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Eurasianet

Eurasianet

EurasiaNet.org provides information and analysis about political, economic, environmental and social developments in the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus, as well as in…

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What Is Putin Planning For Ukraine?

Putin Kremlin

Western media may not be paying much attention to Ukraine now, but this does not mean that the conflict there has been frozen, much less settled. The ceasefire concluded in February 2015 has not held, and the frontline has seen incessant fighting. Moscow continues to undermine Kiev and plans for far more aggressive measures in the future.

Russia has not relinquished its goal of maintaining some form of control over Ukraine – a central component of its expansionist geopolitical strategy in Eurasia – and has clearly kept open the option of doing so by military means. To that end, Russia has been building up its armed forces along the Ukrainian border, and is in the process of establishing four new divisions: the 150th Motorized Rifle Division in the Rostov region, the 10th Armored Division and the 3rd Mechanized Division in the Voronezh region, and the 144th Motorized Rifle Division near Smolensk. They will be headquartered 50, 45, and 255 kilometers from the border, respectively.

In addition, the headquarters of the Russian 20th Army has been moved closer to Ukraine – from its former base east of Moscow to Voronezh. A new 8th Army headquarters is being established in the Rostov region. And three motorized rifle brigades that were previously located deep inside Russian territory, near Kazakhstan and in the Volga Basin – the 9th, 23rd and 28th – are also being shifted westward. They will be based in the Belgorod, Bryansk and Voronezh regions, all less than 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian border.

These are dangerous developments because their purpose is clearly not defensive. Ukraine is hardly prepared for a serious offensive, even on its own territory, while Russia already enjoys a secure upper hand on the border. The Kremlin’s moves therefore amount to forward positioning, and the fact that it has been spending huge resources on this effort at the time of budgetary crisis means that it is committed to undermining Ukrainian sovereignty by any means.

Another indication of Moscow’s intentions is its incessant propaganda campaign against Kiev. The campaign gained momentum following the Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine, when Putin personally endorsed the idea of “Novorossiya,” a territory that is envisioned as comprising Ukraine’s eight eastern and southern provinces, not counting Crimea.

Moscow keeps pushing the idea that Ukraine will shortly and inevitably disintegrate into several parts: a Russian-dominated eastern and southern region, a buffer-like entity in today’s central Ukraine (including Kiev), a separate western Ukraine (either controlled by nationalists or dominated by Poland), and smaller territories that come under the control of Hungary and Romania. Related: OPEC Weighs Extension As Oil Markets Start To Lose Their Nerve

In parallel, Russia has sought to isolate Ukraine, by working methodically to turn its friends and neighbors into rivals. Poland, in particular, has been a target, as Russia’s online troll army conducts information offensives to kindle historic grievances between the Poles and Ukrainians. Similar Internet campaigns are afoot in Hungary and Slovakia.

Another strategic tool employed by the Kremlin is cyber warfare. Ukraine’s government estimates that in November and December of 2016 Russia staged 6,500 cyber-attacks against various Ukrainian institutions, including the defense and finance ministries and the treasury. Hackers also targeted Kiev’s power grid, which resulted in a blackout in parts of the capital. In fact, the first known power outage as a result of a cyber-attack occurred one year before that, when Russian hackers took down the power grid in western Ukraine in December 2015.

The purpose of this cyber warfare is still unclear, since sporadic attacks of this kind have a very limited impact period. When used during a major military offensive, as Russia did in Georgia in August 2008, they can distract and confuse the enemy. Yet in Ukraine, where the Donbas conflict has been simmering for two years, cyber strikes have little immediate purpose. Their most logical explanation could be that Russian is testing its cyber capabilities and exploring Ukraine’s vulnerabilities in preparation for a wider war in the future.

All these signs add up to a disturbing prospect, especially in the mid- to long-term. Before it becomes reality, however, Ukraine and the international community face a critical time window in which to prepare and deter it. Related: Asia’s Top LNG Players Forming Buyers Club

A Russian offensive in the near future is unlikely for three reasons. First, the Russian military regrouping is still incomplete. Second, the Kremlin hopes that the results of the upcoming elections in both France (in April and May) and Germany (in September) will weaken European resistance to Russian expansionism. It might spoil the game if Moscow acted aggressively before then, since it might strengthen the chances of candidates unfavorable to Kremlin becoming elected. Third, Moscow would prefer to first engage with the Trump administration before going on the offensive, in the hopes that it could soften Washington’s eventual reaction.

By next year, however, the risks for Ukraine could drastically increase. Russia will be more prepared to conduct a major offensive. And Putin’s regime also might feel pressure to act aggressively so as to distract the Russian population from deteriorating fiscal, economic, and social conditions at home.

