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.