Commentary Magazine


Another Russian Invasion on the Horizon?

On August 19, the New York Times carried an interesting story on the “fading rebellion” in eastern Ukraine, where Vladimir Putin appeared to be “maneuvering for a face-saving settlement.” The Russians were on the run. In the high command of the separatist rebellion, they’d been replaced with inexperienced Ukrainian locals. But three days later the Times poured cold water on its own optimism:

Russia on Friday escalated tensions with Ukraine to the highest level since its stealthy invasion of Crimea in the spring, sending more than 200 trucks from a long-stalled aid convoy into rebel-held eastern Ukraine over the objections of Kiev and, NATO said, conducting military operations on Ukrainian territory.

In other words, Russia had invaded Ukraine. Again.

And three days after that–today–the Times has arrived with more bad news: “Russia Says It Will Send Another Aid Convoy to Ukraine.” Russia was planning to invade Ukraine again, again.

The first invasion, of the Crimean peninsula, was greeted with harsh words from American and European leaders, impressing upon Putin what a bully he was being. They made it clear they strenuously objected to his behavior. (I have in the past likened the West’s condemnation of Putin to the way the teachers would deal with the Gilly character on Saturday Night Live. I think the comparison holds up pretty well.)

Putin assessed that he was to be hit with a guilt trip and some token sanctions for his Crimean adventure, shrugged it off, and went back for more. He was hit with some more token sanctions, and then some more serious sanctions. None of it deterred him.

On Friday, he invaded eastern Ukraine, and was immediately rewarded with the rest of the world falling all over itself to avoid using the term “invasion.” Putin probably could not believe his good fortune, to have Western leaders and their media so pusillanimous. As long as we’re all playing silly word games, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov decided to join in:

Mr. Lavrov said that Ukraine and the Red Cross created “artificial delays” for the first convoy, but said that Russia was ready to continue acting with complete transparency that would allow for inspections of future convoys. “The fact that the first convoy eventually delivered aid with no excess or incidents gives us reason to hope that the second one will go much more smoothly,” he said.

Ukraine’s response:

Mr. Lavrov’s statements came as the authorities in Kiev charged that Russia had sent a column of armored vehicles across the border, and a day before a summit meeting in Minsk, Belarus, where President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Mr. Poroshenko will meet for the first time since early June. They will be joined by representatives of the European Union and the Russia-led Customs Union, including the presidents of Kazakhstan and Belarus.

And then the requisite moral equivalence from the Times:

Although the talks offer some hope for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in east Ukraine, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Poroshenko are under strong pressure from nationalists at home to stand firm.

This is a slightly weaker, but still fairly absurd, formulation of one of the media’s favorite tropes. Here’s Bill Keller comparing Iranian “hardliners” to American “hardliners”–in this particular case, that means comparing a former American ambassador to the United Nations and presidential advisor to the head of a violent Iranian paramilitary group personally sanctioned by Washington for human-rights abuses.

The Times has also used the formulation with regard to democratically elected Israeli politicians and Palestinian terrorists. And now we hear about Ukrainian and Russian nationalists spoiling for a fight.

The problem here is that one of those countries has invaded the other twice this year. So-called “nationalists” in Ukraine are simply Ukrainians objecting to being invaded with lethal force. “Nationalists” in Russia are, in this case, not really nationalists at all but ethnic imperialists.

There is currently a land war in Europe. Russia is threatening to expand that European land war. The cause of this is not dueling nationalisms but militaristic autocracy encountering self-defense. And by the way, this war may already include Russian war crimes, including the following:

Mr. Lavrov was also questioned about a rebel military parade held Sunday in the separatist stronghold of Donetsk, where prisoners of war from the Ukrainian Army were paraded through the streets by armed guards bearing bayonets.

Lavrov responded that he didn’t see a problem with it. Perhaps the West could help Kiev spell it out for him. They could start by using the word “invasion” a bit more freely.

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3 Responses to “Another Russian Invasion on the Horizon?”

  1. STUART L KOEHL says:

    The most noteworthy thing about these Russian “invasions” is just how puny they are. It is said that Russia has concentrated some 13 brigades (including artillery, air defense and other support units) along the Ukrainian border, with a total of 21,000 men. In other words, Russia’s massive mobilization has managed to cough up a reinforced division, when once, with a snap of his fingers, the Soviet Chief of Staff could summon 17 divisions.

    Russia has sent 200 trucks, at least partially loaded with military supplies (we presume), and may have followed this up with some tanks.

    These ARE face-saving measures. it’s about all Putin can do to help the Moskalis he has allowed to swing in the breeze, because he can’t–and won’t– provoke a full scale war with Ukraine that risks NATO intervention. He’s quite sure that his army, having been starved for resources and manpower for the last two decades, doesn’t have the equipment or the tactical and operational acumen to match the Ukrainians, let alone the Ukrainians reinforced by some near neighbors (e.g., the Poles).

    So, he’ll make a token reinforcement, say, “Sorry, guys, I tried”, and then pull back and enjoy Crimea, while waiting to see whether the West is as forgetful and forgiving this time as it was when he invaded Georgia in 2008.


    I’d go further than to say that they are threatening to expand a land war.There are more and more reports of Russian armour entering Ukraine,These forces aren’t moving towards enclaves still help by Putin,s satellite entities. There are attacking Ukrainian held territory.

    At the same time POWS are being paraded in Donesk.

    Putin is seeing what he can get away with.Given our governments’ fear of even pronouncing the word invasion.That’s probably quite a lot.


    If a public official calls it an invasion, they may have to react, or should. Consequently mislabeling something as other than what it is enables countries to apply a different solution, which in this case, is to do nothing–like calling a murder a misunderstanding.

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