready to see if it could get the support it needed. Russia moved quickly and jammed through the sham-referendum, and the West balked at helping. By the time Ukraine knew what help it could get, it was just too late.

If Russia invades again, Ukraine knows it can't wait for help.If it starts fighting and its people start dying--rather than doing nothing--it is much  more likely to provoke a military response from a friendly nation. It seems somewhat Machiavellian to throw one's army into a fight one knows it will lose (on the hopes that help will come), but the pro-Western part of Ukraine very much sees itself as the Czech / Poland to Putin's Nazi Germany right now. The idea of rolling over is fairly horrifying to many.

Sadly, I just can't predict what's going to happen. They absolutely can't depend on the EU, US, or NATO--they've been quite thoroughly hung out to dry by all of them.

Once again, I turn to the Visegrad 4, the sleeping tiger in all of this (and the only ones that seem to be kicking up any serious dirt about Russia's invasion of Ukraine). It may be the very weakness of the US/EU/NATO response that kicks them into gear. The V4 was formed quite explicitly out of a lack of confidence in the rest of NATO to protect them from Russia, so they're a bit of a rogue element within NATO. To them, Russia is a very real and credible threat, and so the US/EU/NATO responding weakly is going to shake V4 confidence in that leadership. They'll be, in turn, less likely to listen to any warnings about getting involved.

So I'm still going to predict that, if Russia invades eastern Ukraine, and Ukraine fights, Poland and the V4 are going to get themselves in the fight. They won't invade Russia, but they're poised right on the western border of Ukraine and would be ready to send their battle group in to hold the line.

Once that happens, Russia will have a bit of a tough choice: either take them head on or try to avoid a fight and hold on to whatever territory it has. Normally, I'd assume that neither side wants to be seen as an aggressor, but Russia might just not care that much and try to give them enough of a bloody nose to boot them out before NATO can decide whether to back up the V4 and try to win back some shadow of a hint of relevancy in Eastern Europe.

But I'm not going to predict how that fight will go.

The big takeaway here is that the US, EU, and NATO are very quickly losing relevance in Eastern Europe, and that's where the action is. Ukraine is on its own unless the V4 jumps in. If they do, NATO as a real power in Europe is probably doomed.

So it's a pretty big deal.
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