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The Coming War for Ukraine

March 14, 2014

As I write, Russian forces, reportedly close to 100,000 troops, are massing on the eastern borders of Ukraine for a possible invasion. The Kremlin is either about to start a major war, or wants the world to think it is: there is no third choice now. Given the scheduled referendum in the Crimea this Sunday, smart money has it that Putin, if he really launches an all-out push for Ukraine – which, as I’ve already explained, could be a disastrous move on his part – it will come early next week. Needless to add, this scenario brings chills to me and to anyone who understands the stakes in what would immediately be the biggest European war since 1945.

Yet that invasion, with its terrible consequences, is what many in Ukraine now expect. That mood of resignation, and what a Russian invasion might look like, are elaborated well in a new piece in Novoye Vremya (The New Times), a Moscow newsmagazine that is a rare outlet for anti-Kremlin views in Russia. The article by Maksim Shveyts, titled “Kyiv: Expecting War,” follows in toto, with my analysis following.

Kyiv: Expecting War - Ukraine is forming a National Guard and preparing in earnest for the defense of the capital against the aggressor

In Kyiv, Russia’s possible plans to invade mainland Ukraine do not appear to anyone simply to be a fantasy. Many recall how during his latest “appearance to the people” in Rostov-na-Donu, ex-President Viktor Yanukovych once again said that he considers himself the legitimate head of state and also promised to return to Kyiv “soon”. The fugitive president could only do this accompanied by the Russian military, local experts are convinced. And, indeed, they do not rule out scenarios in which Russian tanks enter the city.

Vice Admiral Ihor Kabanenko, ex-deputy chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine General Staff, said that Russia is preparing an air and ground offensive frontal operation against the country. Testifying to this, Kabanenko says, will be the next steps of the Russian authorities: first, “the training of airborne forces of the Russian Federation led by General Shamanov with the involvement of strategic aviation. Second, completion of the formation of an echelon, massing of air defense, and the formation of an air defense force grouping. And, finally, continuation of a deep special operation on the territory of Ukraine and the buildup of a battle group in Crimea and the East.”

Kabanenko called on the country’s political leadership to immediately mobilize reserves and to arm the citizenry. This retired military officer is certain that it is necessary to declare a patriotic war against the occupiers, form a supreme command staff, and began armed resistance to Russia’s plans to invade mainland Ukraine.

Stanislav Shum, director of Ekonomika publishers, says, “the next city where Russian troops are to be expected is Kyiv”: “Because if the Ukrainian Army is as weak as the defense minister maintains, there’s no point from the military perspective in attacking the regions if the capital can be taken. Again, without a single shot being fired, to the cannonade of protests and profound concern of the West,” this expert believes. “Events subsequently will unfold as rapidly as in the final days of February, only in reverse order,” he explains.

Escalation of Tension

Kyiv really does have grounds for fears. On 13 March, the Russian Federation (RF) Defense Ministry announced exercises to be conducted on the eastern border with Ukraine. The same day in Inkerman [in Crimea], the Russian military sealed off a weapons depot. Two explosive ordnance storage units – of the Ukrainian Navy and Russia’s Black Sea Fleet – are stationed there. It was then learned that RF service personnel had sealed off the Ukrainian Ai-Petri Battalion. They posted thirty men with assault rifles around the perimeter and said that any transport traveling in the direction of the Ukrainian battalion was “subject to neutralization.” Meanwhile, the Crimean “self-defense force” prepared for an assault on the Ukrainian military unit in Simferopol, with the demand that the fuel depot be handed over to it. The new authorities of Crimea, led by the unrecognized Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, have taken control of the Feodosiya oil transshipment terminal.

On the whole, the mood of the military on the Crimean peninsula has over the past week changed considerably. New Times’ sources in the Ukrainian Navy report that while in the first days of the conflict the Russian military often behaved politely and proposed patrolling together with Ukrainian soldiers, in recent days they have been calling themselves the “bosses” and have been talking to Ukrainians exclusively in superior tones, ordering them around.

Colonel Yuliy Mamchur, commander of the 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade stationed at the Bel’bek airfield, became known to the whole country after he defended his right to that airfield. On Thursday, he called the national leadership, the Defense Ministry, and the Ukrainian Armed Forces General Staff. Mamchur claims in this call that ultimatums from Russian servicemen are becoming increasingly serious, and he asked the command, therefore, to make a decision as quickly as possible about guidance for his personnel in the event of a direct threat.

