Ukraine: So now we wait * UPDATE *

Peace in our time.

Ex-Kara CG Ochakov, now bottling up the Ukrainian fleet. (Ukrainian Defense image)
Ex-Kara CG Ochakov, now bottling up the Ukrainian fleet. (Ukrainian Defense image)

As predicted, Vladimir Putin has established a foothold in Ukraine, and now he has to be negotiated with.  He’s in no hurry to start negotiating at this point, because circumstances haven’t lined up sufficiently in his favor yet.  He’s in a position he can’t be dislodged from, so he can afford to wait.

Understand this: the West – the U.S., the EU – and the Maidan Ukrainians want a “resolution” to the current situation more than Putin does.  Putin is counting on that.  It means his negotiating opponents will make concessions first, just to get him to the bargaining table.  He won’t wait in idleness; he’ll be consolidating his position and systematically cutting off Kiev’s options, to the extent he can.  But he can afford a waiting period, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see one.

He won’t want to lose the initiative.  But nothing the West has done so far puts his initiative in jeopardy.

The movements of U.S. military forces have the same Delphic character they have always had under Obama.  Some of them are previously scheduled, as the DOD spokesmen say they are.  Team Obama has long had a penchant for continuing quietly with previously scheduled military activities, and letting them be interpreted by the media as more (or less) than that, according to the temper of the moment.  (See here and here, for starters.)  This doesn’t fool anyone except the American public, and is not an effective substitute for clear statements of U.S. national interests and policy.  That said, in the present case, it’s no worse than it has been in other cases to do things this way, and on some counts perhaps not as bad.

USS Truxtun (DDG-103), an Arleigh Burke destroyer, is on the way from a port visit in Crete to the Black Sea, where she will conduct scheduled exercises with the navies of NATO allies Romania and Bulgaria.  The first thing Truxtun will do is head into port in Constanta, Romania, where she is due on 8 March.

Truxtun’s presence will add to the total U.S. Navy tonnage in the Black Sea, which matters under the rules of the Montreux Convention of 1936 (governing the passages of ships in the Turkish Straits, and the presence of outside, or “non-riparian” state warships in the Black Sea).  Under the Montreux Convention, a non-riparian navy can have up to 45,000 tons of warships in the Black Sea at one time; between them, Truxtun and USS Taylor (FFG-50), which is still in Samsun, Turkey, represent about 15,000 tons.  (U.S. Nimitz-class carriers displace 90,000 tons and are never authorized to enter the Black Sea.)

Small stage, big drama. (Google map; author annotation)
Small stage, big drama. (Google map; author annotation)

Non-riparian warships can remain for only 21 days at a time.  Although Taylor has been in the Black Sea since 5 February (now 29 days), she has been incapacitated for most of that time.  I expect her to proceed directly to the Turkish Straits for departure when she does get underway from Samsun.  Truxtun’s 21 days would end on 28-29 March, based on her likely time of passage.

Assuming Truxtun is, in fact, heading for a previously scheduled NATO exercise, going ahead with it is certainly the right thing to do.  It’s a signal of political solidarity, however; not more.  A lone destroyer can’t send a signal of tactical dominance in the Black Sea, where Russia is the dominant power, and NATO ally Turkey, with a substantial and modern navy, the anchor of NATO presence.  We haven’t sent Truxtun into the Black Sea to “try anything.”  (She can, of course, expect to enjoy the hospitality of Russian reconnaissance aircraft, and probably a series of patrol ship “shadows,” whenever she is underway.)

Further north, as many readers are no doubt aware, the U.S. Air Force has been manning a NATO air patrol position in the Baltic Republic of Lithuania.  The detachment there is normally fewer than six fighters, along with a contingent of airmen.  The U.S. is beefing that detachment up with an additional six F-15Cs and 60 airmen from the 48th Air Expeditionary Group at RAF Lakenheath in the UK.  NATO air forces rotate through this assignment; the U.S. aircraft are due to rotate out in early May.

In Poland, there is already a small contingent of Air Force personnel, and a schedule for periodic rotation of U.S. aircraft through a base in central Poland, for joint training with the Polish air force.  At Poland’s request, a detachment of twelve F-16Cs is reportedly being sent there next week for training, although the original schedule had the next rotation limited to C-130 transport aircraft, which were not to deploy until April (see Stars and Stripes link above).  The F-16 rotation will involve 300 airmen.*

There are natural ending points to the movements of Truxtun and the F-15Cs headed to Lithuania: pre-appointed times at which no special political signal will be sent by their departures.  The F-16s going to Poland could be a different story.  Unless they are to be kept there and become the de facto core of a change in the U.S. posture in Europe, the expeditious approach will be to withdraw them promptly after a normal amount of time for such training rotations – regardless of what Poland wants.

