Last night, the Ukrainian government first said it would start an “anti-terrorist operation”. Then it had to fire the military chief of staff probably because he refused to carry out orders. Then two hours later that same government announces a truce. Yanukovich looks defeated: he cannot rely on the Ukrainian armed forces. The other options available want to go home after months of having to club their own people.
Ukraine is no Yugoslavia or Lebanon. It is a rather homogenous Christian Orthodox Slavic country, it has a solid identity. The schism between Russian and Ukrainian speaking groups is minor. The mistrust of things Kremlin however is very deeply rooted, also in the east. There’s no lever to exploit other than the Ukrainians deep misgivings versus Putin and the Kremlin. That the west is a threat to Ukraine? Rubbish, the Ukrainians want the same things as their Polish neighbours: an end to corruption and a humane society. That is their leading light. That is the mortal threat to the Kremlin.
The Kremlin’s objective is to keep Ukraine in orbit. There is no military solution then, an intervention would only rally Ukrainians against it and risk an even greater democratic contagion of Russia itself. Threats, bribery, cajoling & corruption was the only avenue, it was profoundly alienating already and it is now failing even more.
The consensus seems to be that the Russian armed forces today are not very capable beyond brutally crushing minor uprisings (Chechnya, Georgia). Russia has been working on setting up rapid reaction forces in order to improve response times for the next Chechnya or Georgia. But the reform of a mass fear-based conscript army into an agile force of professionals is a vast challenge. Russia’s power in WW2 was in Stalin’s ruthless ability to move tens of millions and relocate entire industries. It was in the engineering agility leading to rapid technological advances such as the T-32. But what powered it most of all was a popular reaction to German brutality. Today there is no Stalin, no engineering agility and no brutal force advancing on Moscow anywhere in sight. There are officers and noncoms afraid of losing their job, afraid of change, wedded to a system of pressing unwilling youngsters into a profoundly out of date order of battle. The military industrial complex is still geared to an ancient doctrine and is building MIGs and T90’s for nobody’s war. Putin cannot change it, he doesn’t have any leverage. He is the CEO of an energy company able to reward cronys with billions. Meanwhile outside the Potemkin villages of Moscow, Petersburg and Sochi, Russia is slumping and in decay.