“The Russian Federation has in the Luhansk and Chernihiv regions massed an assault force, heavy equipment, and military helicopters. Simultaneously, pro-Russian forces in Kharkiv are preparing an ‘assembly rally’ for the 16th, at which they plan to make a decision on a referendum based on the Crimean model,” independent political analyst Alexey Blyuminov points out. “Considering that the Kharkiv Region Council has refused to conduct any referendums for such purposes, I do not rule out attempts at a strong-arm seizure of the regional council by pro-Russian assault units and their adoption of an appeal to the Russian regime for the commitment of troops. The same provocation is possible in Luhansk region also,” he warns. This expert says the FSB continues to operate in the country’s eastern regions.

American CIA Director John Brennan said on 12 March that a full-scale invasion of Russian troops onto the territory of Ukraine will begin after the referendum in Crimea. The Ukrainian political analyst Pavlo Nuss shares this viewpoint: “On 17-18 March, regular troops of the Russian Federation will begin an invasion of Ukraine,” he says. This expert believes the invasion will begin simultaneously from the south and east of the country. “They will begin the occupation of Kherson and Mykolaiv from Crimea, attempting to take control of the shoreline of the Dnieper. They will attempt simultaneously to enter the territory of Mariupol and Berdyansk to establish control over the Azov region plus the Sea of Azov. This will happen, if we consider the invader’s ‘maritime interest’ scenario. The mobilization of the RF army at the borders of our motherland testifies that Russia is prepared for any scenario of military operations,” Nuss explains.

Guard to the Rescue

On 13 March, the Rada (Parliament) of Ukraine voted to form a National Guard. According to the document, this will be a large military unit with law-enforcement functions as part of the Interior Ministry. The strength level of the Guard, according to the document, could be up to 60,000 men. It will be formed by detachments of troops of the Interior Ministry and representatives of the Maydan Self-Defense Force, and also by some ordinary citizens of Ukraine who have experience of actual military operations and who have already registered at enlistment offices as volunteers in the event of aggression. The Defense Ministry says that there are about 40,000 Ukrainians in the latter group.

Andriy Parubiy, secretary of the National Security Council, said that the National Guard is seventy percent manned by volunteers.

As far as the armed forces of Ukraine are concerned, they are in a frankly deplorable condition. Ihor Tenyukh, Ukraine’s defense minister, rated the capacity of the nation’s armed forces for switching to the highest readiness status as “unsatisfactorily low.” This official noted the “dispiriting state of training of the personnel of the Armed Forces, the insufficient manning of units with specialists, and the absence of equipment and arms in good working order.” In the ground forces, whose total strength is 41,000 men, “only 6,000 servicemen are really combat-ready,” Tenyukh emphasized. “More than seventy percent of the armored equipment is composed of obsolescent and worn-out Soviet-made T-64 tanks with a time in service of thirty years and more,” Tenyukh provided as an example.

What are Ukrainian politicians to do in this situation? Political analyst Taras Berezovets, president of Berta Communications, believes that local authorities need to “be more decisive in their appeals to the EU and the United States for the imposition of stiff economic and visa sanctions by the EU and the United States against Russian officials and the Russian president’s closest associates.”

“I believe that the probability of war is very high,” political analyst Alexey Blyuminov sums up, in turn. And he adds: “Locally in Crimea this is an almost 100 percent probability, outside of Crimea, over seventy percent. The events of 16 March (the Crimean referendum) could be the kickoff. Hearing one round go off would be sufficient – from either side.”

The notion of a coup de main by Russian forces against Kyiv, led by airborne (VDV) troops, with groundwork paved by intelligence operatives, that was elaborated by VADM Kabanenko, is entirely consistent with Moscow’s longstanding doctrine – think Czechoslovakia 1968 or Afghanistan 1979, among many possible examples – of how to execute quick, decisive operations for political effect. It is also consistent with reports this week of VDV forces marshaling near the Ukrainian border and of Russian military intelligence (GRU) operatives caught in Ukraine spying and prepping local ethnic Russians for action.

The real question, then, is would Ukrainians prove to be more like Czechs in 1968 – passive and accepting of aggression – or more like Afghans in 1979 – full of fight to the bitter end against the invader? While I sense few Pashtun-like tendencies among any Ukrainians, I have little doubt that there are plenty of them who are willing to resist if Russian forces really move on Kyiv, the capital. That would be a real war quickly, no matter the dilapidated condition of Ukraine’s military. As the U.S. military learned to its great chagrin over the last decade, relatively small numbers of determined insurgents with small arms, RPGs, and IEDs can cause enormous pain to even the most powerful occupying army.

The Kremlin would be wise to recall that resistance to Soviet occupation in Western Ukraine lasted into the 1950s and cost many thousands of lives; it took brutal Stalinist methods of mass repression that even Putin would not dare attempt in the 21st century to bring Ukraine fully under Kremlin rule after World War II. Clearer heads in Moscow know this and I can only hope they are being listened to now. I suspect we will know the answer quite soon.