That said, they may become, through Polish appeal, diplomatic triangulation, and usage, the catalyst for a slowly recalibrated posture.  The model for thinking about this is probably closest to the model on which the U.S. posture in the Persian Gulf changed, from 1980 to the early 1990s.  On the Gulf side of the Middle East, the U.S. posture in that period was driven to change by a series of reactions to provocations in the region, rather than by the premeditated strategy of a core U.S. alliance.

For the foreseeable future, America will be in that kind of reactionary mode vis-a-vis Russia in Southeastern Europe.  Here’s the thing to keep in mind.  There are good recommendations being made about what to do in the current case.  And Obama is doing some things that are good, such as making shows of NATO solidarity, supporting Poland’s request, and proposing to provide economic support for the government in Kiev.  But none of these measures “works” by itself, as if Russian will is a mechanism on which abstract forces can be set to operate according to impersonal rules.  There is no mechanistic, schoolbook solution to this one.  Everything depends on the initiative and credibility the U.S. and EU can muster.

So far, we haven’t mustered any.  The West is still scrambling, only vaguely aware that what we face, with Russia and Ukraine, is an open, untreated sore: something like the Saddam years in the Persian Gulf – an endlessly unresolved “crisis,” with sanctions and work-arounds – but this time on Europe’s doorstep. Putin’s gambit in Ukraine changes the course of our future.  We can take the initiative and decide what we want from here, or we can wait for Putin to decide what we’ll have to react to.

Only if we can outline for ourselves a positive goal will we give Russia something to respond to.  Merely wanting to revert to the status quo is insufficient to resolve this situation favorably.  However, it is clear that the Atlantic West is not going to take initiative and form positive goals.  There is no point in repining over that; we will need our strength for other things.  But we must not deceive ourselves about the efficacy of a passive, reactive approach either.

** UPDATE **  Presumably, most readers have seen the reporting on the Russian “assault” 7 March on a military base outside of Simferopol, which was being guarded by a small number of Ukrainian soldiers.  Not everyone might be aware of the fact that a second Russian navy ship has been sunk at the entrance to the Ukrainian naval base at Novoozerne, however.  The second ship is a small yard craft, “Yelva” class diving boat VM-416.  See link for the source of this annotated image, depicting (approximately) the resulting blockage at the breakwater outside Donuzlav Lake (vessel size represented in the image is not to scale):


Ukraine’s navy is effectively blockaded at this point, except for the flagship, Hetman Sahaidachny, which was on deployment at the start of the crisis.  Blockading is an act of war, of course.

Bosphorus Naval News reported on Hetman Sahaidachny‘s passage into the Black Sea on 5 March (and reported that she was flying the Ukrainian national ensign during her transit of the Bosporus).  No word yet on where she has gone.  Of note, USS Taylor was seen being towed from Samsun today, on her way to repairs in Souda Bay, Crete.  Clearly, her propulsion capabilities were seriously damaged in her dangerous encounter with the Turkish port.

* It’s worth noting that the F-16 bullpen is very thin right now, after the extreme loss of training hours in 2013, from which the Air Force and Navy strike-fighters have yet to recover.  F-16Cs from Aviano Air Base in Italy may be the ones heading for Poland next week, which would represent a mere shift in where the aircraft are in theater, rather than an actual augmentation of the U.S. force posture.  If they are coming from the States, they may be from the 55th Fighter Squadron (Shaw AFB, South Carolina), which according to an Air Force projection from early 2013 would be one of only three non-deployed or –deploying fighter squadrons to retain full combat readiness under the ongoing budget constraints.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard online. She also writes for the new blog Liberty Unyielding.

Note for new commenters: Welcome! There is a one-time “approval” process that keeps down the spam. There may be a delay in the posting if your first comment, but once you’re “approved,” you can join the fray at will.

26 thoughts on “Ukraine: So now we wait * UPDATE *”

  1. We won’t have to wait all that long. Brussels’ and Washington’s continued meddling, miscalculations and failures on Ukraine will most likely supply Moscow with all the pretexts for further intervention to defend her interest, if necessary. I only hope we avoid a blunder that leads to outright confrontation. So, tops on my list is making sure Western policy on Ukraine isn’t merely an extension of (pain in the neck) Warsaw’s or the Baltic state’s, perceived threat and/or aspirations for increased influence in their east. Or, some neocon’s obsession to expand NATO without Russia on board. Absent that, Russia will make zero moves that threaten NATO.

