Analysis: Russian troops in Ukraine a 'game-changer'
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Friday, August 29, 2014 11:35AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, August 29, 2014 1:52PM EDT
The presence of 1,000 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine “is a game-changer” in the months-long conflict with Russian-backed separatists, says one analyst, but it remains unlikely that the international community will be dragged into a full-scale war.
Russian tanks began rolling into eastern Ukraine last week, according to satellite images released by NATO, and the organization confirmed the soldiers’ presence on Thursday.
The move means “bluntly drawing Ukraine and the entire world into a full-scale war,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.
Russia’s military exercises in eastern Ukraine are “a massive escalation” in its operations in that country, says University of Toronto political science professor Randall Hansen, efforts that had been focused on arming pro-Russian rebels and supporting separatist activity.
“This is an invasion,” Hansen told CTV’s Canada AM on Friday. “This is a game-changer, there’s no question about that.”
But is it enough to spur the international community to declare all-out war with Russia to protect Ukrainian sovereignty?
Word of the escalation sparked an international outcry, with Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird suggesting on Thursday that Russia was “starting to turn up the speed” on what appeared at first to be a “slow-motion invasion” of Ukraine.
Baird urged Putin to rein in his troops, and said Canada will consider further sanctions against Russian nationals. He did not elaborate.
NATO has organized air sorties over neighbouring countries such as Latvia and Lithuania, as a show of solidarity with Ukraine. However, Ukraine is not a NATO member, and so its efforts will remain limited, Hansen said.
“Of course NATO isn’t going to go to war over Ukraine,” he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said Friday that Ukraine will start making the necessary moves to apply for full NATO member status, a decision that NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said has his full support.
The international community will consider what “so far has been unthinkable,” and that is whether to provide arms and training to Ukrainian soldiers, Hansen said.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada, Vadym Prystaiko, said Thursday that Ukraine needs arms from its allies, as Russia has armed the rebels.
“Russia is not shying away from helping separatists with everything they have: anti-aircraft missiles, tanks, everything,” Prystaiko told CTV News Channel on Thursday. “So far we are not receiving any military assistance.”
Some allies have provided helmets and other “simple stuff,” he said, but “we need something to fight troops with. Real ammunition, real tanks and aircraft.”
None of Ukraine’s allies has stepped up with promises of military aid. However, NATO has floated the idea of rotating bases in the region with a small number of soldiers.
That type of promise however, is “more about drawing a line around Eastern Europe, reassuring the Baltic states, Poland, countries which for historical reasons are extremely worried,” Hansen said Friday.
“Will that make a difference with Putin? I rather doubt it. Much depends on how Ukraine can respond, and how we can help Ukraine respond, and that comes back to the very difficult issue of actually arming Ukraine and training Ukrainian soldiers.”