From → Espionage, Strategy, USG

26 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Voetnoten and commented:
    As the XX Committee indicates, a push of Russia into Ukraine proper would instantly be the biggest European war since 1945. Fingers crossed this will not happen, and cool heads prevail.

  2. Sorry but there will be no war.

  3. Too bad Ukraine is not likely to get much help from the US. The rise of modern liberalism in the US means that US involvement in other countries will remain limited. I’m sure many other countries with US security guarantees are watching this and getting nervous.

    Since both Russia and China have already made clear they wish to carve up the world into spheres of influence, I guess Russia is making good on that threat. Take a look at what one Moscow-based defense analyst had to say back in 2008:

    “This is very significant. Right now the present Russian leadership believes that a war with Nato is very much possible,” Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow-based defence analyst, told the Guardian. “This is the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union that the Russian military is actually preparing for an all-out nuclear war with America.”

    He added: “I believe we [the Russians] are sending the west a serious message. The message is treat us with respect, and if you don’t go into our backyard we won’t go into yours. Russia wants to divide the world into spheres of influence. If not, we will prepare for nuclear war.”

    Source: Russia challenges west with nuclear overhaul | World news | The Guardian – http://goo.gl/OLomdg

    • Mike permalink

      “Too bad Ukraine is not likely to get much help from the US. The rise of modern liberalism in the US means that US involvement in other countries will remain limited. I’m sure many other countries with US security guarantees are watching this and getting nervous.”

      Not just liberalism. Tea Party leader Rand Paul just gave a huge speech condemning aid to Ukraine. Most of the country would probably agree. As a result of our failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan along with our large national debt and unwillingness to try and pay for it, the whole country is as isolationist as it was in the 1930′s when it basically let Hitler take everything almost everything he wanted until they were forced to resist late in the process. The EU is about as effective as the League of Nations which isn’t helping. History is repeating itself, and I’m afraid no one is going to notice until it is way too late.

  4. I wonder if this Shamanov is the same one from the documentary “The Shamanov Column”? The documentary was filmed by a Russian recruit during the First Chechen War and showed the deplorable state of Russian forces at the time. It was broadcast on the CBC in Canada in the late 1990s on “The Passionate Eye”, its documentary program.

    Secondly, the formation of a national guard in Ukraine has been ringing alarm bells in my mind from when I first read it. Logic would dictate that the new regime doesn’t trust its own armed forces and to extend this logic, this indicates that there is a threat that the armed forces might be used to launch a coup d’etat in Kiev, at which point they could invite the Russian Armed Forces to “restore the constitution and order”.

  5. Well done, John. Great stuff coming out of this blog. It is too bad that we don’t have a better sense of how Putin’s Kremlin works.

    I posted our interview on the information war for Ukraine at http://traffic.libsyn.com/orthoanalytika/20140312-Schindler-Ukraine.mp3

  6. John Covell permalink

    Solution: Blockade the Dardanelles from any and all Russian shipping (easy — one strategically placed mine-layer), shadow and bring to port every Russian ship in the Baltic Sea (non-confrontational with the impotent Russian navy — let it accompany the twenty or thirty ships it can), freeze all Russian assets and bank accounts outside of Russia. The only counter Putin would have to that would be all-out war which he knows he would lose — because he can bully one former satellite at a time, but he would be crushed by a united NATO. The Russian army can’t fight its way out of a wet paper bag.

  7. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Alarming. It seems safe to say the “Cold War” is very much NOT over.

  8. Reblogged. An alarming post -since it is obvious the Ukraine invasion is a fait accompli.

  9. There are a few things that nobody takes into consideration. For example, Ukraine has a lot of nuclear power plants, the territory is crossed by major gas and oil pipelines. 2 nuclear power plants are in Russia in near proximity to the Ukrainian border – NovoVoronezh and Kursk

    All of this will be blown up by the Ukrainian resistance. 100s of 1000s of people in Ukraine DEMAND weapons to be able to resist the invaders. The mood is very grim and resolute. Nobody expects much of the army. Nobody expect anything from the “new” government: Parliament Rada again is deep in the games they were always playing: who gets which piece, spruced with idiotic debates about renaming villages and the like. People will be issued some 500,000 for starters.

    Ppl in the West should understand: it will be a MAJOR war, with nuclear power plants blowing up and possibly dirty nuclear bombs used against Russians. Add to that that in Moscow there are 10s if no 100s of 1000s of Ukrainian guest workers, mostly from Western Ukraine. I would bet my pants they will try to set Moscow on fire and if they can other cities to.