    It’s very important that “Old Europe” is in the pilot’s seat on this one, and the Pole’s FM Mr. Applebaum, the Baltic’s impeccably coiffured Grybauskaitė and, lest we forget about him, Georgian former cravatophage-in-chief, sit down and shut up.

    At the end of the day, what happens in Ukraine is more important to Russia than the West, and always will be. That would still be the case even if the Russian Federation was the world’s foremost liberal democracy and Mother Teresa was its president.

    1. There will be no blunder that leads to outright confrontation between the West and Russia, at least not in the short term. And evidently you hadn’t noticed that the neocons are out of favor with the Obama administration…so I think we can safely discount that possibility. You also have it exactly backwards. NATO will make zero moves that threaten Russia.

      Old Europe? How many divisions does she have? Russia is in the pilot’s seat on this one and Putin can do whatever he will. Yes, Ukraine will always remain within the Russian sphere of influence. Russia’s perception is that she cannot afford any other arrangement.

    2. Sometimes, jgets, I am forced to concede, you are eminently sensible in your assessments.

      Some folks, whose only play is to assign every real and imagined ill to Obama, seem to have overlooked the fact that since the time of the Tsars the Russians have pretty much dominated this part of the world (with a temporary break in 1941-3). In recent times we have had the two Ossetian wars and that little affair in Abkhazia without the US (thankfully) lifting a finger to inconvenience the Russians. However, what distinguishes present events in the Ukraine from the invasions of Georgia is that this time Russia is the net loser. Yet everyone is lauding Putin as some sort of master tactician and a leader of resolve (in contrast with You-Know-Who). But one month ago Putin’s man was in power in the Ukraine and getting on with business-as-usual in these parts (being a corrupt oligarch like his alter ego, the even viler Yulia Timoshenko – the Eva Peron of the Caucuses). The Ukraine was firmly within the Russian family – albeit with a loose trade-agreement with the EU in the offing (but absolutely no offer of actual EU membership – the EU wasn’t fool enough to hold out the prospect of a closer relationship to a country with no rule of law and doubtful solvency). Putin then pushed him into over-reach with the results we are now witnessing. That result is that Putin has lost most of the Ukraine. The Tsars must be turning in their graves. Whatever happens now, the Ukraine has been forced to turn its face westward. And the EU, as a doubtful reward for its part in facilitating the coup d’état against the elected (if corrupt) Yevchenko, is now stuck with a hopelessly indebted and politically unstable rump Ukraine. And what has the brilliant Putin got from this? Not much he didn’t have already. The Crimea was already an autonomous semi-detached Russian-speaking region whose major industry was servicing the Russian military and workers-holidays for Russian workers. Oh yes, he has also had a major melt-down of the rouble and Russian asset-values. I’m pretty sure his Oligarchs are not best pleased with him.
      In the meantime, we have wisely kept out of the mess, except to make appropriate noises of disapproval (exactly what the Bush’s did in Georgia where people were actually being killed dead).
      Sometimes, as in Syria, keeping out and having the backbone to ignore the bar-stool generals is the best policy. (It is possible that the counter-productive pique that prompted Putin to invade the Crimea is also motivated by pique over the humiliation of having to supervise the removal of chemical weapons in the hands of his client Assad rather than give the US, France and the UK an excuse to take military action against his favourite Arab dictator)

      And in all of this the comings and goings of the USS Truxton and the “F16 Bullpen” are a complete irrelevancy.

      1. I’m grateful to our hostess for her gracious hospitality. I respect her views even though I don’t always agree with them. She possesses a very incisive mind, and she’s downright decent. I’ve learned much from her about the issues – and about decency.

        In general, I am a supporter of closer cooperation between the West and Russia. Recent events don’t facilitate my position. I liken the behavior of all parties involved to fifth grade schoolboys in the yard. There were better ways to handle this.

        Well, on Russia being the net loser, we will see. The de facto secession of the Crimea sets a precedent for other territories of the Ukraine to follow suit. Its annexation to the Russian Federation, or the independence of Crimea and it’s transformation into an embryonic State that encompasses other territories of the Ukraine in the future, neutralizes the possibility that the unitary “State of Ukraine” with its current internationally recognized borders will ever become a future full member of the EU or NATO. Both organizations are very reluctant to include states with outstanding border disputes.

        It’s mostly the NATO door which Russia wishes to slam shut. Some stupid statements today by NATO bigwig Rasmussen on moves to assist Ukraine actually prove my point on supplying Moscow with pretexts. Rasmussen would not have made these statements if they weren’t previously cleared in Obama’s Washington . Hence, my apprehension about blunders. Obama’s blunders.

