It is not comforting that the Western Press has now decided to simply pass along the frenetic Ukrainian government’s claim of a “Russian Invasion” now that the latter is losing its punitive expedition in the East. Ukraine’s army has lost through a variety of missteps, poor morale, and other factors, but the facts show that it has been nearly completely pushed out of its positions in Eastern Ukraine and suffered significant losses and is on the verge of collapse.
Its performance has been surprising in recent weeks, considering its superiority in arms, equipment, and organization. It previously appeared to have pushed the rebels to the brink of extinction in mid-August. To explain matters, the government has decided to call this reversal a “Russian Invasion.” It is no more a Russian Invasion than Ukraine’s use of Chechen, Belarusian, and Georgian volunteers is an invasion of the Donbas region by those countries. The evidence of invasion–satellite photos and about 10 out-of-uniform Russian soldiers captured by Ukraine–do not suggest anything on the scale of what occurred earlier in Crimea. This evidence is consistent with organizational and material help, and the occasional presence of volunteers and adventurers. Most important, even if reports are completely believed, they suggest at most 1,000 Russian troops are involved. There are 20,000 plus belligerents or more on either side of this conflict. Russian troops might be well equipped and professional, but 1,000 of them cannot defeat an army of 20,000 in several weeks. Let’s use common sense.
Most of what one sees–and it is obvious from any perusal of news reports, photographs, and other social media–is a ragtag rebel army consisting of old men, Soviet and Russian veterans presumably, mostly armed with light equipment, APCs, a handful of tanks, and a handful of mortars and artillery pieces. In recent weeks, Russian probably lent, sold, or gave the rebels the assistance of self-propelled artillery, but this is partial help, not so unlike the help provided by NATO states in the form of uniforms, intelligence support, body armor, MREs, and the like. Everyone is getting help, receiving foreign fighters, and other forms of visible and invisible support. What one has also seen is a well-led and relatively disciplined rebel force that flourished to a greater degree as the Ukrainian Army alienated more and more people with its tactics, shelling, and obvious disregard for the citizens of its East. That said, the whole war is an unfortunate, if not altogether preventable, tragedy.
The tragic situation has been evident at every stage of events. First, the Ukrainian government’s existence was brought about through a violent coup, even as the ink was still wet on a negotiated settlement with the Yanukovich government. Second, Ukraine thereafter stood up an armed force with minimal training and support, and populated it with patriots and also extremists. It then proceeded to shell civilian areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, the main cities in the East, with nary a peep from the West. We are told “Putin in like Hitler” when the actual uniforms of these volunteer organizations in Eastern Ukraine have Nazi symbols incorporated into them. Then, the generals of Ukraine have abandoned whole units, and we see significant desertions, massacres, low morale, and surrenders among them. Finally, the rebels, fortified no doubt by some Russian help, proceed to beat the pitiful Ukrainian government troops and volunteer battalions, and now the West wants to pretend this is some grave injustice and proof of how evil the Russians are.
This war is an incredible tragedy for Europe and the Ukrainian and Russian people, who are fraternal nations that share the same religion, much of a common history, and common ancestry. But it is not a morality play with Russia as the chief villain.
In truth, Ukraine in its present form likely cannot continue and cannot be governed. The Russophone East and the Ukrainian-speaking West do not trust one another, they have spent much of the last few months at war with one another, there is much love lost and distrust, and the manner in which the Poroshenko government has conducted the war has alienated both its supporters and its opponents. A peaceful, negotiated settlement, perhaps with a demilitarized zone and UN peacekeepers, is far preferable for everyone involved to this continued, brutal war.