Don’t mess with Donbass: Massive Russian military drills send warning to Ukraine

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August 26, 2016 – 

– By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ – translated by J. Arnoldski – 

On August 25th, a sudden check of Russia’s armed forces was launched. Troops of the Southern as well as part of the forces and equipment of the Western and Central Military districts, the Northern Fleet, air forces, and airborne command were put on full alert and combat readiness. The drill will last from August 25th to the 31st. Simultaneously, active preparation for the “Caucasus-2016” strategic exercise is underway in the Southern Military District. 

The ongoing drill is the largest one that the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have held in a year and a half. Attention should be drawn to the fact that the center of military exercises has shifted to the South. In June-early July of this year, basic exercises were held in North-West Russia in response to NATO military activity in the Baltic countries. 

It’s difficult not to see a foreign policy motivation in the choice of these districts for a sudden armed forces check. The Southern and Western Military Districts of Russia border with Ukraine. Meanwhile, on the border with Russian Crimea, Ukrainian troops are in full combat readiness. What’s more, the intensity of UAF shellings of the republics of Donbass (including the use of volley fire systems) is growing. According to reports from the DPR’s military leadership, Ukraine has deployed 140 additional units of military vehicles to the contact line. 

The increasingly complicated situation in the Transnistrian Moldovan Republic should also be mentioned. Jointly with Ukraine, Moldova is maintaining an economic blockade of the unrecognized republic, part of whose population has ethnic Ukrainian roots and even Ukrainian citizenship. The Armed Forces of Ukraine have participated in joint exercises with NATO countries’ armed forces intended to intimidate Transnistria. 

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For more than week, the Western and Ukrainian press have been filled with reports on the intense redeployment of Russian troops (around 40,000 soldiers and officers) close to the Ukrainian border. The reason behind these active troop movements was finally clarified today. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said that the following were the goals of drills: “To assess the readiness of the Southern Military District during the course of regrouping; deploy self-sufficient groupings of troops to the location of crisis situations on a short notice; and test the capacity of the Western and Central Military districts in relation to increasing efforts in the South-Western strategic direction.” 

The alarmism and increasing anxiety of Ukrainian officers and politicians is both a cause and effect. Russia has been compelled to respond to the growing aggressiveness of this neighboring country which has, among other things, manifested itself in the preparation of acts of sabotage and terrorism against Russian Crimea and impending resumption of hostilities in Donbass. 

Following the events of August 6th-8th in the North of the Crimean Peninsula, Russia had the moral and legal right to launch targeted strikes against the territory of the country of origin of this sabotage-terrorist threat. However, Russia did not take this step. Thus, the statement of Ukrainian officers and President Poroshenko on the threat of a Russian invasion being prepared through the movement of Russian troops close to the Ukrainian border is unconvincing. If Russia had prepared an invasion, it would have already been launched no later than August 10th as an act of retaliation against the terrorist state of Ukraine. The Casus belli has since passed. 

Instead of the purely military tasks which Shoigu mentioned, these sudden drills checking the readiness of Russian troops in the military districts bordering Ukraine have the direct goal of warning Ukraine’s hawks, intimidating them from repeating dangerous adventures in Crimea or Donbass. This is somewhat of a paradox, but the country acting in the role of the peacemaker (Russia) is obviously the stronger side. Stronger and smarter. We have already had more than one occasion to observe the irresponsibility of the Ukrainian leadership.

I believe that this demonstration of force which, in this case, is a demonstration of the high tactical and organizational preparedness of the Western and Southern Military Districts’ troops, is Russia’s way of reducing the risk of more dangerous Ukrainian adventures, including a resumption of the war in Donbass. 

Of course, this is only a postponement, not a resolution of the problem. Ukraine is strategically intent on war as the political and ideological machine of post-Maidan Ukraine is evermore working on portraying Russia as an enemy, thus making war inevitable. Nevertheless, this war, and a new UAF offensive on the Donbass republics, seems unlikely in the near future. 

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