Friday, March 7, 2014

Ukraine SITREP March 7, 09:03 EST (and a little debunking)

  • The situation outside Crimea is rapidly deteriorating.  Yesterday, a SWAT team of the Ukrainian SBU has arrested the "popular governor" of the Donetsk region.  He whereabouts are unknown.  The local police has also arrested an unknown number of anti-insurgent demonstrators.
  • Arrests of protesters have also happened in other cities of the Ukraine, including Odessa.  To my knowledge there are no signs of police forces siding with the anti-insurgent forces anywhere outside Crimea.
  • I have been parsing the pro-insurgency websites and newschannels and they regularly report about Ukrainian units in Crimea which did not recognize the Crimean authorities and which remain loyal to the insurgency.  These sources claim that these units have even kept their weapons.  Some sources speak of 11 Ukrainian units, all surrounded by Russian forces.
  • The Russian blogosphere is awash with various reports all corroborating what what pretty clear from day 1: the mysterious armed units which appeared overnight in Crimea are, indeed, Spetsnaz GRU. They seem to be supported by Air-Assault and Airborne units.  Russian Mi-24 attack helicopters are also regularly seen.
  • The insurgents also seem to be in control of the Russian-Ukrainian border were they are constantly subjecting Russian citizens to intense searches, harassment and where many are simply turned back.
  • The Ukrainian SBU is threatening to arrest the ex-governor of Kharkov, Mikhail Dobkin, who resigned to run for president, on charges of plotting to overthrow the regime by force.  He is also being investigated for threatening the territorial integrity of the Ukraine.  So much for him running in the next elections.
I would like to address three aspects of the West's response to the situation in the Ukraine:

First, the use of billionaire oligarchs: I think that is a brilliant move.  While the West does not have enough money to bail out the Ukraine, it does have enough money to assist the billionaire oligarchs to buy-off the local police and security forces.   Think of it, you are a riot cop or a SBU agent, and the Kiev appointed governor offers to put you on a $5'000 a month salary to remain loyal to the insurgency.  That is when an average salary would be in the $200-$400 dollars a month.  What would you do?

Also, make no mistake about it, all these oligarchs are ruthless mobsters and like any mobsters they have their own enforcers and hired thugs whom they can use to suppress a crowd (as this was done in Moscow in 1993 when armed thugs hired by the mayor of Moscow, Luzhkov - who was also a mobster - shot and killed many pro-Parliament supporters.

This tells me that unless the Russian-speaking population is willing to generate enough violent resistance to actually overcome these police and security forces the oligarchs might well prevail.

Second, all the talk about NATO ships entering the Black Sea.  Yes, that could be linked to the situation in the Ukraine but no, this is not a direct threat for Russia.  These ships can "show the flag" - a very important Navy mission.  They can also collect intelligence on the Russians.  And they can show support for the insurgency.  But in terms of military threat, the Black Sea is a lake by US Navy standards, which is waaaaaaay to close to the Russian Federation and its airpower and therefore not a place the USN would pick to attack Russia.  People often assume that the main threat to a navy is another navy.  This is not so, the worst threat for a navy is the other guy's airpower and any US ship in the Black Sea would have a zero chance of survival against the Russian air force, especially without a good air cover of its own.  At this point in time, the US and NATO are not ready to commit enough airpower to engage in combat air patrols, nevermind a full scale war, over the Black Sea.  In fact, the US has much better options to attack Russian forces in Crimea than sending ships into the Black Sea.  Bottom line: these USN ship are not a military threat to anybody.

Third, the US/NATO missile shield.  Some have speculated that the US/NATO anti-missile shield being currently developed and deployed in eastern Europe could offer a protective umbrella under which NATO could attack or threaten to attack.  Yes, this was the plan but no, this will not work.  At this point in time the system is not really operational.  Furthermore, Russia has the means to destroy it very rapidly (using Iskander missiles and Spetsnaz forces).  Finally, this system is designed to intercept older generation missiles and not the advanced types currently being fielded in Russia.

Even though I am by nature a pessimist, I see no signs of the US or NATO gearing up for war against Russia.  And, indeed, why should they when for a tiny fraction of the price and at zero risk they can simply buy off the security forces in the regions which oppose the insurgency?  And in the unlikely scenario that Russia would use military force outside Crimea, nobody at SHAPE is going to go to war over Lugansk, Donetsk or Kharkov.  Yes, they are every bit as evil has Hitler was but, no, they don't have his courage.

Stay tuned.

The Saker