Renewed: 11.02.2016, 23:16

11 February 2016 23:10

The world turns blind eye to Putin´s secret war

Russia has occupied Ukraine and threatens other neighbours

Article appeared in The Times; February 11, 2016

Riho Terras

You may have forgotten, but a war is raging in Europe. Since the signing of Minsk-2 ceasefire a year ago, more than 380 Ukrainian soldiers have died in combat and nearly 1,700 have been wounded. During the first three weeks of this year, 22 Ukrainians were killed in action. That’s one dead Ukrainian soldier every day. That is not an armistice, let alone peace. That is war.

And it’s a war Ukraine neither started nor wanted. It was Russia, who invaded and annexed Crimea and then unleashed a war in eastern Ukraine. Local separatists are now commanded by Russian officers and come under the Southern Military District of the Russian Federation. So parts of Ukraine are under de facto military occupation by Russia.

As Lithuania’s foreign minister quipped: “Putin is the best peacekeeper — he breaks down the country and keeps the pieces.”

But Ukraine is not “a faraway country about which we know nothing”. It is in the middle of Europe and has a common border with four Nato member states (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania). 

As a signal of intent, Russia has re-created its 1st Tank Army. This comprises a tank division, tank brigade, mechanized infantry division and artillery brigade. This single formation has more main battle tanks then the German Bundeswehr or the British Army and is designed for offensive, not defensive, operations. 

At the same time, the Kremlin has installed long-range missile systems in Crimea and in the vicinity of the Baltic states. Combined with Iskander-M ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles, these are designed to deter any Nato response in times of crisis — or when alliance member states are attacked. Mr Putin formally declared Nato a “security threat” to Russia six weeks ago.

He certainly isn’t trying to bring peace to Syria. He simply wants to vanquish all of Bashar al-Assad’s enemies and keep the president in power. His strategy is simple: just as in Chechnya, he is using overwhelming force — indiscriminate artillery strikes, bombing raids, forced removals of population and extrajudicial killings — until the opposition is no more.

As a Nato soldier I was always taught that our alliance is based on values: respect for human life and human rights, the rule of law, and governments elected freely and fairly. I’m sure they are shared by all members and citizens of Nato. But if that is the case, how can we stand by when a regime breaks countries into pieces and then keeps those pieces? And kills thousands of civilians in the process?

Lieutenant General Riho Terras is the Commander of Estonian Defence Forces

Headquarters of the Estonian Defence Forces, 717 1900, mil[at]mil.ee, Juhkentali 58, EE15007, Tallinn, Estonia.

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