Staunton, August 12 – There are no guarantees that Vladimir Putin’s current escalation of military actions in Ukraine will not lead to a full-scale war, although that is unlikely, Ukrainian analysts say. Instead, two of them argue today that the Kremlin leader has three more limited goals and that if Kyiv is to defend itself, it must recognize exactly what these are.
In a commentary on Kyiv’s Novoye vremya portal, Vladimir Fesenko, head of the Penta Center for Political Research, says that “the most probable scenario is a local escalation of the conflict, something like a new Debaltsevo” to force Kyiv to make concessions and to spark a new anti-Maidan Maidan (nv.ua/opinion/fesenko/gotova-li-rossija-k-bolshoj-vojne-63654.html).
Given that the Minsk negotiating process has run into a dead end, he continues, Russia wants to get it moving, of course, “in its own interests.” That, Fesenko says, is “a classic tactic of hybrid war and a forced movement toward peace on its conditions.” That is exactly what Putin did in Georgia in 2008, and he is doing it again.
Ukraine lacks the ability at present to fight a big war and the West is frightened by that possibility, Fesenko says. But Russia “now is not ready for either a full-scale war with Ukraine or even more for a major confrontation with the West.” But frightening both with that possibility is “a beloved tactic of Putin.”
But in this case, the Kremlin leader has a second goal: to inflict on Ukrainian forces a defeat sufficiently serious to “provoke in Ukraine a political crisis” and spark “a third Maidan.” That is “Putin’s dream, and this, unfortunately,” Fesenko argues, “also could be one of the reasons” behind the latest attacks.
Putin’s new aggression may have more limited military-political goals such as expelling Ukrainian forces from cities in the Donbas, for example, Fesenko says, and Ukrainians must do what they can to block Russian forces in this regard as well. But Kyiv must focus its attention and its resources on opposing Putin’s two main goals.
Igor Guz, deputy chairman of the Verkhovna Rada foreign relations committee, adds a third. He suggests that Putin has launched his new wave of aggression now to destabilize the Ukrainian economy and block the country’s integration with the European Union and expanded cooperation with NATO (charter97.org/ru/news/2015/8/12/164235/).
By sometimes cutting back military actions and sometimes increasing them as now, Putin keeps Ukraine off balance and undermines support for it in the West because governments there think there is a chance that if they are cooperative, Putin will reduce his aggression once again and there will be “progress.”
But more immediately, Putin’s off-again-on-again approach keeps Ukraine from taking the steps to improve its economy and thus be in a position to integrate with the European Union. What Kyiv must do, Guz says, is simultaneously build up its military capacity and reform its economy. That is not easy, Kyiv has a long way to go, but it has no other choice.