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Donetsk Airport – Blind symbolism

January 22, 2015

Not one word has ever been written here about the fighting at Donetsk airport or those that became known as “Cyborgs” who defended was became nothing more than a pile of rubble.

It was a very deliberate choice not to write about it.

That choice was made long ago when it became clear that the symbolic nature of the airport and its numerous associated battles, had taken on a life of its own within the Ukrainian (and foreign) media, and Ukrainian political elite.  A life of its own that tactically was always likely to end in disappointment unless Ukraine mobilised in a serious way and made robust efforts to consistently support the poor souls charged with perpetuating that symbolism amongst the rubble of the terminal.  Neither meaningful mobilisation or consistent support came.

Thus, it was far better to write nothing at all over what appeared to be a poor tactical decision relating to a symbol that was nothing more than a pile of rubble.  Why perpetuate such symbolism when such an unsurprising outcome consistently threatened?

So this is not a “told you so” entry – as you were never “told so” here.  Neither is it in any way disparaging of those who fought and died/suffered injury to defend a pile of rubble, with absolutely no strategic value, due to dubious military/political leadership.  Their sacrifice should never be forgotten – and neither should the poor decision making that caused such sacrifice.

When symbolism blinds tactical (and strategic) sense, it is the decision makers who must accept their responsibilities for the outcomes.  When such symbols are perpetually likely fall, then they are far better being recast consistently in the media as anything but, lest they become out-sized propaganda for your foe unnecessarily.  A situation that has seemingly now occurred at Donetsk airport.

As stated, the airport has almost zero strategic value.  There is nothing gained by Russian military aircraft being based on the Ukrainian side of the border when the Russian border so close.  Is there a strategic value in flight time, or flight distances, or time to target, quite literally flying from one side of the border or the other in this instance?  The simple answer is “no”.

Is there a strategic value in creating a DNR air force that would be rightly shot out of the sky by Ukrainian air defence the moment it took off?  Again, “no”.

By way of propaganda, of course, The Kremlin now has its day (again).

If the runways can be repaired – the airport finally falling (of course coincidentally) at the same time as agreements were reached by Russian and Ukrainian FMs to withdraw heavy artillery, (thus preventing a continuous peppering of any repairs), then flying a few “humanit-air-an” aid planes in and out, for no other reason than to prove Ukraine cannot control its airspace, further publicly undermining Ukrainian sovereignty, is certainly a possibility.  After all it is very unlikely Kyiv will want to shoot down a plane labeled “aid”, the flight(s) of which are reported throughout the media in advance.  A flight or two across to Crimea to really provoke or undermine Kyiv perhaps.

Naturally now, hopes have to be that the Ukrainian forces instead of being deflated are instead, re-energised.  Extreme care is now necessary to avoid gifting The Kremlin yet another “symbolic” win, rather than just a “tactical” win somewhere.  This war is far from over after all.

Now Ukraine must hold the line – a sensible and defensible line – and regardless of what The Kremlin does, neither deviate, nor slow, nor compromise upon its chosen course if it is to honour the “cyborgs” that displayed incredible courage despite mounting odds and continued poor leadership.  A more serious, larger scale mobilisation is also worthy of consideration.

A sad and in so many ways unnecessary (for many reasons) entry, that will end with Ode to Joy at Donetsk airport less than one year ago.

Back to the usual broad-brush policy stuff tomorrow.

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