Staunton, March 14 – In a classic example of negotiation by threat, Vitaly Tretyakov, the editor of Moscow’s Politichesky klass says that the Kremlin still considers the Donbass part of Ukraine but would change its mind and annex it to the Russian Federation if there was any “real aggression by Ukraine” (ura.news/news/1052475777).
Since its own military action against Ukraine in 2014, the Kremlin has been very clear that it wants the Donbass to remain in Ukraine so as to hold that country within Russia’s orbit by having a large portion of Ukraine’s territory under the de facto control of Moscow. That is still its preference, but a Ukrainian attack could change that.
Vladimir Bruter, an analyst at the International Institute of Humanitarian-Political Research, agrees with Tretyakov that Russia doesn’t want to annex the Donbass and that it would do so only as “a last argument” especially given that that area already is “in the sphere of Russian influence.”
Such comments as opposed to the more bombastic threats to expand Russian territory appear to be about is to send a message to Ukraine and its supporters that Moscow would respond to any Ukrainian military move by annexing the region, something that would then allow the Russian side to present its defense of if as a defense of Russian territory.
At least some in Ukraine and more in the capitals of Western countries which support Ukraine are thus likely to conclude that the current stalemate is better than what even a partially successful Ukrainian military move could achieve and thus argue that Kyiv must not make any move now.
But it is possible that some in Ukraine will see this Russian “message” as an indication of Russian weakness not strength, as a sign that analysts in Moscow have concluded that the existing balance of forces in the Donbass is not in Russia’s favor and that a Ukrainian move could succeed far more than many had thought.
After all, why issue such a threat if it is clear to all that Russian forces both from the Russian Federation and from the DNR and LNR are sufficient to repel any Ukrainian move?