17th June 2002
Hot on the heels of the suspected use of the stupidly-named Buk SAM system (and the training that is apparently required to operated it) to shoot down the yet-another-unfortunate-Malaysian-Airlines aircraft a month ago, comes a sighting of a tank that is purportedly never seen outside of the Russian armed forces. I don't know enough about Russian military equipment to identify one T-72 variant from another, but the sources in that story seem confident.
And shortly afterwards, Ukraine President Poroshenko cancelled a visit to Turkey and announced that Russian troops "...were actually deployed to Ukraine..." As of writing, there's not much else to go on there, but Ukraine have been shouting to anybody who'll listen that Russia has been in their bases and kicking their arses from the get-go, so there must be a reason for this latest outburst.
Considerable evidence is mounting to demonstrate that Russia is at least arming the rebels in Ukraine (well duh), if not actively taking part in their rebellion, and the Russians themselves are doing nothing to discourage either notion.
The question is, what should be done about it?
Russia's last first foray into imperialism saw Abkhazia and South Ossetia annexed by a horde of Russian tanks, and although harsh words were flung at them by the international community - with former US President George W. Bush effectively putting them in their place by shouting "oi Russia, stop being a big ol' bully!" - they got away with it.
Perhaps this inaction in 2008 has given Russia new confidence - confidence that they can dick around in the old Eastern Bloc and face no ramifications whatsoever from the world at large.
Putin has been a little more devious with his Ukraine fiddling than they were in Georgia (where they just said "fuck it, send in all of the tanks"), but as fewer and fewer people believe their protests of ignorance, and the Ukraine government makes progress in driving back the rebels, there's a risk that Russia - safe in the knowledge that the impotent Western world will let them do whatever the hell they want - will become more overt as things go forward. And I doubt Ukraine will survive a determined Russian military intervention.
There goes the neighbourhood.
If this is indeed a case of resurgent Russia doing whatever the hell they want to make themselves feel big and clever, then once they're done with Ukraine, where will they go next to get their jollies? How close to Europe will they get before Europe says 'fuck that, get lost'? How much will Russia be allowed to get away with?
7th December 2003
From what I understand both Russia and the Ukraine have T-72s. They were all produced in Russia and the Ukraine inherited some of them after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Ukraine had its own tank factories for the T-64, which was a higher quality tank at the time. So they made that their main tank and sold off the T-72s or placed them in storage.
Now it seems that an upgraded version of the T-72 (BM3) has been spotted in the Ukraine. It is recognizable by the distinctive Kontakt 5 explosive reactive armor. Not sure when these upgrades were applied, if that happened in the 1980s it would be possible for such tanks to be stored by the Ukrainian army.
There is lots of other evidence that points at a Russian intervention though. Like the NATO satellite images, the fact that the separatists use lots of heavy weapons like tanks and even artillery (unlikely to be captured and put into operation in such quantities) or that some Russian paratroopers were captured by the Ukraine. The excuse that the paratroopers "got lost" hardly seems credible given that paratroopers usually receive special training in orientation. And if that doesn't convince you there is also footage of a big column of military vehicles in rebel controlled Ukraine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lz3Fwf0DYDw
As for what can be done about this - very little I am afraid. There are a whole bunch of problems that prevent us from doing anything (speaking about Germany, not sure how the situation is in the UK). There is our military: For many years we have spent way too little on defense, so we have few weapon systems, even fewer of them are opterational. There is propaganda - the Russians are very good at it. We rely on free press, which is great for introspection but terrible at compensasting foreign propaganda. There is the pacifist mentality: For good reasons Germans dislike the notion of war, but if anyone should know about the risks posed by ignoring and appeasing a state that has a much stronger military it should be us.
Then there is distrust between NATO members due to different priorities: Germany depends on Russian energy, especially after we dismantled our nuclear powerplants after Fukushima. Germany's economy is an export economy. Losing Russia as a trading partner would be bad enough, but losing the energy to produce wares would be really bad.
At this point we can only hope that Putin's strategy is to distract his population from internal problems with little victories. So we'll have to live with Russia doing this kind of thing every once in a while and hope that it doesn't escalate.
If we really wanted to do something about it we'd have to get rid of our government and replace it with people who have stronger convictions. We'd have to start a massive anti-Russian propaganda campaign to rally up support for more aggressive policies and we'd have to increase defense spending. Then there would be two options: The NATO approach to a Cold War scenario, which implies that given an enemy with stronger conventional forces you threaten to escalate any conflict into a nuclear war. Or the Chinese approach to Cold War, which means shocking your enemy with unpredictable and irrational actions to keep him off-balance.
Voice of joy and sunshine
26th May 2003
It will continue until they meet a state they cannot afford to offend; one that has nuclear weapons.
I don't see any other option, they're large enough that trade sanctions are unlikely to be productive. And in conventional military terms I don't think any single nation in Europe can stand against them. Who is going to stick their neck out to have a conventional land-war with Russia?
Perhaps if there was a united European army. And if Russia continues to throw its military weight around, that may be where we end up. A strong EU state to counterbalance their influence.
SCHOFIELD DID 4/30
10th August 2004
7th December 2003
Sometimes the propaganda forces active in this conflict mess up. A couple of weeks ago there was a video by some Russian media outlet investigating a tank captured by the rebels. It showed lots of details, including pictures of the interior where you could see modern thermal imaging equipment produced by a French company (Thales). The reporters probably thought they might have found some evidence of western support for the Ukraine but inadvertently confirmed the rumors about Russian equipment in rebel hands. Turns out that the tank had been captured from the rebels by the Ukrainian forces before being recaptured by the rebels later. In the past years the Russian armed forces bought quite a bit of western technology, including the modern thermal imaging systems, to upgrade their older weapon systems. So by now it is exceedignly unlikely that those modern T72s are from the Ukraine.
There is also lots of other circumstantial evidence of Russian involvement, of course. The "rebels" have been using lots and lots of rocket artillery. The Russian media likes to show the results of those attacks - columns of burned out Ukrainian vehicles. The devastation and precisions of those strikes suggests the involvement of the Russian army. You just don't get lucky that often by firing rockets in the general direction of the enemy.
I didn't make it!
The point is that I haven't read as much as I'd have liked to, in my life. I've been trying to amend that mistake recently; about the one and only good thing about e-tablets, especially when coupled with some classical music medleys playing while reading.