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Don't Be Fooled—Ukraine Is Not a Frozen Conflict, - The National interest

There are signs of escalation in the simmering conflict.
09:26, 5 June 2018

Reuters

With the North Korea and Iran pots both simultaneously coming to a boil, it’s naturally hard for national security specialists to take on any more complex and dangerous issues. Yet Syria and Yemen demand major attention as human rights catastrophes. Did we forget that U.S. troops are still somehow mired in Afghanistan – “the forever war”? Then, there is the seeming possibility of yet another Ebola outbreak in central Africa. Also never mind that the Taiwan issue could blow sky high at almost any moment and that volatile questions surrounding the South China Sea are very far from resolved.

By contrast, Ukraine looks rather sleepy – just another frozen conflict, right? Wrong. There is a strong case to be made that the Ukraine issue far eclipses nearly all the above conflicts with respect to dangers to U.S. national security. Consider the following scenario that is not especially far-fetched: new Javelin anti-tank missiles from the U.S. suddenly give Ukrainian forces the edge in their “anti-terrorist” campaign against breakaway eastern Ukraine. As a result, Moscow retaliates against Kiev by launching massive air strikes against Ukrainian forces that kill numerous American military advisors. The U.S., in turn, responds by moving major naval forces into the Baltic and Black sea areas. Russia then answers this challenge with the rash and reckless sinking of a U.S. destroyer in each of the two seas with its new, hypersonic Khinzhal air-launched anti-ship missiles. In response, the U.S. employs B-2 and B-1 strategic bombers to deliver punishing blows against all major Russian naval bases causing major ship losses to the Russian Navy. At this point in the escalation cycle of ever-increasing violence, the Kremlin makes a desperate call, opting to “escalate to de-escalate,” and launches a limited number of nuclear strikes against tier two American and European cities. Berlin and Washington are spared (at this stage), but Kiel and Charleston are not, unfortunately. Any old-timers familiar with the movies War Games or The Day After can readily imagine the rest of this miserable story.

Meanwhile, it is reported that the much-discussed Javelin anti-tank missiles have already been delivered to Ukraine per the Trump Administration’s policy reversal of the Obama Administration’s prohibition on lethal aid to Kiev. This was not missed in an early April survey of the Ukraine situation in the Russian military newspaper Voennoye Obozrenie. Hinting at the likelihood of near-term escalation, the article ran under the headline: “Kiev Has Not Left Moscow Any Choice” This article suggests that the 210 Javelins delivered to Ukraine “are capable of seriously altering the balance of forces in the Donbass theater of military operations.” The article notes Ukrainian special forces operations against Crimea going back a couple of years, but the focus of this piece is actually on the evolving maritime situation.

Related: Missing sea soldier still not found, - JFO press center

In particular, there is evidently significant worry concerning a Russian fishing boat “North” seized by Ukrainian forces on 25 March. Calling for a strong reaction, the author asks the reader to “imagine for a moment the scenario in which a Chinese fishing seiner was seized by the Navy of Vietnam … ” Rather disturbing, moreover, is also a reference to a “weekly (but sometimes more often) flight by an American strategic UAV MQ-4C that conducts a reconnaissance flight for many hours in the airspace close to the line of contact in the Donbass.”

Related: 240 children killed since beginning of Donbas conflict, - Klimkin

Another Russian assessment that dates from March 2018 from the same military journal is similarly dark and bellicose. This second piece was published under the title: “The Quiet Americans in Ukraine”. This piece details the February 2018 visit of a senior American defense expert, who formerly led the prestigious Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during 2001-2009 to Ukraine, where he was apparently to serve as a consultant-observer to the Ukrainian state weapons development corporation. According to this rendering, this individual has been charged with the creation of the “Ukrainian DARPA.” Not surprisingly, Moscow is rather perturbed by the increasing level of American security-oriented support for Kiev. This Russian analysis asserts: “It’s hardly a secret that Washington is extremely interested in reinforcing the military potential of contemporary Ukraine, which they see as the sworn enemy of the remainder of Russia and the main check on the process of the strengthening of the eastern Slavic historical enemy of the West.” The article suggests that Ukraine has become a “laboratory” for the testing of weapons and tactics against Russia. The analysis concludes that the visit of this high-level American defense expert, when taken together with the transfer of the Javelin anti-tank missiles, suggests “… the conclusion that the American stake in the further buildup of Ukrainian military power, confirms, in particular, the long-term confrontation with Russia …”

Related: Donbas militants shell border unit in conflict zone

But let’s try not to be so depressing. Ukraine is after all far away, right? If this author can find any shred of hope at the end of this sad tale, it is only that the World Cup is about to go off in Russia, so Moscow has every reason to “play nice” in difficult circumstances, at least for a few months. Speaking of sports and the international situation, perhaps the Washington Capitals might finally deliver Lord Stanley’s Cup to the shores of the Potomac for the first time? With a roster packed full of Russian talent, a Capitals victory on the ice could perhaps provide some much-needed cheer for the gravely troubled U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship.

Related: Explosion takes place near OSCE patrol in Donbas

Lyle J. Goldstein is Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. In addition to Chinese, he also speaks Russian and he is also an affiliate of the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute (RMSI) at Naval War College. You can reach him at goldstel@usnwc.edu. The opinions in his columns are entirely his own and do not reflect the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.
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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International.

 
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