Conflict in Ukraine – a Funny Kind of War

April 2, 2014 § Leave a comment


As tension over Ukraine grows with every passing day the question is no longer ”will Russia cease and retreat?” but ”will Russia continue its conquest?”.

Media, commentators, tweeps, diplomats, military representatives – all echo the same defensive apprehension. Sentiments of belligerence and defiance are toned down, couched in measured diplomacy so as not to draw ire from the rabid bear rollicking through the sitting room. A hush has fallen over Ukraine.

The world appears to have resigned itself to acceptance of Russian ownership of Crimea, in practical rather than legal terms: Ukraine, alone, cannot regain Crimea either by diplomacy or force. The United Nations, divided in three camps over the resolution to affirm Ukraine’s sovereignity, is all but powerless due to Russia’s veto in the Security Council. And NATO, having stated that it will stick to Article 5 of its charter, can only offer token support outside of its member states’ borders. Meanwhile, Russia, flush with an almost bloodless victory, can sit back and let time pass, waiting for another remote world event to take media precedence.

This time however the world will not look away. The ”crisis in Ukraine” cannot be diverted by bombslingers in Balochistan or tsunamis in Taiwan. The crisis, or rather ”war-like aggression”, will not go away until Russia retreats behind the border she so brazenly violated. She can go kicking and screaming like a petulant child, she can go quietly in newfound shame and regret over her transgression, or she can be forcibly turned back after a convincing show of arms. Neither of the two former options are likely. The third, unpalatable as it is, seems all the more necessary.

The ”situation” in Ukraine, comfortably couched in non-offending neospeak, is more accurately described as war. Yes, there have been only a few casualties – excepting the 100+ dead in the Maidan uprising who technically do not belong in the same category: they are domestic casualties – less than 10 dead in shootings, stabbings and violent scuffles. The casualties do not speak of war. Nor does the absence of missile salvoes, tank main gun fire, gunship rocketry et cetera spell of war. It is all too quiet. Ukraine does not fight back. Yet war it is. A border has been violated. Victims have fallen. A country has been invaded. An aggressor has annexed a territory. That is war.

War, remodelled
This is the soft war, a new asymmetrical war that does not manifest itself with shadowy guerillas, IED’s and surprise hostage ops. It is a comparably silent war, yet one that promises violence and extreme prejudice if not subordinated to. It is one part ”special war” and one part ”ordinary war”: the ordinary war is served to the population at large and the media in particular and incorporates the usual ”shock and awe” component of low-flying attack helicopters, battalions of motorized infantry and trainloads of heavy artillery. It is displayed for one reason: to instil fear, to intimidate, to suppress. This army does not need to fire its guns. It is not there to fight, just yet anyway, it is merely for show. Verily, had the army opened fire it would have provoked an immediate and righteous response: it would have eliminated its chance of subtle conquest and hastened international condemnation. Everything depended on intimidation.

The special war, so termed by John Schindler, professor of national security affairs at the US Naval War College, is characterized by its headline-avoiding subversion: beatings, whispered threats, general bullying, assassinations, the planting of false evidence, diversionary acts, sabotage, repression, ”cyberwar” activities such as denial-of-service attacks, commentators paid to troll, divert and bully netizens, hacktivism et cetera. The ”special war” supports the political agenda – it precedes it, enables it and protects it. In Ukraine, Russia has deployed every measure here described, and then some. When these two disciplines – ordinary war and special war – come together in support of the political agenda as a modern flavor of gunboat diplomacy, traditional response stands impotent.

Russia may think she has gotten away with it. Not so. The UN has formally denounced Russia’s aggression and will NEVER let it pass. NATO is gearing up, suggesting that its members increase military spending, priming regulars for immediate action, shunting assets forward and, most likely, surreptiously making sure that is has capability in place to wage war to its liking.

Just like Nazi Germany was doomed from the very moment the first shell flew from the battleship Schleswig-Holstein toward the Polish garrison at Danzig’s Westerplatte, Russia has taken an irrevocable step toward ultimate defeat by her invasion of Ukraine. Whatever form that defeat will assume is yet to be seen, and let us hope that it too may be a bloodless one, but mark my word, a defeat it will be.


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