27 November 2021   Leave a comment

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed that Russia is planning a coup attempt against him on 1 December. Russia invaded the Crimea in March 2014 and has supported separatist forces in eastern Ukraine in an area the separatists call Donbas but known as Luhansk and Donetsk by Ukraine. Since that time there has been a low-level conflict between Ukrainian forces and the separatist forces supported by Russia. Zelensky claimed that one of Ukraine’s richest people, Rinat Akhmetov, has been pulled into the coup machinations, a claim that Akhmetov, a fierce critic of Zelensky, has denied. Russia also denies any involvement in the Donbas.

Zelensky’s assertion comes at a time when Western intelligence agencies are concerned about a Russian military buildup along Ukraine’s eastern border. Bloomberg reports:

“The U.S. has shared intelligence including maps with European allies that shows a buildup of Russian troops and artillery to prepare for a rapid, large-scale push into Ukraine from multiple locations if President Vladimir Putin decided to invade, according to people familiar with the conversations.

“That intelligence has been conveyed to some NATO members over the past week to back up U.S. concerns about Putin’s possible intentions and an increasingly frantic diplomatic effort to deter him from any incursion, with European leaders engaging directly with the Russian president. The diplomacy is informed by an American assessment that Putin could be weighing an invasion early next year as his troops again mass near the border.

“The information lays out a scenario where troops would cross into Ukraine from Crimea, the Russian border and via Belarus, with about 100 battalion tactical groups — potentially around 100,000 soldiers — deployed for what the people described as an operation in rough terrain and freezing conditions, covering extensive territory and prepared for a potentially prolonged occupation.”

The US and Ukraine signed a “U.S.-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership” on 10 November which committed the US to the defense of Ukrainian sovereignty but did not formally commit the US to military action in the case of an invasion. Instead, the Charter merely asserts that “The United States and Ukraine share a vital national interest in a strong, independent, and democratic Ukraine. Bolstering Ukraine’s ability to defend itself against threats to its territorial integrity and deepening Ukraine’s integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions are concurrent priorities.”

Whether the Russians intend to support a coup is something known to only Russian President Putin. The annexation of Crimea, a region, like the Donbas, populated by Russian-speaking people, was a big boost to Putin’s popularity in 2014. President Putin has often used the status of Russian-speaking peoples outside of Russia, for example, as in Estonia, as an effective propaganda tool to mobilize domestic support. But his tactics on Ukraine have not achieved the desired outcomes:

“The Russian leader is also notorious for his frequent and often highly emotional public statements on the topic of Ukraine. This includes Putin’s remarkable July 2021 essay in which he openly questioned Ukrainian statehood and argued that ‘true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.’

“While Putin’s ultimate goal is relatively clear, Russia is having difficulty achieving its aims. Moscow has used military force in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. It has sought to destabilize Ukraine from within via a range of disinformation campaigns and pro-Russian political projects. It has attempted to pressure President Zelensky into implementing a Russian interpretation of the Minsk Agreements which would undermine Ukrainian sovereignty.

“None of these tactics has produced the desired result. On the contrary, Russia’s hostile actions have proved counter-productive, greatly boosting Ukrainian public support for Euro-Atlantic integration while strengthening the country’s resolve to geopolitically distance itself from the Kremlin. Clear majorities of Ukrainians now back the idea of joining the EU and NATO, while the alliance last year upgraded Ukraine to Enhanced Opportunities Partner status and has since reiterated its commitment to future Ukrainian NATO membership.”

If a coup or an invasion occurs, it would place the US in a very difficult position. The US has made it clear that Ukrainian sovereignty is an important national interest, but defending that sovereignty against a committed Russian force would be impossible. Thus far, the US has made some very strong statements defending Ukraine, as reported by Reuters:

“All options are on the table in how to respond to Russia’s ‘large and unusual’ troop buildup near Ukraine’s border, and the NATO alliance will decide on the next move following consultations next week, the State Department’s top U.S. diplomat for European affairs said on Friday.

“‘As you can appreciate, all options are on the table and there’s a toolkit that includes a whole range of options,’ Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried told reporters in a telephone briefing.

The US has promised a great deal of military assistance and apparently has sent some military advisers to Ukraine. In addition, there have been high level discussions within NATO about collective action in the case of an invasion, but those discussions seem to be focused on additional sanctions in the case of an invasion. Any talk of sending troops to Ukraine should be completely shut down: fighting Russia so close to its borders is a lesson learned by Charles XII of Sweden, Napoleon, and Hitler and the lesson is clear–do not do it.

Posted November 27, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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