Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 09.12.2018
When Russian forces attacked the Ukrainian Navy in the Kerch Strait and Black Sea, it marked a major escalation in the Russian Federation’s war against Ukraine. The Russians rammed Ukrainian Navy boats, shot at them, captured them in international waters, and took 24 Ukrainian Navy sailors as prisoners of war. The attack was unexpected and unprovoked, but it was planned in the Kremlin and personally directed by Putin himself.
The Russian invaders of Europe in Ukraine have spent four and a half years of fruitless trench warfare on a largely static battlefront in Donbas. With no gains to show, the price paid has nevertheless been very high to Muscovy: the blood and treasury of the Russian nation has been drained and the popularity of the dictator Putin has declined. Needing a victory, Putin chose to escalate his war against Ukraine on November 25. He is now prepared to launch a military offensive.
Two weeks have passed with with no meaningful response by Western powers to the Russian Federation’s act of war against Ukraine on November 25. A Russian offensive was only a possibility before. Now that Putin senses weakness, it is likely.
On December 8, airborne armoured infantry vehicles on carriers were spotted crossing the illegal Kerch bridge from Krasnodar Krai, Russian Federation to Crimea, Ukraine (Russian-occupied). The day previous, four or five Russian Air Force Il-76 transport aircraft went to Crimea, possibly carrying airborne assault troops. This is a marked increase in the militarization of Russian-invaded and occupied Ukrainian Crimea. Deploying airborne troops and their armament shows the Russians are preparing for attack, not defence.
Ukrainian military intelligence has repeatedly noted the presence of Iskander missile launchers near the administrative boundary between Crimea, Ukraine (Russian-occupied) and Kherson region (free Ukraine). With the Iskander-M variant of these mobile short-range ballistic missile systems, the Russians can strike NATO members Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey from Crimea. Using Kalibr cruise missiles (which the Russians have already deployed to Kaliningrad), the invaders of Ukraine can attack half of Europe from the Black Sea basin.
“Fortress Crimea” in the hands of the Russian invaders of Ukraine is a substantial threat to the rest of Europe. Few Europeans are aware of their mortal danger. The Embassy of Ukraine to the United Kingdom presented some facts in a tweet: “Since 2014, Russia has increased the number of its troops in occupied Crimea three times, armoured vehicles - five times, artillery - ten times, jets - five times, multiple launch rocket systems - ten times. Ukraine is under high threat of Russia's large scale attack.”
The online military magazine Defence Blog published satellite imagery on December 8 that shows hundreds of Russian tanks in Rostov region, Russian Federation. They are stationed only 18 kilometres away from the Ukraine-Russian Federation border and territory of Luhansk region, Ukraine that is now occupied by invading Russian forces. The tanks are T-64s that over the past couple of months were detected moving closer to the Donbas battlefront where the Russians are in combat with Ukrainian defenders.
The commanding officer of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, General Viktor Muzhenko, said in an interview with Reuters on December 5 that the level of Russian troops confronting Ukraine is the highest it has been since the Russian Federation invaded and occupied Crimea in 2014. “In front of us is an aggressor who has no legal, moral or any other limits,” said General Muzhenko. “It is very difficult to predict when it will occur to him to begin active combat actions against Ukraine.” He noted that the Russian Federation used undisguised regular forces to attack the Ukrainian Navy in the Kerch Strait and Black Sea on November 25.
All the cards are on the table. Having committed an open act of war, the Russian Federation is making all preparations for an open military offensive against Ukraine.
The Russians have deployed their forces for an attack from Crimea, from Donbas, and from the Sea of Azov. These are the areas where Western powers and partners of Ukraine have failed to defend Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity for nearly five years. Putin will gamble that the West will fail Ukraine again, and therefore he will exploit what he perceives as weakness.
Ukraine has put the 10 regions of the country that face the invader Russians in a war state (colored orange on the picture). Ukrainians are ready for the Russian military offensive. Western powers are not ready. Putin will gamble that the Western powers will abandon Ukraine now as they did in 2014. Believing it will fight Ukraine alone, the Russian Federation will launch a military offensive.