Janine Davidson

Defense in Depth

Janine Davidson examines the art, politics, and business of American military power.

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With Russian “Peacekeepers” Poised at Border, Putin Is Still Escalating

by Janine Davidson
August 5, 2014

ukraine-russia-war A member of Ukrainian self-defence battalion "Donbass" guards the area as his colleagues deliver medicines and medical equipment captured from pro-Russian separatists to the staff (back) of a local hospital in the eastern Ukrainian town of Popasna August 4, 2014. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Courtesy Reuters)


According to The New York Times, this weekend has seen an immense build-up of Russian forces poised along the Ukrainian border. This comes at the same time that the Ukrainian military has launched its long-awaited assault on Donetsk, urging civilians to evacuate from the rebel-held “people’s republics.” The Ukrainian separatists are encircled and increasingly desperate; the pressure for Russia to act is mounting. As I wrote last week, the stage is being set for a Russian invasion under the guise of a “peacekeeping” operation. Vehicles arrayed just over the border reportedly bear the insignia of Russian peacekeeping forces.

The recent influx of Russian manpower and materiel into the region has been extraordinary. A week ago, General Phillip Breedlove estimated Russian forces at “well over 12,000.” Now it is twice that, roughly seventeen battle-ready battalions. The New York Times details this Russian force disposition:

Over the past several weeks, Russia has built up 17 battalions — totaling 19,000 to 21,000 troops, according to one Western estimate — into a battle-ready force of infantry, armor, artillery and air defense within a few miles of the border. In addition, it has vastly expanded its firepower, increasing the number of advanced surface-to-air missile units to 14 from eight, and deploying more than 30 artillery batteries, according to the officials.

These remarks by Pentagon sources are complemented by a remarkable amount of open-source intelligence that points to accelerating Russian troop movements at the border (and possibly over it). And social media is making it harder for Russia to mask its mobilization. Consider this YouTube video uploaded by a pro-Ukrainian account on August 1, purporting to show the travel of some of the most recent Russian forces now arrayed at the border:

Russian military exercises along the border have also intensified.  As the Washington Post reports:

In recent days, there have been increasing calls in Moscow for the Kremlin to step up support for the rebels in Ukraine as they continue to lose territory to a slow-moving but relentless military advance.

Ukraine and the West have expressed alarm over an apparent Russian buildup along the border. On Monday, the Russian air force announced military exercises involving more than 100 aircraft, among them bombers, fighter jets and helicopters. The Interfax news agency reported that the exercises will include missile-firing practice.

Although pressure has continued to mount for additional rounds of financial sanctions in wake of the July 17’s MH17 tragedy and the White House has pledged military aid to the Ukrainian National Guard in 2015, these steps have not deterred Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly provocative military posturing. As I have argued before, deepening conflict will only be averted if the Russian president can be convinced that invasion will be costly and potentially humiliating.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Jack

    Great post.
    Regarding this, “these steps [already taken] have not deterred Russian President Vladimir Putin’s increasingly provocative military posturing.”
    What steps do you think will? What’s your more specific recommendation?

  • Posted by Tyler P. Harwell

    It does not help to focus too closely on the Russian leader. Indeed, such conceit and arrogance can only make matters worse. You speak as if we could send him back to reform school.

    But he is incorrigible. He can not be humiliated, and cost does not appear to be his concern. If he could be swayed by rational arguments or coercion aimed at appealing to his sense of Russia’s enlightened self-interest, then he would not have seized Crimea in the first place. It has not so far helped the Russian economy. And in the long run it will prove very hard to support without controlling most of southern Ukraine. That means war.

    One would think he would have leapt for joy when it was announced that the EU was willing to come to the rescue. Instead he has decided that he must Pure idiocy, as if Ontario should go to war with Michigan over Detroit. Russia will come to regret it, whether or not he lives long enough to see the day.

    But let us talk, as Charles Krauthammer has suggested, about shortening the arc of history.

    Rather than agonize over America’s seeming inability to arrest the course of events in Ukraine, a place where it has very little national interest at stake, and less means of leverage, the United States would be well advised to confront Russian threats and interference in places where it matters more to us. One such place is Syria. And so far, there as elsewhere, the Obama administration has shown no inclination to do so.

    This is the most dangerous aspect of America’s foreign policy at this time, not our failure to do more to deter Russian domination of Ukraine. It is as if the Obama administration has completely checked out when in comes to the mounting danger of developments in the Middle East. Russian support for the Assad regime is a big part of the problem. And President Obama is simply afraid to do anything about this.

    The lessons of history point to this conclusion: if a nation does not push back when and where it can over something of lesser importance, it will also not push back at a later time, when and where it can not, over something of greater importance. That is where we are headed under the leadership of President Obama, all across the board.

    So then, how to get President Putin’s attention ? I offer my recommendations once again:

    Subordinate our dealings with this man over Ukraine to the far greater problem of putting a stop to the slaughter in Syria and Iraq, and arresting the descent of the Middle East in to religious war: After all, have we not shed blood there ??


    1. Impose a naval blockade on Syria and Lebanon, in cooperation with Turkey. Stop Russian naval shipments at the Black Sea entrance to the Bosphorus.

    That will get the attention of every Russian, not just Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. And if this blockade is challenged, defend it as necessary. Make the Russian Navy persona non grata in the Mediterranean. Putin will soon forget his plans for Ukraine.

    What else ?

    2. Buy up every serviceable Russian or Ukrainian made fighter aircraft to be found available for purchase anywhere in the world, and donate it to Ukraine.

    3. Likewise armor and air defense systems. Let the Ukrainians kill Russians with Russian made hardware, not American armaments.

    4. To free up these assets, sell American arms to former east block countries.

    Query, how do Serbians feel about a Russian invasion of Ukraine ??

    and 5: Push back hard against resumed Russian long-range bomber missions to the shores of America. Very hard. Hard enough to put a stop to them.


  • Posted by JD Bindenagel

    President Putin has the option of bringing his rebels in Ukraine to the negotiating table, starting with a cease-fire in Eastern Ukraine. His troop deployments do provide his rebels with some leverage in any talks with their government in Kiev.

    An invasion would make Putin Milosevic’s equivalent and threatens to make Putin a war criminal.

  • Posted by xolile

    Russia must do something or soon the Russian people will be fed up with their government which currently follow kerry and obama instructions.It is the Russian families that are kill by kiev,usaand nato in Ukraine.

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