Monday, July 14, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Ukraine Could Recover Crimea Only If Russia Were Seriously Weakened, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 14 – The Ukrainian government lacks the resources to recover Crimea, according to a Moscow military analyst, and could do so only if Russia were to “weaken to the point that it simply could not defend” the peninsula.  Otherwise, talk about “the  return of Crimea to Ukraine” is, in his words, “something fantastic.”


                That conclusion offered by Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Moscow Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technology, in today’s “Profil” may be true in the short term and from a narrowly military point of view (


            But it ignores what can happen when the international community refuses to recognize as legitimate one country’s illegal seizure of territory by another as it did regarding Japan’s seizure of Manchuria in 1931 and the Soviet Union’s occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940 and again in 1944-45.


            Non-recognition policy in both cases led ultimately to the reversal of those crimes, and while it took Japan’s defeat in World War II and the Soviet Union’s impending collapse in 1991 to achieve, such a policy, already articulated by some members of the international community, can ultimately achieve the same result for Crimea.


            Nonetheless, because this is a long-term prospect in an increasingly short-time-horizon world – all too many in the West will argue now as they did during détente that because something cannot be changed immediately, it should not be pursued at all --  it is important to consider what Russian commentators like Pukhov are saying regarding military issues.


            He told Vladimir Rudakov of “Profil” that for Ukraine to recover Crimea, Russia’s military capabilities would have to be “approximately what they were at the end of the 1980s” in the Soviet Union.  “In other words,” Ukraine would need “a castastrophe” in all of Russia to achieve its ends. “In the foreseeable future,” that is something out of “science fiction.”


            “It is clear one should ‘never say never,’” of course, Pukhov added. Who would have thought a year ago that “Ukraine would be splitting apart and that Russia would return Crimea to itself?”  But Ukraine lacks the military capacity to reverse things, and it isn’t going to get more than “economic help” from the West.


            Kyiv simply ought not to “expect military assistance from NATO” because “no one in Europe or the United States wants to die for Luhansk, Donetsk, Gorlovka or Bakchisaray.” And no mercenary army will be willing to get involved because it would be up against a regular Russian army and would suffer losses without the possibility of a victory.


            Crimea is easy to defend, as the events of November 1920 showed. But now, an outside force if it were well-equipped and led could attack from the air and the sea and overcome the kind of defense the Whites put up against the Reds 94 years ago. But Ukraine lacks the capacity to do that, Pukhov said, and Russia’s capabilities to defend its territory are far greater.


            In this situation, he continued, Ukraine is “much more likely” to seek to organize “provocations” against the Russian authorities in Crimea “with the assistance of the disloyal population, for example, the Crimean Tatars” and especially with those Crimean Tatars who are part of the radical Islamist Hizb ut-Tahrir organization.


            Pukhov concluded that “in any case, provocations are easier and more secure to organize by outside hands than by one’s own,” an evaluation that certainly could be applied to Russian actions in Ukraine and that even more certainly reflects Moscow’s calculations about what Kyiv is likely to try – and even more how the Russian side can counter it.

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