The ongoing controversy about the direct involvement of the Russian army in any hostilities in Ukraine – usually framed in the context of “aggression” and “invasion” – is alarming. It only aggravates the crisis and destroys any fragile hopes for peace.
A boy looks round as he walks up the stairs of the bomb shelter after the shelling in Petrovskiy district in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014. Photo: AP
What is the real evidence of any “invasion” in Ukraine? All previous Ukrainian statements about the alleged invasion of Russian armored vehicles marching through Ukrainian territory turned out to be unproved. The OSCE denies that there has been any military intervention and even U.S. officials have been careful not to call it an “invasion.” NATO and the Pentagon from time-to-time publish some vague and outdated satellite images (this time they are a week old, before that, they were two-to-three weeks old) instead of providing real-time online broadcasting of the situation in Ukraine or fresh high-resolution photos. Such surveillance imagery is not a problem with the availability of modern technologies.
Moreover, consider the other “proof” that has been provided. A few Russian paratroopers detained while abandoning their vehicles and hiding in the bush 20 kilometers away from the Russian border (in an area where the border is not even properly marked) can hardly represent a combat detachment. Finally, when the fact of the “full-scale invasion” is announced by a middle-ranking military official before being disseminated via Twitter by Ukraine’s prime minister and shared by various spokespersons – this also sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie.
Why all this crying wolf? If Ukraine truly believes in the involvement of Russian troops, it should be persistent and declare war rather than announcing an invasion via a Twitter hashtag. It may sound old-fashioned in the age of undeclared wars, but any charges of that kind between states imply this act of last resort. All Ukrainian complaints to the international community otherwise look strange – accusations should be supported with strong evidence and real action. However, Russia and Ukraine continue to maintain diplomatic relations, discuss border and gas issues, all simultaneously with the statements about the intervention on the very same day.
Russia made it clear several times that it is not going to intervene militarily in the Ukrainian conflict. President Vladimir Putin, who is a lawyer by profession and by nature, recalled the consent of the Federation Council to deploy troops abroad. The entire history of contemporary Russia indicates that in practically all conflicts (except South Ossetia, where the Russian troops were directly attacked and could not abstain from hostilities any longer) Moscow prefers to refrain from resorting to military solutions. Moreover, even the public opinion, which is now at the peak of its ultra-patriotism, does not support military interventions beyond Russia’s borders.
Frankly speaking, any Russian military intervention would not have stopped in the southeast. If Russia really moves into Ukrainian territory, it will have to advance to Kiev and further on, since any partial solution will not help. However, Moscow has no such plans or intentions; Moscow lacks a figure to put on the throne in Kiev; Moscow does not need a long guerrilla warfare in the west of Ukraine. So this apocalyptical scenario is not in the Kremlin's interest.
Who benefits from the gossip about the Russian invasion? Actually, the main people who gain from this situation are the Ukrainian authorities themselves. Such claims help Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to explain to his voters the failures of the Ukrainian army (which is in a difficult situation) and the economic problems of the nation, which are deteriorating on a daily basis. Kiev gets a chance to intensify psychological pressure on its Western counterparts (even though EU officials do not formally share the panic about the Russian invasion), especially due to the upcoming gas negotiations and talks on the EU-Customs Union-Ukraine arrangements.
Poroshenko, whose grip on power is increasingly shaky, does not need negotiations with the southeastern rebel leaders and tries to portray himself as a defender of the nation. He seems to have no desire for free and fair parliamentary elections in all Ukrainian regions, including the southeastern parts, since it might bring opposition to the Rada and prevent him from consolidating his power.
Finally, if everything goes completely wrong for the Ukrainian military, the authorities in Kiev require some face-saving formula to get rid of the headache-prone regions in the east and to write off their economy ruined by Ukrainian artillery fire and combat operations. In this case, the alarm about “Russian invasion” can be quite helpful.
The story of Ukraine is a story of a huge media war where the battlefield is not a physical one, it is one that is in the minds of a global audience. To win this battle, Russia really needs a large-scale “intervention” in the media to convey the true situation to the public.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.