Upsetting as it might seem, Ukraine needs to prepare for the worst. After the failure of the multilateral negotiations between the leaders of the United States, Germany, France and Russia on the “Ukrainian issue”, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China (4-5 September this year, Hangzhou), the parties have moved to a new level of confrontation.
On the one hand, the United States and the European Union have expanded sanctions against Russia, which will continue for as long as Moscow ignores international law, threatening the territorial integrity, security and sovereignty of Ukraine, and on the other — Moscow within the latest unannounced inspection of combat readiness of its troops (forces) of the Southern Military District, with the participation of the Western and Central Military Districts of the Russian Federation (RF) Armed Forces (August 25-31, 2016) and the Strategic Command Post Exercises (SCPE) “Caucasus-2016”, the active phase of which was held September 5-10 this year in the Southern Military District of the RF Armed Forces on the South-Western Strategic direction, and in fact — on the Ukrainian direction, demonstrated it being ready to use all possible means of warfare (including weapons of mass destruction) by 100,000 strong group of forces to achieve its geopolitical goals.
All this, unfortunately, is very similar to the pre-war situation of a possible large-scale Russian aggression against Ukraine and united Europe (including NATO). It was exactly the same or nearly so before the First and especially before the Second World War.
What Will All This Mean to Ukraine and Europe (NATO)?
Our state has been, and will remain at the intersection of Russia’s and the West’s interests. As a minimum, Russia will once again activate the armed conflict in the Donbas, and as a maximum — the territory of Ukraine will once again become a battleground between the East and the West. At present, Russia is openly preparing for this by deploying powerful groupings of its Armed Forces in the Western and South-Western strategic directions of the RF , and intensifying fighting in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
And to demonstrate the resolve and irreversibility of Russia’s plans, under its order, September 7, 2016, the “President” of the Russian controlled and self-proclaimed Trans-Dniester Moldavian Republic (PMR) E. Shevchuk issued a “decree” on the implementation of the results of the referendum of 17 September, 2006 “on the Recognition of Trans-Dniester’s Independence and its further entry into the Russian Federation”.
The RF’s aggression against Georgia in August 2008, its occupation and subsequent annexation of the Ukrainian Crimea, as well as the occupation of certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 2014 is another case of Moscow’s open violation of the territorial integrity of the countries of the former Soviet Union, as well as a blatant demonstration of its “exclusive rights” in the post-Soviet space.
Consequences of Moscow’s “exclusive rights” in the post-Soviet space.
According to experts of the Independent Analytical Centre for Geopolitical Studies “Borysfen Intel”, gaining full control over Trans-Dniester would allow the RF to significantly strengthen its positions in the Black Sea region, which is of key importance for Russia’s interests. At the same time, this will be preceded by the threat of Russian invaders’ (Russian-terrorist) troops (forces)’ large-scale attack on the Azov-Black Sea operational direction (along the northern Black Sea coast), with the support of troops (forces) of the “Crimean Grouping” in the direction of Trans-Dniester to unite with the Operational Group of Russian Forces in the Trans-Dniester region of Moldova (OGRF) and the units of law enforcement agencies of the breakaway Trans-Dniester.
In fact, it would allow the creation of a base for Russia’s further expansion into Europe — into the Balkans. The Balkan Peninsula is V. Putin’s regime’s main ally in Europe — “Great” Serbia. Besides, the permanent preservation of tension in that region (due to instability of the situation in Greece, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo), which under certain circumstances could develop into another armed conflict, actually makes Balkans a possible “detonator” of undermining the stability of the European Union in the South of Europe.
Historically, Russia has always had a significant impact on the Balkan countries. Not going into details, one has only to recall Russia’s rather significant role in the liberation struggle of the Slavic peoples of the Balkans against the Ottoman yoke in the 17-18 centuries. Russia considered the Balkans important even in the late 19th century, which was one of the main reasons for a series of Balkan wars, and later — for the First World War. In the early 20-ies of the 20th century the Balkans had also become a major focus of Moscow’s actions to “export world revolution”. In the late 1990s Russia was an active participant in peacekeeping operations on the territory of several countries of the former Yugoslavia, after the latter’s disintegration. Later, mainly after the operation “Allied Force” (in the so-called “Kosovo war”; March 24–June 10, 1999) the limited Russian military contingent was forced to gradually leave the territory of the former Yugoslavia. In fact, since then Russia has been living with plans to restore its influence in the Balkans.
