by Paul Goble
Entering the gates of hell, Debaltseve. No water, no food, no electricity and death on every street corner. Ukraine.
The Kremlin’s calls for a ceasefire and calls by the pro-Russian militants in the Donbass for a mass mobilization are all designed to distract attention from Moscow’s preparations for a massive invasion of Ukraine sometime in the coming days, according to Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts.
And that conclusion is strengthened, he suggests, by something else: Moscow is moving troops from other regions of the Russian Federation and even from troubled areas of Central Asia toward the Ukrainian border in order to have sufficient forces for a large-scale invasion.
In a Yezhednevny Zhurnal commentary February 3, Golts says that even as Vladimir Putin’s press secretary declared that the Kremlin leader is “extremely concerned about the development of the situation in the Donbas,” TASS in the same news item reported that a Kremlin aide had said Moscow can understand why the militants are calling for a general mobilization.
“The leaders of the self-proclaimed republics understand” what Moscow is saying, Golts says. They too are for talks but “only if” they get to keep the territory they have seized, and since that doesn’t seem to be on the table, they will continue to fight – and with the support of Moscow as well.
Golts notes in passing that the militants are unlikely to be able to raise the 100,000 troops they have promised to bring to the colors within ten days. There simply aren’t enough people under their control to allow them to do so: If they did, they would be drafting a larger share of the population than even Stalin did during World War II.
That in turn means, the independent Russian military analyst says, that these “games at mobilization” are being launched “in order to mask preparation for another broad-scale introduction of Russian forces.” The militants and Moscow did much the same thing last summer, and thus it appears likely a new invasion is in the offing.
And confirming that conclusion is a report by Ekho Moskvy picking up Tajik media stories that “approximately 3,000 Russian soldiers from the 201st Russian military base in Tajikistan will be sent to the border with Ukraine.”
Their places will be taken by Tajik soldiers, a step that raises some serious security issues. Given the withdrawal of Western forces from Afghanistan, the threat of radical Islam to Central Asia is becoming ever greater. Pulling Russian troops out of the region now suggests just how important Moscow’s next moves in Ukraine must be in its calculations.
As Golts notes, “having [now] concentrated on the war in Ukraine, Russia risks losing Central Asia.” Indeed, he says, Moscow may soon face “a strategic nightmare” as a result. By sending troops from Central Asia to Ukraine, it may soon face the influx from Central Asia of “tens of thousands of refugees.”