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August 24, 2015

Is Russia Priming for a Late-Summer Ukrainian Offensive?

Putin continues to take advantage of Obama’s weakness.

Back in February, Russia and Ukraine supposedly came to a cease-fire agreement meant to stop the bloodshed in the eastern part of the war-torn former Soviet republic. But after “80 to 100 violations a day,” as Gen. Viktor Muzhenko, chief of staff of Ukraine’s armed forces claims, the worry is that Vladimir Putin is ready to up the ante — and blame Ukraine.

As Austin Bay puts it, “accusing Ukraine of escalation is propaganda cover, a cynical signal that his soldiers and proxy forces have begun new offensive operations.”

Ukraine recently claimed Russia and its proxy forces were responsible for 127 attacks, a report that brought “grave concern” from Secretary of State John Kerry. His hand-wringing is meaningless, however, as Barack Obama refuses to green-light the transfer of a valuable radar system to Ukraine so as to locate the source of the constant mortar attacks Ukrainians now endure.

Furthermore, University of Chicago history professor Michael Khodarkovsky, who grew up in the old Soviet Union, noticed other disturbing parallels to the Soviet era in Putin’s Russia, particularly in the dissemination of propaganda and new reforms in the educational system to glorify communist history. “The short-lived outburst of freedom after the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in 1991 was followed by a slow return to Soviet values,” Khodarkovsky writes. “After assuming the presidency again in May 2012, Mr. Putin appointed as minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky, a man widely considered to be a crude propagandist and henchman. The appointment … marked a new aggressiveness by Mr. Putin toward reshaping the cultural and ideological landscape.”

It seems like the glasnost and perestroika that occurred thanks to Ronald Reagan’s policies is being eroded, returning us to a time reminiscent of the 1950s Cold War.

Indeed, it’s becoming more clear that Putin’s dream is to revive the old Soviet sphere of influence, so nations formerly in its orbit are understandably nervous. Ukraine is the most current hot spot, but the nation of Georgia and the small Baltic nations that once were provinces of Moscow are noting more interference from the Russians as well. As Luke Coffey, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, puts it, “Putin will do what he knows he can get away with.”

Like selling $1 billion in S-300 missiles to Iran.

Over the last several years, Russia has meddled in the affairs of several of its neighbors and former client states while the United States has fiddled and drawn meaningless red lines. Hillary Clinton’s “reset” button must have been more defective than just an incorrect translation.

The next immediate step for Russia may be an offensive along the Sea of Azov coast to create a land connection between Russia and the breakaway Crimea region it annexed last year. It would also cut Ukraine off from the sea, as the city of Mariupol is a main port which lies in that path. Given all the Russians have accomplished so far without a credible U.S. response, we can expect that battle to be over by Christmas. Obama’s inaction brings to mind former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s timeless warning from 2006: weakness is provocative. That’s especially true when it comes to our greatest geopolitical foe.

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