Saturday, November 20, 2021

Putin's Ominous Troop Buildup Along Ukrainian Border

With the recent focus in domestic issues, from the Build Back Better legislation to COVID vaccinations to the Rittenhouse trial, we need to be paying attention to recent, ominous developments on the Russia - Ukraine border. Russia's autocratic thug Vladimir Putin has a goal of reconstituting as much of the old Soviet Union under Russian control as possible. He already has Belarus as a vassal state, under dictator Alexander Lukashenko, and he covets the prosperous Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. But his greatest prize would be the reintegration of Ukraine into "mother Russia." His annexation of Crimea in 2014 and his subsequent stealthy invasion of eastern Ukraine using irregular Russian troops and security forces succeeded in making eastern Ukraine (the Donbass) a battlefield between Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels and Ukrainian government forces.

Recent Russian troop buildups near their border with Ukraine are raising alarms among our NATO allies and in Washington. The Biden Administration says that they're not exactly clear about Putin's next steps, but Putin will do virtually anything to destabilize Ukraine and bring it within Russia's orbit:

"Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv and Russian-backed rebels in the region known as Donbas has left an estimated 14,000 dead. Now, Ukraine says an estimated 90,000 Russian troops have massed near the border.

The buildup could be a prelude to another Russian invasion. Speaking to Ukraine’s foreign minister this month, Blinken said Putin’s 'playbook' was for Russia to build up forces near the border and then invade, 'claiming falsely that it was provoked.[snip]

Though U.S. officials don’t believe an invasion is imminent, Putin also has ramped up his dismissal of an independent Ukraine. A lengthy essay the Kremlin published in July asserts that Ukrainians and Russians are 'one people' and the 'true sovereignty of Ukraine is possible only in partnership with Russia.'" (our emphasis)

Aside from immediate concern over an invasion, Russia is also wary of NATO - Ukrainian discussions about joining the defense pact, which would greatly complicate Putin's sinister grand vision:

"But the moves could also be saber-rattling to prevent Ukraine from growing closer to the West or being admitted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which Putin strongly opposes. It’s not clear if Russia would risk invading Ukraine, setting off a far more difficult war, or want to occupy hostile territory."

Whatever hostile moves Putin makes regarding Ukraine, the U.S. and its NATO allies need to be prepared to support Ukraine's self-defense in a substantial way. His invasion of Ukrainian Crimea in 2014, despite being punished with economic sanctions, signaled him that Russian military action in Ukraine would not be opposed by a strong Western response. Whether he tests that again remains to be seen.

(photo: satellite photo of Russian ground forces near Yelnya, near Russian border with Ukraine)


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