Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Donbas ‘Tail’ Now Wagging Russian ‘Dog’ in Ukraine, Sutyagin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 18 – Igor Sutyagin, a Russian analyst based in London, says that Vladimir Putin and the pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine appear likely to continue their attacks in the Donbas because a moment has come “when the Kremlin already has almost nothing to lose” and when the separatists fear that “their time is ending.”

            In a comment to “Novoye vremya,” the military analyst says the separatists have particular reason for attacking because Moscow is seeking to impose total control over them, to drive them “back into Ukraine, and to use them as a Trojan horse to allow Russia to control Ukraine” (nr2.ru/hots/Vojna_na_Donbasse/Voennyy-ekspert-ocenil-vozmozhnost-masshtabnogo-vtorzheniya-Rossii-na-Donbasse-104067.html).

            But what Moscow wants and what the leaders of the DNR and LNR want are two different things. In contrast to the Russian center, the latter “need independence within Ukraine. Therefore,” Sutyagin says, this will lead them to “provoke a sharpening of the situation.” And it could happen that “the tail will wag the dog” and force the Kremlin to expand its attacks.

            A second factor in the current situation, he continues, is that Moscow has concluded that Minsk 2 isn’t going to work as it hopes and therefore Russia “must immediately secure its acquisitions under the name Lugandonia.” That involves providing more weapons and even manpower to allow the separatists to become “something like a real army.”

            Such Russian actions, Sutyagin continues, are “not a sharpening as such but simply attempts to reliably reinforce its borders and not give the Ukrainian armed forces the opportunities to advance and impose order on the territory.”

            “For Russia,” he adds, the situation is not very suitable to begin further movements. But there is a third factor.” The Kremlin isn’t panicking, but there is uncertainty about “how to live further.” The Russian economy is bad, and by the end of the year, the situation in that regard will be worse, possibly sparking protests.

            That puts the Kremlin before a choice between a “new little war” designed to generate patriotic enthusiasm and focusing on domestic concerns. “A rational analysis” would suggest that “Ukraine should not expect large attacks.” But there is a problem with that conclusion: it doesn’t take into account Putin’s approach.

            That is because “now is a moment when the Kremlin has almost nothing to lose,” a situation that could lead it to take “some desperate steps.”

            Given Putin’s tendency to avoid taking decisions until he feels he has no choice, one would expect him not to launch an attack now given that more sanctions would certainly follow. But given his sense that problems are gathering around him, the Kremlin leader may see the world differently and seek a quick way out.
            “Would Ukraine be able to repel a broad-scale attack if it happened?” Sutyagin says that Ukrainian military personnel are confident that they are ready to do so. And “psychologically, the army of Ukraine at last exists. This was not the case in May of last year,” although it still has problems with heavy weaponry.

            Sutyagin concludes that the chances for a successful Ukrainian defense in the even to an expanded Russian attack are “quite high. Ukrainian forces are prepared to defend their land because they know what they are fighting for.”

            Moreover, he adds, “psychological problems are beginning to appear in Russian forces.” They are less psychologically prepared for battle than they were. “But there is one advantage on the Russian side,” Sutyagin argues. Russian commanders are prepared to throw their soldiers into “a meat grinder” and accept very heavy losses.

            Such an approach gives Ukraine a chance because it is possible to inflict enormous losses on the Russian side. “However,” Sutyagin concludes, “the probability of an attack is all the same is less than 50 percent” and the chances that the Russian side would overwhelm it “are also less than 50 percent.”

            All things considered, the London-based analyst says, the probability that “Ukraine will preserve what it has now is three to one,” much better odds than it had earlier.

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