How Russia is expanding its influence in Ukraine


AAgain and again the West worries that Russia might invade Ukraine. And not covertly, as in 2014, when only the “green men” in the Crimea were recognized as Russian troops with a delay, but openly. Similar to just recently, last spring, pictures of tanks from places like Voronezh in western Russia are making the rounds through social networks; They are mostly filmed from passing cars. In addition, there are impressive information about troops that Russia has drawn together on its western borders; in Kiev the number was given as 114,000.

In order for such figures to be meaningful, however, one would have to take as a basis how many soldiers Russia has permanently stationed in the western and southern Russian military districts (the latter also includes the annexed Ukrainian Crimea). Such an invoice has not yet been issued. The strength of the Ukrainian armed forces is estimated at a good quarter of a million. Moscow routinely rejects Western concerns and stresses that they are not a threat to anyone; In addition, as always against Western allegations, President Vladimir Putin raises his own allegations; in this case it is about voyages of American warships through the Black Sea, which Moscow upgraded to an “unannounced” NATO maneuver.

No new propaganda offensive

So far Moscow has not launched a new propaganda offensive against Ukraine that goes beyond what has been customary for years. That was not the case during the spring march, when Kiev was furiously accused of plans to attack the “People’s Republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk, as well as atrocities against civilians. Unlike in the spring, there are currently no Russian reports on “spontaneous combat readiness exercises” in the context of which the troop movements took place before they were publicly terminated at the end of April. That was only available these days for the Belarusian region of Grodno, which was at the center of the migration crisis orchestrated by Minsk ruler Alexandr Lukashenko. Russian paratroopers who are said to have returned were sent there at the end of last week.

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Andrei Kortunow of the Russian Council for International Affairs, an official Moscow think tank, said during the spring march that the idea of ​​joining the eastern Ukrainian territories to Russia would become “more popular” and, whispered about a great war, could stumble into “Europe” as it did in 1914 Relations between Moscow and Kiev have not improved since then. In Ukraine, for example, the pro-Russian politician Viktor Medwetschuk, a companion of Putin, has been charged with treason. Last month, Moscow angered the use of a Turkish Bayraktar drone by the Ukrainian armed forces in Donbass, a weapon that contributed to the victory of the Azerbaijani troops under ruler Ilham Aliyev over Armenian troops in the battle over the conflict area of ​​Nagornyi Karabakh a year ago.

Not enough forces for a “serious” military operation

President Volodymyr Zelenskyj wanted to “perhaps try to become a Ukrainian Aliyev”, the news portal The Moscow Times quoted the observer Kortunov as conveying Moscow concerns that Ukraine might try to recapture the “People’s Republics” militarily. But for Kortunov there is currently everything in favor of treating Russia’s actions as mere deterrents. There are not enough forces at the border for a “serious” military operation. “I honestly see no basis for expecting an invasion,” Kortunov told the Moscow Times. “I don’t know what it would achieve. The losses would be great and the possible gains would be very limited. “

Over the invasion worries, however, lost sight of how Moscow is at the same time advancing what is described as the “creeping annexation” of the “people’s republics”. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians living in the eastern Ukrainian regions have already been naturalized by Russia. Many of these “new Russians” cast their votes last September in the elections to the Duma, the Russian lower house, online and in organized trips to the neighboring Rostov region in southwest Russia.

Invasion worries and migration crisis as a distraction

Prominent figures in the conquest of the Donbass have received Duma mandates: the writer Sachar Prilepin, who fought in Donbass, and the political advisor Alexandr Borodaj, who temporarily acted as the “head of government” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”. Borodaj, who belongs to the power party United Russia, recently said in an interview that the troops of the “People’s Republics” and Russia’s armed forces are equally “our Russian people”, there is no difference. Officially, it is also said that there are no active Russian armed forces in the “People’s Republics”.

In fact, the “People’s Republics” are becoming more and more connected to Russia. On Monday, Putin signed a decree called “humanitarian aid” for the “people’s republics”. Goods produced there – or at least labeled – are now allowed to be traded in unlimited quantities in Russia and can also be purchased by government agencies. One can understand this as the legalization of the shadow economy, other goods first of all coal, which has so far been brought to Russia and from there is supposed to reach the markets as domestic coal. The step is also officially referred to as an “exception” that applies “until the political settlement of the situation”. But Putin’s decree fits in with a number of corresponding measures, such as the changeover to the ruble in 2015, the recognition of “passports” of the “People’s Republics” in 2017 and the naturalizations that began in 2019. The invasion worries and the migration crisis on the Belarusian border with the EU may act as a distraction from such measures.


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