Lithuania, a tiny Baltic nation bordering Russia, and long under the thumb of the Soviet Union, has been wary of its large neighbor to the east. The small nation can hardly provide for its own air defense needs. Accordingly, NATO nations rotate the duty of providing additional air defense assets to Lithuania.

Currently, the US Air Force is a part of that rotation. And given the events in Crimea and Ukraine, the US is anxious to remind Russia that its territorial ambitions have limits.

That’s why The Aviationist can bring us some video of US F-15Cs practicing a scramble.

Similarly, the US has deployed F-16s to Poland and to Romania as well.

Cutaway Thursday: IL-76MF "Candid"

Apologies to reader but I’ve been a little overwhelmed with other (read personal) things over the past few weeks. Anyway this week’s cutaway is Ilyushin’s IL-76 (NATO codenamed “Candid”).

The Candid first flew 2 days ago in 1971 and is the primary tactical transport aircraft for Russian military forces. Quite a few Candids were involved in moving Russian forces to Crimea and continues to support Russian forces in theater.

IL-76 CutawayYou can learn more about the IL-76 here.

Ukraine-What next?

Russia so far has tried very hard to make its incursion into Crimea as non-violent as possible. That’s a pretty smart move. The Russians certainly aren’t universally loved there, but it is a far smarter approach than making an explicitly punitive expedition. As it is, Putin has presented to the West a fait acompli in Crimea. We can bluster all we want, but the US, the EU, and NATO aren’t going to go to war over the Crimea. For that matter, the heart of the EU isn’t even going to try economic sanctions over the matter.

So, does Russia simply hold what it has, and have a “referendum” in a month or two, or does it expand its reach.

Galrahn notes that as a practical matter, Russia can seize a line from Odessa to Kharkov with little or no effective resistance. That’s territory Russia would rather have effective control over than actually physically occupy.

Will Russia sit tight? Will they seize eastern Ukraine, and then negotiate from there? What say you?

[polldaddy poll=7850799]

Crimea, and another stunning US intelligence failure.

Incredibly, US intelligence thought Russia wouldn’t occupy (or make an unopposed arrival) Crimea.

U.S. intelligence estimates conclude that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine. This, despite the launch of a massive, new Russian military exercise near Ukraine’s border and moves from armed men to seize two key airports in the country’s Crimea region.

The latest developments led Ukraine’s interior minister Arsen Avakov Friday to accuse Russia of invading the Russian majority province of Crimea after armed militias took control of the civilian airport in Simferopol, the region’s capital and the military airport in Sevastopol, where Russia’s Black Sea fleet is based. Russian authorities meanwhile have denied any responsibility for the seizure of the two airports in the region.

Really? When the “cease fire” in Kiev between the Yanukovych regime and the protesters was announced, the first thing most people noticed was that it was due to expire the day the Winter Olympics ended. Smart money around the blogs was that as soon as the spotlight was off Sochi, Russian forces would intervene, in one manner or another.

Given the large ethnic Russian population in Crimea, and the critical Russian bases on the peninsula, the only question was (and still is) will the Russians be content with just Crimea, or will they attempt to retake all of Ukraine?

Actually, make no doubt, Russia will attempt to retake all of Ukraine. We doubt they will do so through military occupation (though a ginned up emergency is hardly out of the question), but though economic and political coercion. Russia (especially Putin, but a goodly percentage of the  man-on-the-street population as well) simply cannot conceive of a Ukraine that falls outside the Russian sphere of influence.

How is it that our intelligence community has such an incredibly poor grasp of history and culture that they cannot see that which is plainly before them? What was to stop Russia from entering Crimea? The Russians knew that they would be, if not welcomed with open arms, almost certainly unopposed. Heck, the Russians already occupied Crimea, with military installations shared with the Ukrainians. What possible downside did Russia see? None.

We’ve been pretty unimpressed with the Obama administration’s response, but frankly, we see little that the US could do to prevent any such Russian response. Having said that, the inability of the US intelligence community to see the obvious is deeply troubling.

Ukraine, Russia, The Crimea

It’s anyone’s guess how events will turn out in Ukraine, following the relatively peaceful overthrow of the Yanukovych regime. But one thing is almost certain. Russia will not allow its access to the Crimea to be denied. Whether this takes the form of a diplomatic solution (Ukraine currently leases the bases at Sevastapol to Russi, since 1997, and renewed for 25 years in 2012), a Russian annexation of all or parts of Crimea, or some other solution remains to be seen.

Charles King, writing in the American Thinker discusses this:

Via Insty:

One of the results of the fall of Viktor Yanukovych’s government has been the rising specter of the break-up of Ukraine and the secession of Crimea. The interim president, Olexander Turchynov, spoke recently about the dark prospect of “separatism” in his country, while early reports of the whereabouts of Yanukovych placed him in Crimea itself. Is Crimea likely to become the ex-president’s redoubt, and if so, would Russia intervene to support the secessionist region?

Both scenarios are unlikely. Yanukovych’s support is limited across the country as a whole, and if the new government is able to act calmly and deliberately, there will be little incentive to push toward a strategically risky—and potentially devastating—separation, either by Crimeans or by other Ukrainian citizens in areas of the country with sizable Russian-speaking communities.

Crimea is that little dangling peninsula on the southern edge that juts into the Black Sea, and thus gives the Russian Black Sea Fleet access (via the Dardanelles) to the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. It is effectively Russia’s only warm water port in the West.

And it isn’t as if Russia doesn’t have a historical claim t the region. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Russia ceded the peninsula to Ukraine. Given that at the time both Russia and Ukraine were part of the USSR, it was seen more as a PR stunt for outside observers, rather than any real transfer of power from Moscow. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 made a reality out of what had been a sham, but Russia was still able to maintain access to the port, and still has an outsized influence in the immediate region.

With luck, in the short term, Ukraine will be able to achieve some modus vivendi with Russia. Russia will, of course, attempt to continue to exert influence in the region, and likely continue to attempt to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty, particularly in  the Crimea, but also throughout the nation.  A worst case scenario will see Russia simply seize by force the Crimea, and possibly the entire country.