By Diane M. Francis.
Negotiations begin this week as Russia and America, and later NATO members, deal with another round of Ukrainian invasion threats. But the press has all but ignored an interview with Putin’s former Chief Economic Advisor from 2000 to 2005, Dr. Andrei Illarionov, who believes that the “crisis” is a bluff driven in large measure by western media.
On December 17, Illarionov granted an hour-long interview at the Westminister Institute concerning Ukraine after returning from a fact-finding mission there. He debunks the “crisis” and puts forth three critically important assertions: That the reported 94,000 Russian troops readying for an invasion, or even some estimates 120,000, are insufficient to mount an invasion. For instance, the Soviets sent in 500,000 troops to take over Czechoslovakia in 1965 even after the Czechs ordered their army to stand down – a country which was, at that time, only one-eighth the size of Ukraine with one-third its population.
Secondly, the numbers are not an escalation. “Those movements [of Russian troops and equipment along the Ukraine border] that we have seen over the last month-and-a-half do not differ much from what we have seen in [the] previous eight years. In March and April 2021, the number of so-called battalions tactical groups was 53 located on the Ukrainian border. Today, it is 40, 13 groups less. It is one-fifth or one-quarter less than it was six or seven months ago,” he said.
Thirdly, he points out that invasion troop movements are always hidden, but these have been posted on social media or accessible by satellite. By contrast, Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 by 100,000 troops was “undetectable” in advance, he said.
Lastly, he said an invasion and occupation would be a bloodbath and destabilize and isolate Putin’s regime because of Ukraine’s powerful armed force, he said.
In 2014, Ukraine was partially invaded only because only 6,000 combat troops remained and its government was in chaos. Today, Ukraine’s armed forces are second only to Russia’s in size in Europe, are battle-hardened, and backed by a fiercely anti-Kremlin populace.
Illarionov said: “We know, and that has been confirmed, that the number of Russian troops is 94,000, but the Ukrainian military force is comprised of 255,000 troops, plus 200,000 reservists, which are at a very high level of alerts, plus 400,000 veterans of this operation in the east of Ukraine that are ready to be mobilized within several hours,” he said. “We are talking about roughly 850,000 troops that are ready to fight, and they are really ready to fight today compared to 2014 when, due to psychological problems, [the] Ukrainian army was not ready to fight, at least initially,” he said. “Mr. Putin … really wants to establish control over Ukraine, but he is not stupid.”
Active/Reserve military personnel of countries in Europe: Ukraine with 1,205,000 is second only to Russia and ahead of Turkey. Globalfirepower.com
So why has this drumbeat of imminent invasion occurred, resulting in another summit and more meetings?
Illarionov believes that unfounded speculation by western newspapers morphed into a “disinformation campaign”, enhanced by the Kremlin, and created a full-blown propagandized invasion threat. In late October stories appeared in Washington and Berlin about the specter of an assault against Ukraine, then a bandwagon effect ensued as media outlets competed to provide stories based on sources and escalating potential outcomes. This left many quizzical, including a highly influential Ukrainian source and a friend of mine, who replied to me tersely in late December regarding an invasion: “Yes some buildup. No invasion.”
Most interesting is that Illarionov believes that Putin didn’t orchestrate this propaganda campaign but joined in “to exploit this campaign for his own favor. Aha! You are going to say that I am going to threaten Ukraine? Okay, I am ready to play this game, and I would support your claims,” he posited.
After a similar fuss concerning a “build-up” of troops occurred in April, a summit was held with President Joe Biden and matters calmed down. What changed? Illarionov said that Putin’s provocative 5,000-word screed published in July was rightly ridiculed by Ukraine’s President and “infuriated” him. In August, cutbacks in natural gas shipments to Europe began which jammed up prices and this was followed by the smuggling through Belarus of thousands of Middle East refugees into Poland.
Media alarmism about an invasion continued, even resulting in the press and pundits speculating that its timing would be when the ground was frozen enough for a tank-driven onslaught to occur. Russian spokesmen fanned the flames with threats. Putin strings it along because he can.
“He (Putin) is trying to get something with so-called tough diplomacy, (something) he cannot achieve as a result of military conquest,“
said Illarionov. “He understands that he does not have enough forces to occupy Ukraine or to defeat Ukraine at least in the way that he would like to get it, so that is why I see he [is] creating these threats and he is trying to use these threats against NATO leaders, or Biden or whoever else — not against Ukraine, because Ukrainians know very well the quality of Russian forces, as well they know the quality of Ukrainian forces. They are more or less equal, and the eight-year-long war has shown very clearly that the two armies [are] essentially very close to each other by quality of personnel, so that is why there will be no easy work for Putin [getting] into Ukraine.”
So a major series of summits are convened on threats that may be concocted. And the only escalation going on has been Putin’s demands which include a demand that NATO membership should be pruned back to its roster in 1990. It was firmly rejected but served to terrorize several countries.
Putin is demanding control dating back of NATO’s most recent members: the Baltics, Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria
This is preposterous, says Illarionov. “He [Putin] is trying to get something with so-called tough diplomacy, [something] he cannot achieve as a result of military conquest. He understands that he does not have enough forces to occupy Ukraine or to defeat Ukraine at least in the way that he would like to get it, so that is why I see he [is] creating these threats and he is trying to use these threats against NATO leaders, or Biden or whoever else — not against Ukraine, because Ukrainians know very well the quality of Russian forces, as well they know the quality of Ukrainian forces. They are more or less equal, and the eight-year-long war has shown very clearly that the two armies [are] essentially very close to each other by quality of personnel, so that is why there will be no easy work for Putin [getting] into Ukraine.”
It appears that it’s time to call Putin’s bluff. He conducted a hybrid war against Europe for years. He’s sown chaos and flouts international laws, treaties, and norms. The Americans and others should meet, listen to Putin’s concocted grievances, support Ukraine, and establish red lines with severe and automatic economic sanctions attached. This is a game and Vlad is an opportunist, not a victim.
Published in cooperation with the author and her newsletter – Diane Francis Newsletter on America and the World https://dianefrancis.substack.com/about