Monday, March 10, 2014

Russia continues its Crimean campaign

All it took was one Malaysian airliner to disappear to shift American news media away from Crimea.  It certainly looks suspicious, however it can just as easily be some type of catastrophic design failure.  Regardless, more headlines are pouring out speculation on this rather than looking at all of the nasty options Mr. Putin has set into motion over he the weekend.

A little review is in order to properly set the magnitude of how much the United States does not understand Russia and Mr. Putin.

The “reset” with Russia had a brief, unhappy life. It began with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting her Russian counterpart with a mistranslated reset button reading “overcharged.” It ended with current Secretary of State John Kerry denying knowledge of the late, unlamented policy on “Meet the Press”: “Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset.”-- Rich Lowry, New York Post 

Former Secretary of State (and 2016 Democratic Presidential hopeful) Hillary Clinton and President Obama crafted the notion of a "reset" for relations with Russia.  As we are now reminded, Russian may not be the former Soviet Union anymore but Mr. Putin's approach is not the much different from the Cold War days.

To protect Russian interests, he sent troops to Crimea when it looked like Ukraine would align with the EU.  The United States and Western Europe protested, with Mr. Obama coming out looking like a rank amateur going against a world-class heavyweight champ.

Mr. Obama looks weakest whenever he makes threats.  No one takes them seriously and to someone like Mr. Putin, it just stokes his ego.  Towards the end of last week, Mr. Obama threatened Russia with economic sanctions if he did anything.  Over the weekend, Mr Putin did the following;

1.Putin mocks the West and threatens to turn off gas supplies.  Rather than have direct talks with the new government in Kiev, Mr. Putin would take away Europe's cheap source of natural gas.  The Ukraine is one of the main transit routes for Russian gas and much of Europe depends heavily on the flow of natural gas.  Even though temps are warming up, a cut-off would adversely effect the European economy.--Telegraph

2.Russian troops storm military post in Crimea as U.S. sends warship to the Black Sea after talks between Obama and Putin break down  Russian troops stormed a Crimean command center in an act that seems to be in retaliation for the deployment of the US Destroyer Truxtun to the Black Sea.  While Washington is claiming this is just part of a routine exercise, Moscow claims this act escalates tensions.  There are now 30,000 Russian troops on the ground compared to a normal end-strength of around 11,000.--Daily Mail

3. Russia May Halt US Inspections Over Sanctions  Moscow sees the U.S. move as a reason to suspend U.S. inspections in Russia in line with the 2010 New START treaty on cutting U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.--Associated Press

4.  Ukraine leaders vow not to cede land; Russia tightens grip on Crimea  Leaders of Ukraine vowed Sunday not to cede any part of their nation’s territory, even as Russia defended its virtual takeover of the disputed Crimean peninsula and signaled its willingness to act on the result of an upcoming secession vote there. LA Times

Besides the deployment of the USS Truxtun, the US has quietly deployed more assets into the region.

1.  USAF To Increase Military Presence in Lithuania, Poland Six F-15C Eagle fighter jets were deployed to the Lithuanian Air Force base in Siauliai, in the country’s north, Thursday, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.  On a related note, 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 US troops are to be deployed to Poland March 10-11, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said. The fighter jets will arrive at the military base in Lask, in central Poland.--Defense News

One has to wonder how the Russians how the Russians did it.  Military historians will tell you that the Soviet era military was large, ponderously large.  It would take forever to get somewhere but once it did it would utilize its huge mass to overwhelm the enemy (unless it happens to be some pesky Afghanis).

Under Mr.Putin, two things happened.  One was his unwavering passion to ascend Russia to its rightful place as the major world power.  Second was his vision that the old Soviet military model was not nimble and would not work in a 21st Century battlefield of rapid strikes.  Instead of the lumbering military that was ripe for committing fratricide during the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the forces in Crimea in 2014 are much more like US Rangers.  Contracted professionals, no draftees, and many of the troops are from the FSB (modern day KGB).  It is a lean force designed for rapid deployment but lacks the depth and heavy armor for prolonged war with a major power.  The Ukraine does not pose that type of challenge.  (see Putin has transformed Russian army into a lean, mean fighting machine).

Many are speculating that Russia's economy cannot sustain these expeditionary forces.  I suspect these estimates are optimistic.  Russian people are used to a much more austere lifestyle than the West.  Mr. Putin has sustained relationships with Syria, Iran and China that will be more than willing to pay for Russian expertise in nuclear technology.  Even the threat of European sanctions rings hollow.  The EU is having a hard enough time keeping its members in line.  The threat of gas prices shooting up will hurt them more in the short-run than Russian.

Mr. Putin has figured he can ignore Washington for another two years at least.  In the meantime, if he regains control of Crimea he also insures Russia's dominance in the Black Sea.

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