By Paul Goble
Eight years ago today, when the world was focusing on the Olympics in Beijing, Vladimir Putin used this distraction as the occasion to launch his invasion of Georgia. Now, there are both indications and fears that he may use the world’s focus on the Olympiad in Rio to reignite Russian aggression in Ukraine.
The Georgian foreign ministry has called attention to this anniversary and to the ways in which Putin acted and the world reacted at that time, actions and reactions that led to the loss of significant portions of Georgian territory and opened the way to Putin’s Anschluss of Crimea six years later (agenda.ge/news/63194/eng).
In the last few days, a Polish newspaper has warned Moscow is preparing for a new campaign against Kyiv (versia.ru/polskaya-gazeta-vyborcha-obvinila-moskvu-v-podgotovke-poxoda-na-kiev), Ukrainian officials have said they “expect a Russian attack at any minute” (qha.com.ua/ru/obschestvo/ukraina-ojidaet-nastupleniya-rossii-v-lyubuyu-minutu/163789/), and Russian outlets have begun to claim that Ukraine is preparing to attack Russian positions (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/08/08/kievskaya_hunta_gotovitsya_k_bolshoj_vojne_na_donbasse/).
Many will dismiss these articles as either self-interested or part of the continuing war of nerves between Moscow and Kyiv, but they may be more impressed by the relatively dispassionate analysis offered today by Moscow’s “Novaya gazeta” which lists recent developments and concludes that one cannot call what is happening anything but “an escalation” toward a major war (novayagazeta.ru/politics/74105.html).
If a major war happens and the signs point to the conclusion that both “the Army of Ukraine and the [Moscow-organized] self-proclaimed republics are ready for it, tens of thousands of people will be killed.” It lists as the most important signs the following developments of recent days:
- “The attack on the head of the self-proclaimed LNR”
- “The growing intensity of the exchange of fire”
- “The rhetoric of ‘hurrah patriots’ in Russia and Ukraine, who are calling for ‘a decisive attack and victory”
- “The crisis in diplomatic relations between Russia and Ukraine”
- Efforts on both sides to draw the other into an attack.
- “The rapid decline in the popularity of both the leadership of the DNR and LNR and of Kyiv rulers,” something both are trying to “compensate” for by militant rhetoric.
- “The widespread sense of an impending catastrophe – a full-scale war in the middle of Europe.”
In such a war, neither side will win; but one thing is sure, “Novaya gazeta” says. Such a conflict will not end with a truce.” Instead, it will be “a geopolitical catastrophe,” first of all, for Ukraine, but then for Russia and many others as well.