Over the past few weeks, as allied Western nations have been screaming from rooftops that a further invasion of Ukraine is imminent, those at the center of this extraordinary crisis in eastern Europe have been patiently waiting for another adage to fall.
And now it looks like it has.
Not that, with their repressed anxiety and learned skepticism, Ukrainians are deliberately blinded when they reject the warning. They could see the massive buildup of the Russian military on their borders and know what it meant.
They had seen this film before, several times. The difference is that before, we in the West didn’t pay attention, or maybe didn’t fully understand what was going on in the complicated layers of post-Soviet politics.
Key justification for Moscow, say expert
What was missing for several weeks as the invasion anniversary fell was a pretext, many Ukrainian leaders and senior officials arguing with anyone who would listen.
Moscow, they say, needs a set of circumstances that they can use—or fabricate—to give Russian military action a layer of global legitimacy.
“The issue of justifying the invasion is very important for them to avoid serious international punishment,” Oleksandr Danylyuk, Ukraine’s former head of national security, told CBC News in a recent interview.
With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognition on Monday of the two breakaway regions of East Ukraine as so-called “independent” republics and his order to Russian peacekeepers to protect them, the last missing piece of this tragic international puzzle fell into place. .
Interestingly, Russia’s parliament last week asked Putin to recognize the autonomy of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, an idea that was initially dismissed by the Russian president’s spokesman as a violation of international agreements that have tried to end Russia’s seven-year proxy war. region.
“As we can see, the West is largely unprepared for a real clash with Russia, and the Russians are very good at giving them, you know, reasons to say that this is not a very definite situation,” said Danylyuk, who is now in charge. Center for Defense Reforms, a Kyiv-based think-tank that has studied Russian methods of warfare.
The goal, he said, was to divide the country, piece by piece.
“It’s not about their ability to attack Ukraine. It’s about their ability to control Ukraine after that,” Danylyuk said.
“That’s why the division of Ukraine into parts – this is what they need. In such a case, they can leave central and western Ukraine for some time and start digesting the east and south.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, reacting to Putin’s decision, tweeted on Monday that “Canada strongly condemns Russia’s recognition of the so-called ‘independent state’ in Ukraine.”
“This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and international law. Canada stands firm in its support for Ukraine – and we will impose economic sanctions for this action.”
Russia may not have the power to contain Ukraine
Military experts who have watched Russia’s buildup for weeks honestly say that even with 160,000 to 190,000 troops, Moscow has not amassed enough troops to invade — and more importantly, defend — all of Ukraine.
“I don’t think they can get to the Dneiper River, actually,” retired American lieutenant general Ben Hodges said, referring to the river that divides Ukraine and the north-south line, in a recent interview with CBC News.
“If Russia attacked it would be bad. It would be bad, but I don’t think they can defend logistically what it takes.”
Defense Minister Anita Anand met her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksiy Reznikov, at the Munich Security Conference on Saturday, and witnessed last weekend as Russian proxy forces in the Donbas ordered general mobilization and the evacuation of civilians.
The writing seems to be on the wall at the time.
“We are preparing for all eventualities and we support Ukraine in responding to all eventualities,” Anand said in an interview with CBC News.
Canadian shipments of lethal weapons, including machine guns, carbines and hand guns, arrived in Ukraine over the weekend.
During his meeting with Reznikov, Anand also restated Canada’s pledge to help improve Ukraine’s cyber capabilities – something it promised in late January.
Over the past few days, the Ukrainian government has endured debilitating cyber attacks, but Anand declined to say what kind of assistance Canada has provided to get government departments, including Ukraine’s defense ministry, back on their feet.
The tug-of-war over the Donbas region continues
Danylyuk said the Donbas region, which Putin had ordered Russian troops to protect, had long been the center of a tug-of-war between the two countries.
The first attempt to “attack and divide Ukraine,” he said, came in 2004 when pro-Russian politician Viktor Yanukovych, who later became the country’s president, tried to organize a separatist assembly in the Luhansk region, along the border with Russia.
Russia failed in that attempt, and Danylyuk said they tried again once Yanukovych was elected president, but “they miscalculated the potential support from the Ukrainian population that Russia could get.”
Yanukovych was ousted and forced into exile in 2014 after rejecting closer ties to the European Union and overseeing a bloody crackdown on demonstrators in Kyiv’s Maidan Square.
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