It appears to follow a pattern that would pave the way for a Russian invasion, according to a new analysis.
The recent pattern of pro-Russian unrest and fierce fighting in eastern Ukraine resembles a Russian military playbook used in exercises simulating invasion drills, according to a new analysis.
The analysis, by ex-NATO commander Wesley Clark and Phillip Karber, a former Defense official in the Reagan administration, comes as Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko unveiled a 14-point peace plan Friday.
The plan was announced despite NATO evidence, disputed by Russia, that President Vladimir Putin is resuming his nation's buildup of troops near the Ukrainian border.
Poroshenko ordered his forces to cease fire Friday for seven days, ending June 27, when he is expected to sign an association agreement with the European Union.
The analysis by Clark and Karber, which is based on 35 meetings they held in Ukraine with members of the military and political leadership there, shows that clashes between ethnic Russians and Ukrainian government forces fit a model long practiced by the Russian military — and the Soviet Union before that.
Under this model, taken from Russia's Exercise Zapad and employed notably in the nation's 2008 invasion of Georgia, Russia uses a "presumed condition of ethnic conflict" in order to place special forces behind enemy lines, according to the analysis.
The exercises then typically follow through with simulated large ground assaults against former Warsaw Pact members and former Soviet Republics.
Ukraine is a former Soviet Republic.
The exercises climax with the simulated use of nuclear weapons.
An earlier version of the pair's analysis included a recommendation, adopted by the White House, to provide the Ukrainian military with non-lethal aid such as body armor, night-vision goggles and secure communications.
The assessment now recommends that the West provide Ukraine with hundreds of Humvees, armed with advanced surveillance and communications equipment and anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, that could operate as small, highly mobile teams to counter any invasion force.
The analysis lists several other ways the Ukrainian unrest matches the Zapad exercises:
• The unrest has been marked by a level of coordination and leadership by Russian citizens and military officers that undercuts Russian official and media portrayals of indigenous uprisings to protect the rights of ethnic Russians.
• Evidence of Russian leadership and military equipment has been documented in multiple images and news reports from Ukraine.
• Geographically, the violence is focused in an area of Ukraine's southeast where the terrain is least interrupted by marshes and rivers, making it the hardest for Ukrainian troops to defend against a ground assault.
The turmoil in Ukraine began late last year, when the country's former president, Viktor Yanukovych, conceded to pressure by Putin and reneged on his pledge to pursue closer ties with the EU.
That decision touched off massive protests that eventually forced Yanukovych from power in February.
Russia reacted by annexing Ukraine's Crimea region, which was followed by a campaign of violence by pro-Russian separatists in the country's east.
Poroshenko's peace plan is the first step in what he hopes is a concrete strategy to end the conflict that has cost more than 350 lives, but he said Ukraine's troops would still return fire if attacked.
Speaking to the Associated Press, Putin's foreign policy aide, Yuri Ushakov, said Friday that the Russian president is committed to dialogue on Ukraine and is planning to have a phone conversation with President Obama in the coming days.
Janusz Bugajski, an analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, says the pattern described in the analysis — of sponsoring civil and ethnic unrest — is an old Soviet and Russian tactic "that has been refined by modern technology, more extensive channels of disinformation and professional special forces."
Moscow would prefer not to invade on a large scale but may send "'peacekeepers' on the pretext of restoring security after spending several months destabilizing the region," Bugajski said.
Source: USA Today