By Paul Goble
Ukrainian forces long anticipated what Russian ships are doing in the Sea of Azov and have taken measures that haven’t been able to prevent an increase in tensions around that body of water but have succeeded in ensuring that Moscow can’t change the strategic situation there, according to Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Vasilii Bohdan.
Russia has indeed introduced more ships in the inland sea, the intelligence veteran says, and has been able to harass Ukrainian and foreign shipping; but despite the fears of some, Kyiv in anticipation of this development has taken significant steps to limit its impact (apostrophe.ua/article/politics/foreign-policy/2018-07-02/rossiya-sozdaet-blokadu-na-novom-napravlenii-general-ozvuchil-glavnyie-ugrozyi-dlya-ukrainyi/19132).
“Russia’s strategic plans toward Ukraine are well known: the dismemberment and destruction of it as a state, Bohdan says. “Undoubtedly, the Azov direction – Mariupol, Berdyansk and so on – from a strategic point of view interest Russia” both to drive a land bridge to Russian-occupied Crimea and to attack other parts of Ukraine.
“Plans are plans and strategy is strategy,” the general continues, “but for the Ukrainian General Staff and the command of the Unified Forces Operation is neither new nor unexpected.” To the best of his knowledge, the general says, Kyiv long ago predicted what has happened and has taken steps to respond.
He argues that “the military contingent of the Ukrainian Armed Services which is there now will not allow for any unexpected action from the point of view of the moves of the Russian Federation in the Azov direction.”
“Yes, this is a threat and there are definite risks but there is still no basis for considering that this situation can change in any significant way the balance of forces in Russia’s favor.” Indeed, Ukrainian forces are now at such a level there that “it would be difficult and I would say impossible,” the general adds, “to achieve the strategy in this direction that it has planned.”
Russia’s harassment of shipping and stopping of ships is just one more aspect of its “hybrid war” against Ukraine, clearly intended in the first instance to establish an economic blockade of the country. Not surprisingly, this is creating tensions; but these aren’t sufficient to win Moscow a victory.
“Russia still has not achieved the desired effect,” he says. Most Ukrainian and foreign shippers are ignoring Russia’s campaign and this gives rise to “a certain optimism.” And international bodies which supervise the laws of the sea are on Ukraine’s side, something important even though Moscow has no intention of abiding by their decisions.
If our foreign partners stand with us and expand their sanctions regime, everything will be well, the general says. But even if there are problems in that direction, the Ukrainian military is in a position to stand on its own, now possessing better weapons and more training. Its units can repel any possible Russian action.
The most positive thing Kyiv can do, the general concludes, is to promote “the consolidation and unity within the country,” identifying and disarming “’the fifth column’” and any collaborators” who spread negative stories about the situation around the Sea of Azov and elsewhere as well.