Sunday, September 6, 2015

Could Ukrainian War Do to Russia What Afghan War did to the USSR?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 6 – Yury Butusov, a protege of Ukrainian national security council secretary Aleksandr Turchinov, says the Ukrainian army need not attack but simply keep up the pressure on the line of the front so that in time, Ukraine will have the impact on Russia that Afghanistan did on the USSR – and lead to the same result.

            As everyone should remember, in Afghanistan, “the USSR retained all its positions but regularly suffered losses,” Butusov continues, “and these losses for an enormous country, despite their small number, were impermissible from an economic and political point of view.” As a result, Moscow withdrew (

            The same thing can happen again, the editor of the site, says, and consequently, Ukraine’s “main task is to make the occupation of the Donbas and Crimea for Russia a very expensive undertaking.” So far, Putin has been able to present it at home as “a winning project” like the Sochi Olympics.

            As “Svobodnaya pressa” writer Dmitry Rodionov says in reporting Butusov’s words, others have suggested analogies between Ukraine and Afghanistan.  Among them is Mustafa Cemilev, the former head of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar people.”

            He has said that “if in 1979 after the occupation of Afghanistan by Soviet forces, sanctions had been applied to the USSR like those which have been declared by the West against Putin and others, one would not have had to wait an entire decade for the withdrawal of forces from this country.”

            “I also have asked whether we should have to wait so long again,” Cemilev says. “But they tell me: no, now events in the world are developing more rapidly and this will take place significantly sooner.”

            Rodionov asked two Moscow observers for their reactions to Butusov’s suggestion of an Afghanistan analogy in the case of Ukraine, Viktor Shapinov, a Russian political observer, and Vladimir Kornilov, the director of the Moscow Center for Eurasian Research. Their comments are every bit as intriguing as Butusov’s original suggestion.

            While Shapinov begins by being dismissive of Butusov, he acknowledges that what the Ukrainian analyst is saying is not beyond the realm of possibility given that a Ukrainian attack on Crimea could “drag Russia into a war on the territory of Ukraine” against NATO with all the unpredictable consequences that might have.

            He further admits that “the Ukrainian army during the course of the war in the Donbas has in fact seriously improved its military qualities,” although he says it “still is not in a position to defeat even the armies of the LNR and DNR let along the army of a country like Russia.” American training will only allow the Ukrainians to retreat in a more orderly fashion.

            At the same time, Shapinov says that “Russia is really suffering from sanctions. During the years of capitalism was created an export and import dependent economy. The Russian ruling class concluded that it would occupy a profitable place as a supplier of hydrocarbons and buy everything else with super profits from that.”

            Now, however, “it is obvious that “this strategy already isn’t working,” even though some in Moscow “dream only that [Russia] can again become a junior partner of the West as it was in the 2000s. However, the world has changed, the crisis is intensifying, and there is no chance that things will again be ‘as they were.’”

            Asked whether Putin’s departure could lead to the restoration of Ukrainian control over Crimea, Shapinin says that is “completely possible. More than that, a ‘Ukrainian scenario’ cannot be excluded for Russia. There are no reasons to think that the Russian ruling stratum is a head talker than the one which ran Ukraine under Yanukovich.”

            Consequently, “the path to a Russian edition of ‘the Maidan’ is open. And then the question will be already not just about Crimea but also about the territorial integrity of Russia as a whole.”

            Kornilov for his part says that “anyone in Russia who thinks that the war in the Donbas is being conducted for the Donbas doesn’t understand the obvious fact.” If Russia gives up the Donbas, then it will have to give up Crimea and then other parts of Russia as well.

            “According to Russian law, Crimea is already the territory of Russia,” he continues. “The surrender of Crimea is possible only under a repetition of 1917 or 1991. Many in the West and in Ukraine, of course, hope that sooner or later this scenario will be repeated. About the disintegration of Russia dream more than one generation of Russophobes in various corners of the world.”

            As far as the Donbas itself is concerned, Kornilov says, “it is well known to me that from the very beginning of the Donetsk conflict, certain circles in Moscow have insisted on the surrender of this region. Some want to offer “full Ukrainian control over the Donbas in exchange for recognition of Crimea” as part of Russia.

            Others hope that “in a future federative Ukraine, the Donbas will be a restraining factor” that will prevent Kyiv from moving toward NATO. “These are naïve hopes if one is honest about it. Yes, now, Ukraine and the West can promise whatever in order to suppress the Donbas,” but in the future, one can forget about all these promises. Neither Kyiv nor the West will keep them.

            “The reintegration of Crimea and Ukraine is possible only under two scenarios,” Kornilov says, “within a single Russian state or as a result of the complete collapse of Russia and a military operation against Crimea following it.  I don’t know about the first scenario,” he concluded, “but over the second, someone in the West is actively working.”


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