        I believe Putin is willing to forgo Galicia (western Ukraine) anyway, except for use of its gas pipeline network till an adequate alternative pipeline infrastructure is completed. Galicia has been an albatross around the neck of every empire that has possessed it. He’d be happy to dump it on the EU’s lap.

        Southeastern and Central Ukraine are his objectives. I will come to that at some point, I see several ways of him pulling it off so he ends up with both. But, now is not the time to bring it up.

        You are mistaken about Yanukovych. He was not Putin’s man. He was the best Putin could come up with as opposed to the other political factions carefully groomed by the West (not altogether successfully on its part either) since the 1990’s. But that’s a long story.

        Vladimir Putin’s major motivating factor is not pique. You are blundering if you truly believe so. Brief financial market turmoil is inconsequential in comparison to mother Russia’s vital geopolitical interest when in comes to the Ukraine. The Tsars actually stopped turning in their grave the moment Putin took over from Yeltsin.

        I do agree interventions on our part should be undertaken only where our vital interests are threatened. And, then, very forcefully.

        1. I agree that Southeastern and Central Ukraine are Putin’s geopolitical objectives and if he’s smart, he’ll let the EU have the western Ukraine, avoiding what I agree would be a political albatross for Russia. If Putin gets the Southeastern and Central Ukrainian regions, Western Ukraine will have relatively little to sustain it and it will become an economic albatross for the EU. Given that the US Fed has announced the ending of US support for European Banks, the EU is likely to let the western Ukrainians fend for themselves, which is likely to make life miserable for them.

          I look forward to your future elaboration on how Putin might achieve his objectives short of military seizure of the region.

          1. Concerning Russian military intervention. Military seizure (that’s how the West will portray it) if it comes, will have much to do with how violently the putschists (that’s what they are) in Kiev, pretending to be European statesmen, egged on by Brussels and DC, are willing to suppress the inevitable uprising for liberation from the fascist occupiers (that’s how Russia will portray Kiev’s attempt to implement central authority on the SE). That’s not a complete picture there’s more to it, but, it’s a snapshot that has more to do with Southeastern, rather than Central Ukraine.

  2. Well, that’s reassuring GB.

    No eyeball to eyeball with the Russkies for Ukraine is good enough for me.

  3. There is no question that there is resentment in Russia at the gifting of the Crimea to the Ukraine in 1954. What was barely tolerable within the context of the Soviet Union is much less so within the context of the present dispensation – particularly if the Ukraine were to take a decisive step to realign herself westward. For Russians the Crimea has a special significance not only due to its majority ethnicity and the fact it is Russian-speaking, but also because of the price in blood that was paid in WWII – particularly the major tank battles that took place in the Kerch area (incidentally, the factual location of the fictional tale portrayed in Sam Peckinpaw’s “Cross of Iron”). Russians will remind you that while they were locked in these desperate struggles with the Nazis, many Ukrainians were fighting with the Germans.

    1. In the same vein, it is an overlooked historical fact that today’s Southeastern Ukraine, in its entirety, was also essentially gifted to the Ukrainian SSR in the 1920’s by none other than the then German Empire’s great gift to mankind – Vladimir Lenin. This territory of Russia Proper, also unjustly (from today’s Russian perspective) transferred, will soon come to the fore.

    2. Before WWII ended, the Ukrainian Underground Army fought the Russians, Germans and the Poles.
      It was a desperate “realpolitic” moment in history. You side with whoever can help with your struggle to remain a viable country.
      The Poles paid a heavy price at the hands of the Northern Underground Army (sorry to mention it jgets.)
      But at one point, anyone but the Russians, seemed to be the theme.
      There were no good choices, pick one and try to live.
      Very best regards jgets. Have you been able to communicate with people back home recently?

      1. No problem, you’re entitled to your views WR. There are truths in it.

        Back home for me is Virginia 🙂

        About my in-laws, friends, and associates both in Russia and the Ukraine – uncertainty – is the word that sums it up. They give even odds on an eventual peaceful resolution In Ukraine. The economic situation is uppermost in their minds, which is natural. They despise all politicians, including the current crop, along with the oligarchs, as a bunch of corrupt thieves, They are uneasy about extremism taking over. And, some polarization is becoming more deeply entrenched between supporters of the two camps. That info is from the eastern half of the country.

