Staunton, March 25 – Many people are asking themselves what will be Moscow’s next steps in Ukraine, but military analysts are focusing in particular on the question of timing Pavel Felgengauer, a leading independent Moscow expert on military issues, says that Russia will begin military operations in Ukraine by the middle of May or won’t launch them at all.
The Snob.ru portal today surveyed five Moscow political-military specialists on what will happen next and equally important when it will occur. Felgengauer suggests that “in the course of the next several weeks a very serious escalation of force is possible ... but that if it doesn’t occur now, it won’t happen ever” (snob.ru/selected/entry/74107).
Public attitudes are not going to determine the timing, he said. “Now all decisions will be taken by the military. If we do not go to war before the middle of May, then this will not happen later either.”
Ukraine lacks the materiel to fight an effective war, he continues, and while NATO could provide enough, that would take a certain amount of time. Only by the fall could the Ukrainians be “prepared to meet us. And whether other states might be drawn into military actions will depend on how the Ukrainians conduct themselves.”
“A clash with the forces of other states is improbable, Felgengauer says. “But the probability of a global nuclear war is not equal to zero. Everything is possible. These decisions ... will be taken by the military in the near future.” The Moscow expert on military affairs says that he “hopes for a peaceful development of events.”
A second analyst, political scientist Aleksandr Konovalov, says that “war is possible. Everything depends on our behavior.” If Russia moves into Eastern Ukraine and Transdniestria, then the responses will be serious ... No one is interested in war, but sometimes events with zero probability happen, especially when you play games like we are playing.”
NATO is very much weaker than it was, and its members are not ready or willing to fight. Even the US, Konovalov says, can’t afford it because it would “shake the internal stability of the country.” Consequently, he says, “on its own initiative, [the United States] will scarcely get involved in a [new] military conflict.”
But if it should appear that Moscow has designs on the Baltic countries, all that could change, not because of the famous Article Five guarantees but because everyone would recognize how dangerous such a Russian move would be and they would begin to think about what they could do.
A third analyst contacted by Snob.ru, Aleksandr Golts who writes regularly on security issues, says that Moscow’s own NATO watchers love to present the Western alliance as a constant threat. But both the US and its leading allies in Western Europe “have said that there won’t be any placement of forces on the territory of Ukraine. Period.”
Golts says he does not exclude that Moscow may seek to seize the southeastern portions of Ukraine by force, but he warns that such an operation would not be nearly as easy as taking Crimea. The local population would be less enthusiastic about such a move, and the geography would make such a conquest far more difficult.
What is disturbing is that Moscow is not allowing the kind of monitoring it is supposed to of its large-scale military maneuvers near the Ukrainian border. The Vienna convention of 2011 requires that the Russian authorities allow foreigners to monitor any maneuvers involving more than 8,000 soldiers. Moscow is not doing that, Golts says.
According to Golts, “by re-uniting Crimea, Russia has done everything possible to enliven the North Atlantic alliance.” Russians should remember that in 1994, NATO said that it would not take in any new members if they had territorial disputes with their neighbors. Ukraine clearly has one with Russia. Will the alliance change its rules?
Aleksey Arbatov, a foreign policy specialist at IMEMO, says that no one should be “sowing panic.” President Vladimir Putin has said he isn’t going to try to seize more of Ukraine and doesn’t want to dismember it. And NATO is not directly involved because “Ukraine is not a member” of the alliance. Consequently, the alliance won’t intervene militarily.
The IMEMO expert suggests that the unstable government in Kyiv is promoting apocalyptic talk in the hope of getting help.
Finally, Aleksandr Khramchikhi, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute for Political and Military Analysis, says that “it is already clear that there will not be a war.” And he comments that Western sanctions aren’t hitting ordinary Russians and so will not have the effect some in the West hope.