Gwynne Dyer: It’s not yet all-out war between Russia and Ukraine—but it's close

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      It is quite possible for soldiers to cross a frontier “by accident on an unmarked section”, and that is how Moscow explains the capture of a group of Russian paratroopers on Ukrainian territory last weekend.

      Poor lambs, they just wandered across the border by mistake. When they get home, they’ll have to be sent on a refresher course in cross-country navigation.

      The flaw in this story is that the 10 captured Russian soldiers, from the 331st Regiment of the 98th Guards Airborne Division, were caught in a group of unmarked vehicles 20 kilometres inside Ukraine.

      That’s a third of the way from the Russian border to the besieged rebel city of Donetsk, and it’s really hard to explain away as a navigational error. 

      Besides, there is plenty of other evidence (though no other video interviews with captured Russian troops) to show that there is now a three-pronged Russian offensive under way in eastern Ukraine.

      There are probably fewer than a thousand Russian regular army troops on Ukrainian territory at the moment, but their purpose is clearly to stop the collapse of the pro-Russian rebels and reverse the momentum in the ground war. 

      Last week the Ukrainian forces finally cut the last remaining road from Russia to the besieged city of Luhansk, shortly after a large convoy of Russian trucks violated Ukrainian sovereignty and drove up that road to deliver “humanitarian” aid to the city. The rebel forces have now launched a counter-offensive to reopen the road, and Russian self-propelled artillery units have entered Ukraine in the Krasnodon area to support their attacks. 

      Another Russian force, including tanks, crossed the border on August 24 50 kilometres south of Donetsk, the capital of the other rebel province, and is trying to open a corridor to that city. (The captured paratroopers were part of that force, which is currently stalled near Ilovaisk.) And on August 25 a column of Russian armour crossed into Ukraine well to the south, heading west along the coast of the Sea of Azov towards the port city of Mariupol.

      Detained Ukrainian POWs marched through Donetsk.
      Evgeny Feldman

      This last incursion, presumably an attempt to open a third front and relieve the pressure on the two besieged cities, has now occupied Novoazovsk, about 30 kilometres east of Mariupol. The Ukrainian forces say they destroyed a dozen armoured infantry carriers there, but in the end they were driven out. Russian helicopter gunships also killed four Ukrainian border guards and wounded three others in an attack on a border post east of Luhansk on Tuesday (August 26). 

      It’s not yet all-out war between Russia and Ukraine, but there is no doubt that Ukrainian forces are now in direct combat with Russian troops on several fronts. Russia still officially denies all this, of course, but its denials are not meant to be believed. Rather than see the separatist forces that Moscow has sponsored in the two eastern Ukrainian provinces simply collapse, Russian president Vladimir Putin has decided to escalate the conflict. 

      The message is that Russia will do whatever is necessary militarily to keep the rebellion alive. But is that really true? Putin is now just one step short of a full Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, and Russia is already suffering serious economic sanctions. Take that last step, and it’s back to the Cold War—a war that Russia would ultimately lose, and it wouldn’t take 40 years this time either. 

      Today’s Russia has only half the population of the old Soviet Union, and it is no longer a major industrial power. Without its oil and gas exports, its citizens would be as poor as Ukrainians.

      If NATO started to take the “Russian threat” really seriously and re-armed itself accordingly, Russia simply couldn’t keep up militarily—and even trying would wreck its fragile economy. In the end, that would probably bring Putin down.

      Putin presumably understands this at some level, but his pride, and his desire to restore Russian power, won’t let him just accept defeat. So the current escalation is best seen as his next move in a game of chicken: can he frighten the West into making a deal that saves his face and turns Ukraine back into a political and economic dependency of Russia?

      The answer is: probably not.

      Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, certainly does not intend to go back to the old days. When he called a parliamentary election last week, he was effectively declaring that Ukraine will continue to be a sovereign and centralized state, not the neutered and decentralized state that Moscow wants—and that it will keep its options open on joining the European Union and even NATO (though neither of those options is currently on offer). 

