Saturday, June 21, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Sending Russian Troops into Ukraine Could Lead to World War, Former Soviet Defense Minister Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 21 – If any more evidence were needed to prove that Vladimir Putin is far more reckless and aggressive than his predecessors at the end of Soviet times, it has been provided by Dmitry Yazov, who served as Soviet defense minister from May 1987 until being dismissed for his participation in the August 1991 coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.

            Speaking to officers in Moscow this week, Yazov, who is the last living Soviet marshal and who himself oversaw the use of Soviet forces in various republics, said that the dispatch of Russian military units to Ukraine  now would show that decisions were being taken without adequate reflection and “could lead to a third world war” (

            After he was granted an amnesty by the Duma in 1994, Yazov has been a frequent participant in veterans organizations as well as an honored guest in Victory Day parades.  Thus, he is not a marginal figure but someone who retains significant influence among Russian military officers, many of whom began their careers under his leadership.

            Yazov’s comment suggests that there are probably many in the Russian chain of command who have grave doubts about the new kind of war Putin has been waging in Ukraine and the risks that would be associated with sending units of Russian troops across the Russian-Ukrainian border.

            At the same time, however, the differences on this point between people of Yazov’s generation, who were more cautious about the use of force, and those of Putin’s entourage, who are less so, reflects a judgment about what the rules of the game are and how the West would react to their violation.

            Yazov assumes as would have been the case 30 years ago that the West would be united and rather tough against such an action – despite the fact that the West didn’t always respond that harshly to Soviet acts of aggression, but Putin clearly thinks that the West is divided and won’t react in ways that he cannot absorb and wait out.

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