Monday, November 26, 2018

Some Damn Fool Thing on the Azov

By design, or more likely just the result of a compound set of events, the not-unexpected happened between Ukraine and Russia in the Kerch Strait;
Russia has opened fire on Ukrainian ships and captured three vessels in a major escalation of tensions off the coast of Crimea.

Three sailors have been wounded after the Ukrainian navy said two artillery boats were hit by the strikes in the Black Sea.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko called an emergency session of his war cabinet and said he will propose that parliament declare martial law.

Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) said it used weapons after the Ukrainian ships ignored demands to stop and that it impounded three vessels which had illegally crossed the border.

The three injured sailors are receiving medical treatment and their lives are not in danger, the FSB said.

Ukraine's ambassador to the UK said Russian special forces had captured two armoured artillery boats and a tugboat in an "act of aggression".
If you missed them the first time around, in the last six months I’ve written about the set-up waiting for events to reveal themselves in the Sea of Azov. From June here, and August at USNIBlog. Give them a quick read and then come back if you have time, that way I won't have to repeat myself.

As reported by Arsen Avakov, this video is instructive. Look at the bow of the Russian ship relative to where the clouds meet the clear sky on the horizon. The tug went DIW to block, (possible backing bell right prior to collision) but the Russian ship clearly turns in to the tug.
It appears the ships taken by the Russians were the Gyurza-M Class ships BK-02 Berdiansk BERDIANSK and BK-03 NICOPOL, along with the tug YANI KAPU.

The Ukrainians, for now, are not being passive;
Poroshenko convened a military cabinet emergency meeting and later tweeted he would appeal to Parliament to declare martial law. "There are no red lines" for Russia, he said. "We consider such actions categorically unacceptable. And this aggression has already led to consequences."

The Azov Sea is an important economic lifeline for Ukraine, as it links the port city of Mariupol with the Black Sea. Both Ukraine and Russia share the Azov Sea: According to TASS, a 2003 treaty confirms the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait as domestic waters of Russia and Ukraine.

In a statement to CNN, NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu said NATO "fully supports Ukraine's sovereignty and its territorial integrity" and is calling on Russia "to ensure unhindered access to Ukrainian ports in the Azov Sea." The European Union echoed the latter sentiment.

"NATO is closely monitoring developments in the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait, and we are in contact with the Ukrainian authorities. We call for restraint and de-escalation," the statement said.
The next play of a hand will come at 11:00 Eastern with a meeting of the UN Security Counsel.

So far, the best reaction I’ve seen is from the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and about catches it right;

Though some will try to make this some kind of planned event, I don’t think so. The last time the Russians (nee Soviets) initiated a conflict in November was the Winter War with Finland, and that did not go all that well for them - but only a fool would try to predict what Russia would do.

The right questions is what they could do.

What this is, is an opportunity. Ukrainian elections are in less than five months. Russia’s traditional European rivals are in tatters. The British are weak and obsessed with Brexit. France has an unpopular and ineffective President and a people more inclined to internal conflict to external, and Germany is impotent, distracted, and incapable.

The United States has no treaty obligations and though sympathetic to the Ukrainians, no leader of political movement has any desire to put boots the ground - and nor should we.

This is an opportunity to further destabilize the European Union. Poland is strong. The Baltic Republics are waking up. Much of the old Warsaw Pact are worried, but weak - relying on EU and NATO to give them cover.

Is this an opportunity for a weak Putin to go for the cheap patriotic war to settle some outstanding border issues?

Wars have started for worse reasons with less favorable circumstances.

Ukraine has friends, but none who will fight for her.

Most likely COA from Russia? Squeeze every little bit of chaos and disruption they can out of this event short of war. 

What worries me most about this COA is that the Russians think they can control events this close to the edge.

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