    And that’s not all. Since Russia introduced the use of force that they refuse to recognize as their troops, I can see the use of unmarked attack drones US would refuse to admit the origin of

  10. Mike T. permalink

    Interesting post. The Voice of Russia published what was essentially an invasion plan two weeks ago. The article read as if someone had seen documents rather than as if it were speculation.

    I am surprised that the Poles have not taken a hand in this. Surely they have as much stake in a “peaceful and stable” Ukraine as the Russians, and, hence, the same right to send in troops, especially if the government asks them to. Some Polish military advisers openly working with the Ukrainian Army would at least send a strong signal to the Russians. And make no mistake, if there is any sort of a war, the Poles will be sucked into this, one way or another. By putting even a token “NATO” presence on the front line, the Russians might think twice, at least about pushing past the Dnieper. They do not want to start a WW I scenario by accidentally invading Poland. We need to underline that that is what will happen.

    In summary, Crimea is gone and it’s not coming back. The job now is to convince the Russians to stop there. And being very quiet and hoping they will go away is not going to do it. Putin will stop when he decides that continuing is not worth the effort. So far, we have done nothing to alter that calculation.

    Oh, and BTW, please, President Obama, stop wagging your finger and threatening “consequences.” It has become acutely embarrassing. Seriously.

  11. Meantime, back at the White House, President Obama is scheduled to sip green beer with the Irish and Secretary of Defense Chuck “Peace Now” Hagel will be meeting with the Joint Chiefs discussing the planned deep cutbacks in America’s armed forces. Secretary of State John “Genghis Khan” Kerry will be looking for any foreign political celebrities with which to negotiate. By midweek, with “unknown gunmen” patrolling downtown Kiev aboard strangely Russian-looking armored vehicles, and the American news media, seeing no upside in that story for either the President or the de facto 2016 Democratic Party presidential nominee, Hillary “Reset” Clinton, will declare Putin the loser and switch news reporting to the inequities of the minimum wage and overtime pay.

  12. Reblogged this on and that's the way it was and commented:
    John Schindler, formerly of the NSA and now a professor at the Naval War College, sees signs that Russia is planning to invade the Ukrainian mainland after tomorrow’s Crimea referendum, and that it will push to seize the whole country. This still seems unlikely to me, but Dr. Schindler knows the region and his perspective is an important one.

  13. the unutterable permalink

    your site’s great,thanks for running it!
    consistently among the very best foreign policy reportage online or in traditional media.

    ps – suprised as hell the russian troll army aint spamming your comments yet.they are bloody everywhere!lol

  14. Tim Tyler permalink

    Barrack Hussein Obama is just as valuable & effective as the referee in a WWE wrestling match, & I think a lot of geopolitical actions of despot dictators such as Vlad Putin are a direct result.

    Meanwhile, the leadership of North Korea & Iran are waiting for the US forces to be bogged-down in yet another regional conflict, so they can then carry out a list of offensive actions they’ve been planning for decades without much fear that the USA would have the means to intervene.

    For electing, then especially re-electing a liberal pussy like obama, we’re going to get what we deserve. Yet even pussies will attempt to use force when backed into a corner. If obama had demonstrated leadership & been respected by other nations, diplomacy may have actually worked at one time, but thanks to him, it’s pretty much too late for that now.

    • XX Committee is a smart place where one can find good coverage and analysis. There’s no need to apply incorrect labels like ‘despotic dictator’ to men like Putin when he simply isn’t one. He’s authoritarian, but not a dictator.

      There has been a growing trend in the English-speaking world as of late to corrupt terms by expanding their definitions to the point of absurdity where guys like the 9/11 hijackers are ‘cowards’ and soldiers who lose a leg to an IED are ‘heroes’ for simply losing a leg and not doing anything heroic.

  15. Scott McConnell permalink

    Glad to have found this site, been looking for something like it for a while. That said, I don’t think it matters much to the US if Russia takes back Ukraine. Would have been better to push earlier for a neutral Ukraine, rather than pushing the envelope with Maidan demonstrations, trying to bring Ukraine into EU, etc. Should have been left a buffer states. One question–is it logistically feasible to attach Crimea to Russia without Russian control of Ukraine, or are the logistics too difficult?

    • Hi, thanks for your comments. Neutral Ukraine was best outcome, now sadly down the tubes. Russia can take just Crimea if it wants…here’s hoping that will satisfy Putin, since more than that leads to unpleasant outcomes for all of us.

  16. Un Curs Valutar de The Coming War for Ukraine conversie valutara nu este o povara usoara
    de a desfasura de zi cu zi cu modificarea ratelor Curs Valutar straine .
    Fiind o moneda straina , litera la orisicare piesa locala se va a socoti pentru Curs Valutar puterea de luare in camp straina se primeni in oricine moment uro .

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