Sunday, January 25, 2015

Putin's Ukraine plan is now transparent

Vladimir Putin's clumsily managed Russian aggression against Ukraine now has a transparent goal. He is working to make Ukraine a de facto landlocked country.  There are, or were, three major ports in Ukraine, Odessa and Sevastopol on the Black Sea and Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.  Sevastopol, as part of Crimea, is already firmly in Russia's control.  Currently in Eastern Ukraine, the separatists with their Russian armaments, advisers, and by almost all accounts the men in green suits, aka Russian soldiers, are firing rockets into civilian areas of Mariupol.  They have achieved to some extent Putin's goal of demolishing the significant economic infrastructure of the Donetsk region, and the separatists and Ukrainian army continue to fight for control of that area.  Now these same separatists, supported by all elements of Russian aid, seem to be focused on Mariupol, which had not been involved in the fighting and has had no significant separatist activity to date.  This was seen as a possibility here, and now it is underway.

Despite being in the south of Ukraine and a long distance from the eastern region, Odessa had a spate of separatist violence in May that was unexpected in that multi-cultural liberal city, and it seems to have been instigated and guided by Russian related intelligence forces.  The separatists were repelled by the local nationalist militia and many were trapped as they retreated into a burning building, leading to 47 fatalities.  With those "martyrs" under their belt and part of their propaganda, it is fairly obvious that this is not the last of Russian efforts in Odessa.  Because of the fighting, the tourist business of Odessa, usually robust in the summer, was down by more than 50% in 2014 and the local economy is stressed.  Russia will find, from this perspective, a way to disrupt the city once again if they get control of Mariupol, or maybe regardless of their degree of success in Mariupol.

There are two other smaller ports on the Sea of Azov(consulting the most recent National Geographic atlas now), Tayanrog and Berdyansk, but they are not significant enough to provide enough needed infrastructure for much of Ukraine's industrial shipping. Tayanrog is a short distance from the Russian border and Berdyansk is not too far south of Mariupol.  The point is that both are vulnerable to Russian managed assaults.

With control of the major ports, if successful in achieving that, Putin would have significant control over the Ukraine economy.  That's a guess as to his goal, a good guess.  Whether that is achievable is not clear.  Whether he has the economic fortitude in Russia to achieve this goal could be questioned, but the great majority of Russian people, other than the now hemmed in oligarchs, seem to be willing to sacrifice for the nationalist agenda of Putin.

Will the West just watch this happen, or will it draw the line at some point and be serious about it?
This is a dangerous situation that could ultimately have no winners.  It looks like a slow moving train wreck waiting to happen.  I hope that statement is wrong.

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