Ukraine, Russia spin their sto­ries as ten­sions soar

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY TODD WOOD L. Todd Wood is a for­mer special op­er­a­tions he­li­copter pi­lot and Wall Street debt trader, and has con­trib­uted to Fox Busi­ness, The Moscow Times, Na­tional Re­view, the New York Post and many other pub­li­ca­tions. He can be reached through his we

As win­ter ap­proaches, the tem­per­a­ture has got­ten ex­po­nen­tially hot­ter on the Crimean Penin­sula and Ukraine’s bor­der with Russia. It is as if both Moscow and Kiev can see the writ­ing on the wall, that a fi­nal so­lu­tion is about to be im­posed to the smol­der­ing con­test for dom­i­nance in Ukraine’s Don­bass re­gion.

Al­though there is no hot war in Crimea, twice in the last sev­eral months, Russia has ex­pressed out­rage at al­leged ac­tions by Ukrainian “special forces” troops in­side Crimea, which is now firmly un­der Rus­sian con­trol.

The sup­posed ter­ror­ist sab­o­tage has been ac­com­pa­nied by claims of ab­duc­tions of Rus­sian na­tion­als.

What ac­tu­ally hap­pened is any­one’s guess, and only the world’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies know the true story. What is im­por­tant are not the ac­tual facts on the ground but the nar­ra­tive that each side is try­ing to spin in the in­ter­na­tional press.

Russia wants to por­tray Ukraine as the ag­gres­sor, pos­si­bly to set up jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for mil­i­tary ac­tion in Don­bass or even fur­ther into Ukraine proper.

Or per­haps Moscow’s ac­cu­sa­tions are meant for the do­mes­tic au­di­ence, to re­mind or­di­nary Rus­sians of the per­ceived dan­ger to their com­pa­tri­ots in Crimea, even as an­other bru­tal win­ter and a sea­son of con­tin­ued eco­nomic de­cline set­tle in. Russia re­cently moved two mo­tor­ized ri­fle di­vi­sions to the Ukrainian bor­der. It is safe to say, Kiev no­ticed.

For their part, the Ukraini­ans are also clearly prep­ping the jour­nal­is­tic bat­tle­field.

The per­ceived shift in the Amer­i­can pol­icy to­ward re­duced sup­port for Ukraine un­der the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has been no­ticed in Kiev as well.

Ukraine’s nar­ra­tive is that it is fac­ing de­struc­tion from a ex­po­nen­tially more pow­er­ful neigh­bor. Kiev may even be in­ten­tion­ally pok­ing the Rus­sian bear in or­der to ob­tain sym­pa­thy and at­ten­tion from a West that is much more fo­cused on its own prob­lems. Per­haps Ukraine wants to force the Trump tran­si­tion team to take no­tice and re­con­sider what a Rus­sian vic­tory in Ukraine would mean for Europe and NATO.

Ratch­et­ing up ten­sions even more, Ukraine just con­ducted sur­face-toair mis­sile tests near the Crimean Penin­sula, even declar­ing Crimean ter­ri­to­rial waters “dan­ger ar­eas.” Moscow re­sponded by po­si­tion­ing ad­di­tional war­ships in the Black Sea off the Ukrainian coast, set­ting up an im­pen­e­tra­ble air de­fense net­work for the new Rus­sian ter­ri­tory, with its weapon sys­tems re­port­edly on hair-trig­ger set­tings to in­stantly shoot down any er­rant air­craft Moscow doesn’t like.

It seems both sides have con­cluded the fi­nal con­fronta­tion is com­ing and are prepar­ing for the worst. Ukraine is ob­vi­ously very wor­ried about Russia tak­ing things to the next level, and are con­cerned Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s am­biva­lence to­ward Ukraine and NATO has em­bold­ened Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to take ad­van­tage of the U.S. tran­si­tion pe­riod, when the pres­i­dent-elect will be learn­ing the ropes.

It seems un­likely that Mr. Putin would take more ter­ri­tory and face the ob­vi­ous con­se­quences that would fol­low, that he would be so reck­less in or­der to fur­ther his dreams of Rus­sian em­pire.

How­ever, re­tired Gen. Jack Keane, who re­cently turned down Mr. Trump’s of­fer to be sec­re­tary of de­fense, just put out a warn­ing that Mr. Putin could over­run the Baltics in the next 50 days. Gen. Keane, a se­ri­ous man, doesn’t make such com­ments lightly.

Once again, 70 years since the last great war, the chill of war is be­ing felt in Europe. One would hope the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has its eyes wide open to the hor­rific pos­si­bil­i­ties in an area where 10,000 peo­ple have al­ready died since the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Pres­i­dent Obama has left Mr. Trump with a geopo­lit­i­cal mess, and not just in Ukraine. How­ever, the pos­si­bil­ity of an­other all-out war in Europe should be at the top of the next pres­i­dent’s pri­or­ity list.

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