      President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv, Ukraine, on August 23, 2014.
      IgorGolovniov / Shutterstock.com

      The problem with games of chicken is that each player must demonstrate his willingness to go all the way, even though going all the way is crazy. The first one to give way to an attack of sanity loses.

      The only way to avoid a disastrous smash-up and still not lose is for both players to go sane at exactly the same time. That is what diplomacy is for, but so far it isn’t working.

      Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles on world affairs are published in 45 countries.

      Comments

      26 Comments

      Human

      Aug 27, 2014 at 5:35pm

      I forgot the last time I read such an oppionated and biased article

      blah

      Aug 27, 2014 at 5:50pm

      It's hard to expect diplomacy from someone who is hellbent on ruling the world. The only good thing that will come of this is that eventually Putin will be forced to leave office by his own people.

      Gordon Martin

      Aug 27, 2014 at 8:20pm

      Thanks Gwynn, butI'm curious as to the role of the USA in this deadly game.

      Sally

      Aug 27, 2014 at 10:34pm

      Gwynne, Putin's control of gas and oil is geopolitically decisive (when backed by nukes of course).

      There is no reasonable counter-argument to this. The EU is the "monkey in the middle" that will reject the US when push comes to shove because it has no reasonable alternative.

      I think I understand what is pressuring you, but you have to reject it and just let it go. It is making you look like a fool.

      Jack Ruby

      Aug 27, 2014 at 11:47pm

      This story is not believable and probably bogus. If Russian troops came into Ukraine It would obviously be a major military event an not some silly "we got lost" story.

      DR-Montreal

      Aug 28, 2014 at 5:03am

      Dyer's map might be more helpful for his new friends in Washington, in showing states to the west of Ukraine as NATO and Ukraine as NOT NATO since it was Washington funding and support that made a crypto-fascist coup in Kiev possible, and likewise continues to fund and encourage Kiev aggression against ethnic Russians in the Donbass.

      But then of late Dyer has inexplicably become yet another pro-Washington/NATO media shill, parroting all the nonsense mainstream media does with regards to the Ukraine according the the following guidelines:

      a) downplay Washington's role in violently overthrow the previous government and setting up an anti-Russian junta
      b) entirely omit talking about the strong fascist elements in the Ukie government and security services
      c) omit discussion of crypto-fascist independent battalions fighting in E. Ukraine, with racist agendas and even using Nazi-like runes, banners and emblems, and avoid discussion of the massacre of ethnic Russian protestors in Odessa by these same right-wing thugs
      d) add the storyline that Crimea is "historically part of Ukraine" (it was given to the Ukraine by Kruschev)and that Russia troops "invaded" Crimea
      e) and while we are at it, avoid discussing the very strong likelihood that the Ukies shot down the Malaysian airliner in E. Ukraine for whatever reasons. They've had the black boxes and Kiev ATC transcripts for ages now and you can bet that story won't be headlined anytime soon; i.e. because the Kiev government shot down that plane.

      Mix & stir, serve.

      This highly edited and redacted narrative, intended to polarize opinion by the war-mongers in Washington, is kept alive in mainstream media thanks to journalists like Dyer.

      I Chandler

      Aug 28, 2014 at 6:29am

      "Gwynne Dyer: It’s not yet all-out war between Russia and Ukraine—but it's close"

      Eric Morgolis writes:
      "Britain, now a toothless old lion, would support the US in Ukraine with a few men and warplanes; so would France, Denmark, Poland, Canada and Holland, but to a limited or even token degree. Germany and Turkey, NATO’s two heavy hitters, want to avoid any conflict with Russia and might well stand aside. They both do very large business with Russia and are unhappy about the manufactured Ukraine crisis...
      So any military clash in Ukraine would initially be limited in scope and intensity. But a confrontation could quickly escalate into a dangerous crisis...Nothing is worth the risk of nuclear war, even a limited one. Let the Ukrainians sort out their differences by referendum."

      http://ericmargolis.com/2014/08/what-if-theres-a-real-war-in-ukraine/

      "Russia is already suffering serious economic sanctions."