Where the United States and the EU stand a year from now could be of crucial importance. If by that time Moscow concludes that they are unlikely to actively oppose its aggression, the likelihood of a wider war in Ukraine will increase. What approach the Trump administration and European governments adopt vis-à-vis Moscow will have profound impact on Ukraine’s stability and indeed its sovereignty.

By Eurasianet.com

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  • NickSJ on March 29 2017 said:
    The US needs to start providing modern weapons to Ukraine so it has some chance to dissuade the Russians from further incursions. Putin has shown that the only language he understands is force, and he will continue his aggression until he gets a bloody nose.
  • Douglas Houck on March 29 2017 said:
    Hide your women the Russians are coming!!!

    This article is similar to the one about Russia being behind Scotland's desire to leave the UK. I'm not clear why this article is in Oilprice?

    Russia already has everything they want from Ukraine and has no desires for the rest. What you are seeing is the ugly divorce between the two countries which used to be major trading partners. The only remaining question is who is going to pick up the tab for supporting the failed state of Ukraine. Russia and somewhat the US have said no thanks. Ukraine is committing economic suicide by wanting to be fully free of everything Russian. So instead of buying Russian gas directly, Ukraine is now paying a 20% premium to buy mostly Russian gas mixed in with other natural gas sources from it's neighbors. The London High Court just ruled that Ukraine has to pay back a Russian $3 billion loan. The country is essentially bankrupt.

    I would think Oilprice would be more interested in Gasprom's charts showing that by 2019 Russia will no longer be transporting any natural gas through Ukraine depriving the country of some $2 billion/year in transit fees, due to the construction of both Nord Stream 2 and the Turkish Stream pipelines. How about all of today's statements from the international forum, Arctic - Territory of Dialogue, where Russia says their Arctic oil is profitable at $70-$100 per barrel and they can wait? At least that is factual.
  • Inconvenient Truth on March 29 2017 said:
    Another misleading propaganda piece not to mention why it ends up on Oilprice.com.
    The most crucial info being withheld from the western public is that NATO will not admit a country as a new member as long as it is in conflict (active or frozen). By supporting the rebels in eastern Ukraine to defy Kiev, Russia has achieved its end goal of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. The same strategy has been exercised and proven working in Georgia since 2008. This is why Russia is not taking the Donbass region of Ukraine officially even though the locals there want to join Russia. What would Russia gain by taking over Ukraine? Instead of keeping Ukraine as a buffer between NATO and Russia, she would be bringing herself to the NATO border, ie. Poland. It makes no sense at all. Certainly Russia is building up along the Ukrainian border. If one follows the events there carefully, just because Ukraine cannot officially join NATO, it does *NOT* mean NATO has given up their engagement!
  • World Commenter on March 29 2017 said:
    Ukraine would not be a "failed State" if Russia had not been trying to cause that failures since Putin became President. Also, if Ukraine had "isolated" all the Communist leadership in Ukraine like Poland and other Eastern European countries did, they would have had a better chance. Communist leaders and Communist industrial managers just "morphed" into oligarchs.
  • Mat on March 30 2017 said:
    What had been Usa planing for Ukraine after Maidan coup? Now is it clear, it is hunger.:-bbb
    Ukraien economy is another example of influence american consultants in East Europe. It is total destruction of national economy.
  • Jeff in Canada on March 30 2017 said:
    Russia has GOT to be aware that the U.S. now has battle ready laser weapons that will TOTALLY dominate ANY kind of conflict between Russia and the U.S.
    These weapons are now mounted on all naval vessels and on some aircraft. Why do you think North Korea has been unable to launch a missile? The Americans just keep knocking them out of the sky. It is actually laughable. North Korea keeps wondering "what the fck?" And yet the North Korean missiles keep getting blown up. It is just target practice for the U.S., in preparation for the main event between Russia and the U.S.A.
    I also expect that the U.S. also has battlefield and space lasers.
    Russia had better reconsider its position on Ukraine.
  • Petar on April 02 2017 said:
    Good article...surely Russia must step in to get rid off Nazi Kiev regime...when the time is right. There will be little opposition to Russian rule in south-east,however, Russia should severely punished west ukraine for war crimes in Donbass and defeat it militarily in a way they can pose threat ever again.
  • red rider on April 04 2017 said:
    The "Deteriorating fiscal, economic, and social conditions at home" are still 10 times better than they were during the Yeltcin years and a 100 times better than in Ukraine.
    I wouldn't worry too much about the state of the Russian economy, especially when I know the gas and oil will start flowing to Chine next year and to Turkey in 2-3 years. Instead, anybody with half a brain would sit down with Putin a strike some kind of deal before it's too late. Unfortunately if you put all the American Democrats together and add half the Republicans to the pile , the couldn't scrounge up half a brain.

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