        1. PS

          I should add that I’m also a New Yorker, but outside of fond childhood memories, there’s not much I find attractive in NYC anymore

          1. My wife is from Virginia Beach. She has a brother that still lives there. Another brother in Raleigh, NC.
            Tarheel here. Grew up around Charlotte. We are both Rolling Stones, but we ended up in Oklahoma City.
            My wife goes back to the Outer Banks as often as possible. I find the South West and West Coast more enjoyable.
            It has been a long time since I traveled NYC and Boston areas. You are welcome to them both. LOL! Best Regards.
            If you ever feel like it, I would like to hear your thoughts on Ukraine 1937-1943. My understanding is shallow at best.

            1. Didn’t realize your wife was from VA Beach, WR. And apparently, like me, loves the Outer Banks. (She probably decries, as I do, the overgrown atmosphere there now. It was so much quieter, more of a charming backwater, in the ’80s. Now there are places you can hardly see the water for all the packed-in rows of insta-mansions. And you can’t creep up on it through the rural back-roads from Hampton Roads, as you once could. You can take the same back-roads, but they’re all built up now. Sigh.)

              It wasn’t that long ago that you could plop down less than $100K and get 10 acres and 2000 square feet of 100-year-old farm house in the grassy wilds of North Carolina, south of Virginia Beach. Those days are long gone.

              1. Both of her parents were Naval Officers. Father, subs/ Mother, surface ships. Our fireplace and bookshelves say Navy. We make the strongest coffee west of the Mississippi.
                Yes about the over building on OBX (hurricanes do clean that out every few years) and yes every small town in Eastern North Carolina has seen an explosion in construction and real estate prices. I bet the million dollar spreads in Tabor City look strange.
                Still cheaper than SoCal though.

  4. Btw, Vladimir Putin’s popularity has skyrocketed with the announcement of the secession of Crimea. Russia is on the verge of joyous delirium.. Certainly not the picture of an unpopular dictator suppressing his citizen’s liberties, ruining the nation’s economy and financial system, by engaging in foreign adventurism.. And. easy on the Hitler comparisons now guys, many in the West will be tempted to do so.

    It’s the nineteenth century, and I’m beginning to like it.

    1. Welcome, Frank CH. Eigler. An intriguing suggestion, although I assume the Kiev government would never try it. Best for them not to, of course.

  5. I was waiting for a non-Russian source to bring this issue up before sharing

      1. I had seen this kind of speculation, but would go very slowly with it.

        For one thing, the CSM article mixes up the forensic evidence possible from looking at bullet casings versus from the doctor looking at wounds. The doctor can’t tell if the same gun(s) fired the bullets. The doctor can only tell whether the wounds are consistent with the same kind of round(s).

        Everyone in law enforcement or the military in Ukraine, regardless of political affiliation, uses the same small arms ammunition. If the authorities send someone to shoot you with a rifle in Ukraine, you’re going to get hit with the 7.62mm or 5.56mm rounds fired by the AK-47, or by a 7.62 mm round from a Dragunov sniper rifle. (Ukraine’s newer, modern rifles fire the same rounds.)

        The same is true if Russia sends someone to shoot you. From what I’ve seen, the eyewitnesses saw AK-47s and at least one Dragunov being used, and there has been consistent mention, from those discussing forensics afterward, of 7.62mm rounds from the shootings in February. That doesn’t narrow it down at all. There could have been 10 different factions, including Russian-backed factions, pumping rounds into the Maidan, and the eyewitness reporting would have been exactly the same, as would the bullet casings recovered and the nature of the wounds suffered.

        I recommend being careful with this one. Skepticism is in order.

        1. Agreed on the skepticism.

          A thorough independent international investigation of this allegation is imperative. It’s a step in the right direction, unless someone has something to hide.

          We will see if the powers that be can agree on that.

  6. Looks like Putin is still channeling his inner-Barry: If you like your Ukraine, you can keep it. Period.

    Instead of Spy v. Spy, it’s now Bad Boy v. Bad Boy. Too bad their Bad Boy is wiping the floor with our Bad Boy.

  7. I write this just to exorcise my distaste for personal attacks. However, when a person that is too stupid to come in out of a sewage shower speaks on television, I must at least para-phrase. Ms. Jane Harmon ex congress person extraordinaire stated today that Putin had made a serious miscalculation in Crimea because he will have to assume pension responsibilities for retired Crimean bureaucrats.
    George Will kept a straight face, others laughed. I assume Roger Ailes has a great sense of humor for booking purposes.
    Ms. Harmon’s stupidity has always made me fear for the human race. Always.
    The 36th must really miss her. I assume the desert air dries out brains?

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: