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Thursday, July 17, 2014

Five Reasons The Situation in Eastern Ukraine is About to Become Much More Dangerous


Though this latest phase in the Ukraine crisis might seem like a repeat of recent events, this round is more dangerous for a number of reasons. Here are five of them.

This past week the mainstream coverage of the Ukrainian civil war has focused on Kiev's move to encircle Donetsk. However there are reports coming out of the east right now that indicate that the Ukrainian troops may have just walked into a trap. Specifically the separatists claim to have encircled western troops and have completely stalled their advance.

Note that this report is coming from those who openly support the separatists, and the claim that Kiev's forces have been encircled has yet to be confirmed by any major outlets, however Reuters does confirm that the Ukrainian troops have suffered heavy casualties in the past 24 hours, and there are separate reports that the separatists have managed to gain control of a new town on the Russian border within that same time period.
The big picture here is that Kiev's forces may have overextended their forces and supply lines after being lulled into a false sense of momentum by the withdrawal of separatist forces from Slavyansk. There are some who are even speculating that the retreat was a trap. It's too early to know for sure if this assessment is accurate, but it is plausible. This is a common pattern in armed confrontation (The writings of Erwin Rommel regarding modern military tactics are very educational in this regard).
The response from Washington, to lay the blame on Putin and to impose a new round of sanctions against Russia, was so predictable you may have the impression that you're watching a rerun from this Spring. Russia of course, reiterated their previous response: that these economic bully tactics will just have a boomerang effect. All par for the course. This phase in the crisis, however, is far more dangerous than the previous ones for a number of reasons.
Reason number one: a diplomatic solution is almost impossible at this point. Poroshenko talked a good game before coming into office, and Putin had expressed optimism after the two discussed the crisis in June. However, regardless of what was said, in the following month the Ukrainian military went on to engage in a full out bombardment of east Ukraine using airstrikes and heavy artillery. This shelling was indiscriminate, and the civilian casualties were very high. For a glimpse of what this assault looked like on the ground watch the video below (Warning: extremely brutal footage).
And this doesn't even begin to address the full scale of the atrocities committed by western forces since this started. For example we've since had the massacre in Odessa which both Kiev and Washington covered up completely.
These war crimes being committed by Kiev have done left a deep psychological mark on the region, building intense hatred and distrust for the government in Kiev.
Reason number two: Putin is under heavy pressure domestically to do something to protect the Russian speakers of east Ukraine. While Kiev has been calling wolf about an imminent ground invasion periodically since this crisis began, word on the street is that Russia is considering imposing a no-fly zone in east Ukraine. Putin obviously doesn't want to go down this road. If he did, the no-fly zone would have been implemented months ago. However if Russia does take such a measure NATO will interpret it as an act of war and the stakes will be ratcheted up yet another notch.  

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