For the second time Putin admits military in Ukraine – The timing?December 18, 2015
During the Russian President’s annual press conference of 17th December, President Putin admitted that there were Russian military personnel in the occupied Donbas “We never said there were not people there who carried out certain tasks including in the military sphere.” He insisted that they were not regular troops, thus inferring something “harmless”, such as military observers (GRU intelligence operatives).
The media and diplomatic community jumped upon the statement as a first public admission of Russian military action in the occupied Donbas.
Except it is actually the second public admission of Russian military action within the occupied Donbas – not the first.
Today Russian President for the first time publicly admitted the presence of Russian military in Donbas #StopRussianAggression
— Петро Порошенко (@poroshenko) December 17, 2015
It seems the Ukrainian President is not fully briefed by his people on OSINT (Open-Source Intelligence) either – that or they are simply not paying attention to what President Putin says when he is on his travels.
Many months ago in an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, President Putin clearly, and for the first time publicly and on the record stated “All our actions, including those with the use of force, were aimed not at tearing away this territory from Ukraine but at giving the people living there an opportunity to express their opinion on how they want to live their lives.”
It certainly wasn’t missed by everybody, as Sir Lawrence Freedman, Dr Alex Clarkson and this blog briefly exchanged views regarding the statement at the time in the public realm.
Indeed the statement of the Russian President in his annual “presser” may be interpreted by some as something of a step back from his statement to Corriere della Sera some months ago.
Whatever the case, neither public presidential statement says anything that everybody didn’t know already – and both fail to do justice to the size, cost and scale of armour and personnel sent into the occupied Donbas to confront Ukraine.
The question is why there is (another) such a public admission now? If we are to accept the public statement to Corriere della Sera as a less than prudent slip of the tongue, that fortunately for Mr Putin seems to have been ignored by (almost) all, then the annual “presser” statement was made in the full knowledge that it would certainly not be missed.
Was it made in the knowledge that as sanctions are assured to be extended, there was nothing to lose by admitting some (though heavily emphasised not “regular”) military personnel in the occupied Donbas as insurance against any more getting detained, but as a cover for any more being spotted whilst there to carry out nefarious activities?
If not, what does that infer? Military for military prisoner swaps?
Is it an acknowledgement that a little of the truth was required for the Russian domestic audience following a recent poll that stated most Russians no longer believe the propaganda they are fed by Kremlin controlled media? An acknowledgement that there was a need to buy back a little domestic faith in the Kremlin propaganda machinery?
Was it simply a matter of (un)fortunate timing the statement coincided with Ukrainian President Poroshenko being with NATO as deals were getting signed? If so was that good or bad timing, for who, and for which audience was the statement intended? As Kremlin foreign policy is driven by its domestic policy first and foremost, presumably all answers of the “Putin presser” where framed for the domestic audience primarily.
Does the statement presage a notable infusion of Russian military personnel on the horizon whereby it is assured some will be captured and the “sting” taken out of unhelpful press headlines when they are via this statement? A case of we said we had some personnel there, what’s the fuss?
Certainly one look at the (rather fanciful) Russian budget for 2016 clearly shows a statement of intent. The Military/defence and the repressive domestic State institutions see increased spending, when everything else sees budgets slashed. Ergo 2016 will see no change in Kremlin foreign or domestic policy when following the money. Syria and Ukraine can expect no change of policy any more than the Russian citizen now witnessing living standards fall. Relations with Turkey will not dramatically improve either – not that anybody would expect them to.
Indeed the region and the world can expect more of the same in 2016 from The Kremlin – well they should be expecting it on the presumption they are not missing the public OSINT signposts so helpfully placed by The Kremlin.
That said, when it seems almost everybody missed, or willfully ignored, President Putin public admission/statement regarding the use of force within Ukraine months ago, perhaps 2016 will see a continued and entirely foolish determination by the West to maintain a pretence of (possible) partnership (Syria), or that of mere competitor (Ukraine), when a clear-eyed “big picture” view is one of an unambiguous adversary (throughout the region), it seems very possible that all the helpfully placed Kremlin policy OSINT public signposts will be willfully and wantonly ignored – again.
Whatever the case, Mr Putin’s statements of months ago, and of 17th December, regarding Ukraine hardly amount to revelatory news, albeit allowing for some easy (and no doubt thoroughly enjoyed) diplomatic point scoring. All Ukrainian media eyes will be focused upon the EU decision of 18th December regarding the recommendation of granting of Visa-free for the nation at some point during mid/late 2016 – or not – despite the fact that the Ukrainian political elite have done the absolute bear minimum to meet the requirements.
Indeed few would be surprised that if and when a date is given to commence Visa-free (which is quite possible) that it will be provisional with the caveat that all established anti-corruption bodies are not only actively working, but also bringing definitive results before the identified date to remove the need to get Visa’s for a 90 day stay becomes activated.