      Eric Morgolis also writes:
      "Economic embargos such as those launched by the US against Russia may seem relatively harmless. They are not. Trade sanctions are a form of strategic warfare that is sometimes followed by bullets and shells.
      For example, the 1940 US embargo against Japan that led Tokyo’s fateful decision to go to war rather than face slow, economic strangulation. How many Americans know that President Roosevelt closed the Panama Canal to Japanese shipping?"

      "it will keep its options open on joining the European Union and even NATO (though neither of those options is currently on offer). "

      Currently?...Didn't NATO Enlargement start this mess? Only months ago, the Current NATO head Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that NATO membership is still an option for Ukraine. I say current because his term as Secretary General was extended a couple of times. He bombed Libya to protect civilians but opposed the creation of a European Air Force:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enlargement_of_NATO#Ukraine

      doconnor

      Aug 28, 2014 at 7:14am

      It would be against the Geneva convention to parade prisoners of war through the streets like that. However, since there is no official war, they are technically illegal immigrants subject to the Ukrainian criminal justice system.

      I Chandler

      Aug 28, 2014 at 7:21am

      "That is what diplomacy is for, but so far it isn’t working."

      It isn’t working because Tony Blair, Nicholas Kristof, Samantha Power and John Kerry are too busy juggling other crISIS:

      The infamous Glenn Greenwald writes that Secretary of State John Kerry compared Assad to (guess who?) Hitler, instructing the nation that this is our Munich moment but now:

      "Now the Obama administration starts a new campaign to bomb those fighting against Assad – the very same side the U.S. has been arming over the last two years. It’s as though the U.S. knew for certain all along that it wanted to fight in the war in Syria, and just needed a little time to figure out on which side it would fight.

      It seems pretty clear at this point that U.S. military action in the Middle East is the end in itself, and the particular form it takes – even including the side for which the U.S. fights – is an ancillary consideration.

      More important, what are air strikes going to accomplish? All one has to do is look at the horrific chaos and misery in Libya - the Successful Humanitarian Intervention™ - to know that bombing Bad People out of existence accomplishes little in the way of strategic or humanitarian value."

      https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/08/26/fun-empire-fighting-sides-...

      P.Peto

      Aug 28, 2014 at 9:02am

      Yes Gwynne this dispute seems to be gradually escalating into an outright war between Slavic nations. The Kremlin has tried for months to get the Ukies to the negotiating table to solve their differences peacefully but instead the Ukie oligarch has chosen to repress and pacify the rebellious eastern Ukraine by force and terror bombing. Half of the besieged Russian speaking population have fled in terror to Russia and the rest mostly the elderly, sick, poor and stubborn submit themselves to indiscriminate shelling and deprivation of the necessities of life by their fellow countrymen. Sadly the violent events in Kiev have resulted in a civil war with NATO supporting one side and the Russians the other while the Ukrainians bleed, die and their country is laid to waste.
      However, lets not forget this is essentially another proxy war, like present day Iraq, Syria and Libya which was intentionally triggered by the US. In this case to punish and cause mischief for Russia. As I have said before they want to provoke Russia into a border war with the Ukraine so they can have an excuse to impose crippling sanctions on Russia, arouse old European fear and hatred against Russia, bolster more military spending in NATO counties, obtain advanced American military bases and ammunition stockpiles in these countries, emplace antiballistic missile batteries near Russia's borders and put enough fear into Russian elites so they will overthrow Putin and replace him with a more US friendly dictator. Moreover, Russia is a threat against the US dollar and a trading competitor with the US for the vast European and Asian markets. The Americans also covet Russia's huge natural resource wealth which they would like to expropriate for their own profit.
      Russia knows that America is hostile and is preparing for war with them. The Americans know that their financial system is bankrupt and that their economic and political power is about to collapse and that their only solution to their demise is a world war, which if they win, might give them a way out at the risk of bringing on a world apocalypse. In a game of chicken with Russia they are they bigger chicken and they have the best chance to "win" but they endanger the whole world in the process. I suppose they just don't want to go bankrupt quietly but would rather take everybody down with them.