So the Russians are on the move once again in Ukraine.
Gen. Philip Breedlove, the supreme allied commander, Europe, finally confirmed today what OSCE monitors and Ukrainian officials have been saying for days: that substantial numbers of Russian tanks, soldiers, and artillery pieces are moving from Russia into the eastern part of Ukraine.
Artillery battles are also increasing in Donetsk, the biggest eastern city seized by Russian separatists.
So much for the ceasefire announced with much fanfare in September.
Actually it’s been clear for a while that the ceasefire was not really being observed by Putin and his stooges, but nobody wanted to say so.
Everyone wanted to preserve the fiction that peace had broken out: the Ukrainians because they didn’t want to admit that they’ve lost control of so much of their territory, the Russians because they didn’t want to open themselves up to new sanctions.
But it’s obvious now that the so-called ceasefire was nothing more than a very short and very temporary pause in the pace of Russian aggression.
It’s hard to know for sure what the Russians are up to, but it’s a good bet they are seeking to link up their newly conquered satrapies in eastern Ukraine with their previously conquered satrapy in Crimea: There is still a lot of Ukrainian-held territory between those two positions and it’s likely that using his “salami slice” tactics Putin will gobble it up a piece a time.
And why shouldn’t he? Sure, the ruble and the Russian economy have taken a hit from the sanctions imposed so far by the US and EU, but Putin personally isn’t hurting – he is still a billionaire and the unchallenged dictator of the world’s ninth-largest nation (by population).
In fact he was his usual smirking, swaggering self at the APEC summit in Beijing, where he got to parade on stage alongside all the other world leaders. Has he been ostracized from the community of nations? Hardly. In fact he’s riding as high as ever, with the damage to the Russian economy no doubt offset, by his reckoning, from the boost in personal popularity he has received in Russia by playing the nationalist card.
Putin acts as if he has little reason to fear the consequences of further aggression — and he’s absolutely right. Neither the US nor the EU has shown it has the fortitude to stand up to him. A practiced predator and skillful opportunist, Putin has read his adversaries’ eyes and seen that they contain fear and confusion. To him that’s a green light for further aggression.
He might think twice if President Obama were to send weapons, not just meals read-to-eat, to the embattled Ukrainian forces, along with intelligence and advisors to help counter the Russian threat. Or if Obama were to impose stiffer sanctions that would bar Russian firms from dollar-denominated trades.
Of course European action could make such sanctions far more effective, but the US wouldn’t have to wait for the Europeans to make Putin pay a price — if we were serious about doing so. But the only foreign-policy objective that Obama appears determined to achieve at the moment is a grand if ill-considered bargain to realign Iran with the United States.
Until the commander-in-chief shows some spine, Putin will continue to gobble up Ukraine.