The press has been repeating for weeks that there is a massive buildup of the Russian military on the Russian Border with Ukraine. They talk occasionally about how the Russians have promised to, or may be retreating, just a little bit.
On April 1st, a week and a half ago, I saw an article on the NBC website that was written by a couple of reporters who had traversed that border and saw no such thing. The article said that they had driven from one end to the other, and found all quiet on Ukraine’s Eastern border. They didn’t see any troops or military equipment at all as they drove along an often unmarked border through rural countryside, stopping to talk to the people in towns and villages along the way. No one seemed very concerned about the Russians. No one was expecting a war.
At first I thought it might be an April Fool’s joke, but the actual date on the story was March 31, so it seemed unlikely. A couple of days later, an article by the same author showed up on Counterpunch, a pretty reliable counterculture blog. Meanwhile, the news of Russia’s big military buildup on the Ukrainian border has continued unabated in the mainstream news.
It’s all rather mysterious. Was it a bold face lie? Did a little ray of truth somehow shine through the mainstream news endlessly repeating misinformation? I was thinking about it one night when it struck me. I live on the US border with Canada. Well, there’s a big lake between us, but it’s still the border. In fact, the government claims a political border 100 miles wide. The border these men drove along was a very narrow strip. How far can you see from the road? How wide is a border town? The border these men experienced was a razors edge along the mid-line of a border area potentially 200 miles wide.
Even if Russia were reinforcing this political border with a military presence, its unlikely you would see or sense it from the exact border that a man can drive along. In today’s New York Times, the article on the ‘Russian Military Buildup’ named the city where they claim the buildup is occurring. Sure enough, it’s about a 50 mile drive from the actual demarcated border. Makes perfect sense, really.
But, what does it really mean? When you say to me, and to most people, that someone is building a massive military presence on their border, I visualize thousands of soldiers with tanks and guns and all that stuff soldiers conduct war with lining up along that physical border where the reporters who actually visited found no trace. If they were there, that would be pretty threatening. It might seem like they are preparing for an invasion. Worse yet, since I started writing this article, the unrest in Eastern Ukraine against their own government has grown more volatile, and the new government of Ukraine has sent out military forces to ‘restore order’.
Oddly, the current rulers of Ukraine were able to come to power because, after observing the examples of Syria and Libya, Ukrainian President Yanukovich didn’t make a significant attempt to quell the unrest in Kiev. He let it spiral out of control, and eventually left rather than face personal consequences of this decision. Unlike President’s Muamar Qaddhafi and Bashar Assad, Viktor Yanukovich did not have the level of investment in his nation to face down a western backed shakedown. How eager will the thugs who took down Yanukovich be to confront an insurgency backed by a far more powerful neighbor, and how much assistance can they rely on from the powerful, but fickle forces of the West.
Getting back to the border, Russia’s relocating of some men and equipment in a city 50 miles away seems more like a defensive maneuver, than an active threat. They already have a huge base with thousands of men, lots of equipment, and a big port in Crimea. From there they have access to another long border of Ukraine along the Black Sea. Given the exponential difference between Russia’s military resources and those of Ukraine, it doesn’t seem like some internal shifting of resources makes a whole lot of difference in the big picture. It is a political statement, not a preparation for military action.