In this context, Russia’s main efforts have been directed and are now focused on countering the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of Balkan countries through political-diplomatic, economic (including energy), military-technical and informational pressures on a number of countries, namely Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In some cases, Russia manages if not to stop this movement, then to slow it down in time by an artificial creation and support of permanent interstate and religious and ethnic tensions, political and socio-economic instability, as well as the incitement of extremism and radicalism. First of all, this applies to the countries such as: “Great” Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia.
However, according to certain sources, over the past 20 years Russia’s special services’ (mainly the FSB, the SVR and GRU of the Armed Forces) agents have penetrated the Balkan countries, quite actively but secretly buying some private financial institutions, enterprises of power industry, communications and transport, real estates, etc., as well as widely investing in major government projects in those countries.
Is this not a preparation for the creation of an entire system for the implementation of a “hybrid” policy and war in the Balkans?
By the way, in September–October this year in “Great” Serbia is planned to be held joint military exercises units of Serbian, Russian and Belarusian Armed Forces code named “Slavic Brotherhood” (they will be held on Nikintsi polygon, which is 30 km from the Serbian-Croatian state border). In these exercises, along with the Special Brigade of Air Force of the Serbian Armed Forces, will also participate military servicemen of Russia’s Airborne Forces and Belarus’ Special Operations Forces.
Other Serbian-Russian military exercises under the name “BARS-2016” will also be held on the territory and airspace of the Republic of Serbia in October (near the town of Nis and at the military airfield Batajnica in Belgrade). The trainings will be carried out by aircraft of the military aviation and Air Defense of Serbia. Russian and Serbian pilots will be flying as mixed crews, using mainly MiG-29 and the new multi-purpose Mi-17 helicopters, which Serbia has recently bought from Russia. To this end, more than 20 Russian pilots will arrive in Serbia, who together with Serbian pilots will master the tasks of controlling and protecting airspace and conducting air strikes against ground targets.
Russian media are already presenting these exercises as the ones to be held “next to NATO walls”. In this context, they use an allegedly Serbian proverb — “There is God in heaven, and there is Russia on the Earth”.
In 1914, with this “brotherhood” the First World War began. Exactly 100 years later — in 2014 — Russia invaded Ukraine (including the participation of Serb mercenaries). And what will happen next?
According to “Borysfen Intel”‘s experts, these are really indicative and alarming analogies and signs. Especially in conditions of chronic political and socio-economic problems in the above-mentioned Balkan countries, and in neighboring ones — Italy, Greece, Bulgaria and Romania, which are widely used by the Kremlin for its insidious purposes. Russia’s actions in the region no longer look like normal “sabre-rattling”, turning it in our eyes into a well-planned systemic expansion. But what about the threat of Russia’s large-scale operation on the Western strategic direction against the Baltic States and Poland (against Central Europe, in the direction of Suwalki)?
Here (on the Western strategic direction), the threat of Russia’s large-scale operation is not completely implausible, and also retains its relevance.
Now Russian military aircraft (combat and reconnaissance ones) regularly ply near the borders of the Baltic States and Poland; combat and reconnaissance ships and submarines are constantly in their exclusive economic zones; military exercises near their borders are of a provocative aggressive nature, involving a wide range of offensive weapons and military equipment.
But the tasks of similar content and nature are mastered by the Russian side also on the South-Western Strategic Direction (i.e., on NATO’s Southern flank). But here there is another factor necessary for defending and making the annexed Crimea Russian in the new geopolitical status, and this “demands” its geostrategic actions.
So, on the Western Strategic Direction (against the Baltic States and Poland) Russia’s threat of a large-scale operation is not totally implausible and today remains relevant.
On the South-Western Strategic Direction (i.e., on NATO’s southern flank) the threat of Russian large-scale operation against Ukraine and Europe (NATO) today and in the near future is very real and requires a joint and an adequate response by the National System of the Security and Defense of Ukraine, and the Coalition System of the Security and Defense of a united Europe and NATO.
The increasing threat on the South-Western Strategic Direction is determined by Russia’s ambitions about the need to consolidate the annexed Crimea in the new geopolitical status, which requires, in Moscow’s opinion, taking radical measures of geostrategic nature.
*Yuriy Radkovets is Vice President, Associate Professor at the Independent Analytic Centre for Geopolitical Studies “Borisfen Intel”, Kyiv, Ukraine. He holds a Kandidat of Military Sciences degree, and he is a Lt-Gen. (Reserved)