Don't Be Fooled—Ukraine Is Not a Frozen Conflict

Members of the "Donbass" self-defence battalion swear the oath to be officially included into the reserve battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine, near Kiev, June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

There are signs of escalation in the simmering conflict.

In particular, there is evidently significant worry concerning a Russian fishing boat “North” [Норд] seized by Ukrainian forces on 25 March. Calling for a strong reaction, the author asks the reader to “imagine for a moment the scenario in which a Chinese fishing seiner was seized by the Navy of Vietnam … [Представьте себе на минуточку сценарий, при котором ВМС Вьетнама задерживают китайский рыболовный сейнер].” Rather disturbing, moreover, is also a reference to a “weekly (but sometimes more often) flight by an American strategic UAV MQ-4C that conducts a reconnaissance flight for many hours in the airspace close to the line of contact in the Donbass [американский стратегический БПЛА … RQ-4B еженедельно (а иногда и чаще) проводит многочасовые разведывательные полеты в воздушном пространстве близ линии соприкосновения на Донбассе].”

Another Russian assessment that dates from March 2018 from the same military journal is similarly dark and bellicose. This second piece was published under the title: “The Quiet Americans in Ukraine” [Тихие американцы на Украине]. This piece details the February 2018 visit of a senior American defense expert, who formerly led the prestigious Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) during 2001-2009 to Ukraine, where he was apparently to serve as a consultant-observer to the Ukrainian state weapons development corporation. According to this rendering, this individual has been charged with the creation of the “Ukrainian DARPA.” Not surprisingly, Moscow is rather perturbed by the increasing level of American security-oriented support for Kiev. This Russian analysis asserts: “It’s hardly a secret that Washington is extremely interested in reinforcing the military potential of contemporary Ukraine, which they see as the sworn enemy of the remainder of Russia and the main check on the process of the strengthening of the eastern Slavic historical enemy of the West.” [Не секрет что в Вашингтоне крайне заинтересованы в усилении военного потенциала нынешней Украины, в которой видят заклятого врага остальной России и главный тормоз на пути укрепления исторического восточнославянского врага Запада.] The article suggests that Ukraine has become a “laboratory” for the testing of weapons and tactics against Russia. The analysis concludes that the visit of this high-level American defense expert, when taken together with the transfer of the Javelin anti-tank missiles, suggests “… the conclusion that the American stake in the further buildup of Ukrainian military power, confirms in particular the long-term confrontation with Russia …” [следует логический вывод о том, что американская ставка на дальнейшее наращивание военной мощи Украины, заточенной ими на длительную конфронтацию с Россией].

The sad truth seems to be that the stalwarts of the “Russia threat syndrome” have pushed the thin “Russia-gate” narrative with such determination that an Administration formerly inclined toward the common sense solution of finding a modus vivendi with the Kremlin, has apparently overcompensated to assuage its multitude of critics and lurched naively into a frontal challenge to Russia’s obvious “core interests.” Such reckless actions (when considered in the aggregate with NATO expansion) may well have already poisoned the well of European security for the next 100 years.

But let’s try not to be so depressing. Ukraine is after all far away, right? If this author can find any shred of hope at the end of this sad tale, it is only that the World Cup is about to go off in Russia, so Moscow has every reason to “play nice” in difficult circumstances, at least for a few months. Speaking of sports and the international situation, perhaps the Washington Capitals might finally deliver Lord Stanley’s Cup to the shores of the Potomac for the first time? With a roster packed full of Russian talent, a Capitals victory on the ice could perhaps provide some much needed cheer for the gravely troubled U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship.

Lyle J. Goldstein is Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute (CMSI) at the United States Naval War College in Newport, RI. In addition to Chinese, he also speaks Russian and he is also an affiliate of the new Russia Maritime Studies Institute (RMSI) at Naval War College. You can reach him at [email protected]. The opinions in his columns are entirely his own and do not reflect the official assessments of the U.S. Navy or any other agency of the U.S. government.
Image: Members of the "Donbass" self-defence battalion swear the oath to be officially included into the reserve battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine, near Kiev, June 23, 2014. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko