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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Reconnaissance in force, or Helping Kremlin put its cards on the barrel

3 September, 2014 - 17:35

I wonder if Putin and his defense ministry and general staff realize how stupid they sounded when declaring that a column of Russian combat vehicles just happened to cross the Ukrainian border and got lost there, after covering at least 30 km of foreign territory (there is factual evidence that the penetration reached considerably deeper into Ukraine).

Military topography is taught cadets at an early stage. They are taught to read maps, charts, and master terrain orientation techniques. Terrain orientation is what even a junior army officer must know.

Now try to picture a column of Russian tanks and other combat vehicles getting lost on Ukrainian territory, with all the officers failing to get their bearings reading maps, charts, stars, watching which side of the trees the moth grew. And this after crossing the border, even if unmarked, and covering far more than 30 kilometers. The obvious conclusion is that their military college/academy instructors were perfect nincompoops. Granted. Then the next obvious question is: How could the Russian army command place such nincompoops in charge of any combat units? Does this mean that all Russian army officers are like that? Probably – if one takes President Putin’s statement at its face value.

The term patrol originates from the French patrouille. In modern usage it means a compact combat unit, but even a mobile patrol does not include tanks, artillery pieces or other such heavy-duty equipment. This is military ABC. Is one supposed to believe that the Kremlin doesn’t know it, what with the dictionaries and Internet?

In fact, following Russia’s current “logic,” one ought to assume that the Wehrmacht got lost back in 1941 when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union without declaring war, advancing almost to the walls of Moscow and reaching the Volga next year. Then all borders were marked, yet what was destined to happen did.

There is an apparent logical chain: first, the so-called humanitarian aid convoy. In that case “convoy” in its military meaning was glaringly improper. Those who came up with the appellation must’ve been C-minus in semantics, and so the big-time propaganda stunt went down the drain. They [Russia] wanted to impress the rest of the world with their peace-loving gesture, but the end result was the same: an act of aggression.

While the status of the terroristic separatists in the Donbas keeps going from bad to worse (with their mobilization reserves being practically exhausted and combat ones approaching zero mark, making their days counted unless supported from abroad), Moscow needs a standing crisis in the east of Ukraine.

Russia’s task is simple: Kyiv must be forced to comply with Moscow’s requirements. Another reason behind the protracting of the [armed] conflict [between Russia and Ukraine] is the hope that this winter will be harder for Ukraine to bear, that its economic and social situation will get so bad, the Ukrainian people will force President Poroshenko to meet Moscow’s terms and conditions. Then Europe will applaud Russia because it needs peace in Ukraine, at all costs. Berlin, Paris, and Rome aren’t worried too much about what price Ukraine will have to pay. This is part of Putin’s strategy.

The second task assigned the invading column consisted in opening a second front in the southern Donbas. [Russia] needs a separatist-controlled territory on the coast of the    Sea of Azov to use it as a supply       route, pose a real threat to Mariupol, make ATO forces stretch in this direction, and thus somewhat weaken the encirclement of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Horlivka. That column was on a reconnaissance-in-force mission, to assess the ATO’s assault-response and interaction capabilities. The whole mission was made in a hurry, so that some men taken prisoners of war had their Russian IDs on them. These people are giving incriminating testimonies.

Moscow is keeping a poker face while the major countries of the world are displaying their negative attitude, while problems are piling up within Russia.

The more units Russia sends to Ukraine, the higher the death toll. [Russia] has been using kontraktniki contract soldiers – army men formally in reserve – thus more or less keeping away from the mass media’s eye. Besides, one could always say that those were volunteers who had come to the rescue of their Russian brothers in the Donbas. There is a historically recent example. Stalin would never acknowledge the presence of Soviet officers and men in Spain during the civil war there, just as official Moscow would never acknowledge its involvement in any local conflicts. At the time, it was a matter of several hundred career officers and specialists. Today’s hostilities involve men who have no idea about where they were sent to or on what mission.

Why keep the funerals of fallen Russian desantniki marines secret and spread stupid stories about their very hush-hush missions?

Councils of soldiers’ mothers are concerned – even if only in four oblasts [of the Russian Federation] so far, but that’s the beginning. Official propaganda has its brainwashing limits, so when your son, husband or brother is reported killed in action, you tend to see what’s happening in and outside Ukraine in a different light. People are especially irritated by the absence of information. Now that we have mobile phones, Internet, Skype, social networks, listening to a please-dial-later line from one’s husband, brother or son’s number is really frightening. After the Ukrainian Internet came up with fragmented data re POWs, KIAs and MIAs, their relatives and friends rushed to the local voenkomat military registration and enlistment offices, only to meet with the bureaucratic sorry-no-contact-at-the-moment-but-your-close-and-dear-ones-are-OK cliche.

Opposition printed media is numerically weak in Russia, but the Novaya Gazeta has reported on several occasions that the morgues of Rostov-on-Don are “spilling,” with people visiting, trying to find out about their [missing] relatives. The Russian authorities are silent. Official Kyiv should try to make them put their cards on the barrel.

Russian authorities are obviously trying to disown their men taken POW in Ukraine. Stalin recognized no POWs, only traitors. Apparently some of his Kremlin successors are trying to uphold the tradition.

Lidia Sviridova, chairperson of the Council of Soldiers’ Mothers in Saratov, told a news conference that the Ukrainian military had informed about a Russian member of the captured (August 21, 2014) BMD-2 airborne combat vehicle’s crew by the name of Ilya Maksimov, and that on August 22 the man’s family was visited by a district police officer who told them the FSB [Russia’s secret police] were gathering data on him. Ilya’s mother said this could lead to a court-martial on charges of desertion, so that “even if they let him go [in Ukraine], he’ll return to be thrown behind bars.” She said she knew of such cases.

Anton Naumliuk’s Twitter reads that the Russian Petr Khokhlov, resident of Novouzensk, Saratov oblast, taken POW in Ukraine, has been proclaimed deserter in Russia.

One can understand the desire of Russian authorities to bully such servicemen’s families. Keeping [their missions and their deaths] secret should help [or so they believe]. The longer their families hope to find them alive, the better for the authorities. This, in turn, makes it very important for the Ukrainian side to accurately inform [the other warring side] about the casualties. The more accurate this data, the harder the situation for Moscow.

Last but not least, Ukraine will never disown its heroes captured by terrorists or on Russian territory. Why not trade them? We know this from Hamas and other Arab terrorists’ practices. At one time they traded an Israeli corporal for over a thousand of their men. Moscow could offer such a deal [to Ukraine], on a full scale: you give us all your captives in return for all of your desantniki we have. A more than fair deal, compared to Hamas (I wonder why it is so popular in Moscow), starting, of course, with Nadia Savchenko and Oleh Sentsov. Russian spies are a different matter. Their names shouldn’t be on the POW exchange lists.

All this should be done with maximum media/Internet coverage. Then we would watch the Kremlin trying to dodge, maybe someone else would get “lost” in Ukraine.

It is necessary to bear in mind that Russia’s military, economic, and diplomatic pressure on Ukraine will keep increasing. They will try to open new fronts in the Donbas and in Odesa oblast. Perhaps we should consider the possibility of opening a new front in Russia. I mean information warfare. The larger the number of Russian soldiers’ mothers getting concerned about their sons, the better. Let them have this weapon of truth. We are on the right side.