On Friday, May 7, 2021, the Policy Insights Forum (PIF) was pleased to welcome Colonel Viktor Siromakha, Defence Attaché of the Embassy of Ukraine to Canada. The event was hosted and moderated by Dr. J. Paul de B. Taillon, Vice-Chair of the Policy Insights Forum and Senior Academic Advisor to Samuel Associates. The topic of this PIF event was the ongoing military situation in Ukraine and addressed the current military situation at the border between Ukraine and the Russian Federation and its repercussions.
The first notable information is that Russia has boosted its troops at the Ukrainian border. Indeed, in a matter of three to four weeks, the Russian military presence in the region doubled. According to Col. Siromakha, this deployment constitutes an impressive feat, especially in pandemic times. The troops arrived from various parts of Russia with the mission of conducting military exercises near the frontier. Such activity has not been witnessed since August 2014. Intelligence services from Ukraine and its allies monitored and verified this deployment. Interestingly, other open sources of acquiring information, such as the social media platform TikTok, also aided in tracking the military equipment deployment of the Russian army, which sometimes travelled for thousands of kilometres to join the border region. At present, the bulk of the Russian forces is still operating in this area, developing strike capabilities and new military tools and equipment: EW mobile stations, drones, snipers with high-precision, long-distance rifles etc.
Access denial is even more decisive as the Kerch straight has been closed by Russian for foreign warships until October 30, 2021. The probability of an escalation of force into an armed conflict between the two countries depends on Ukraine's resilience and the support of its allies. Russia can go further into Ukraine but turning this idea into a reality is another big question. Ukraine is not at the same place it was back in 2014. It is ready to face what is coming, according to Col. Siromakha.
Russia's main objective is to maintain Ukraine in its sphere of influence. The deep historical and cultural links existing between both countries are at the heart of this aspiration. Therefore, Russia uses different tools for Ukraine not to join NATO. These tools include propaganda to intimidate Ukraine and to put pressure on it to agree on the Moscow requirements for the different disputed territories, especially Crimea. Russia is hinting at possible military engagement in Ukraine, and the ardour she exudes is perceived as quite threatening.
Additionally, the Russian Federation is seeking to metamorphose Crimea into a consequential military base that gives access to the Black Sea and thus to the Mediterranean.
There might be other reasons for Russia to act now instead of at another timeline. According to Col. Siromakha, some of them include testing the Biden administration, examine NATO's response, distract the public from the Alex Navalny issue, and finally boosting its ratings for the next Parliamentary elections.
Finally, Ukraine's priorities need to be kept in mind. The first priority for Ukraine is to develop its defence capabilities. This will contribute to building a safer and more secure Ukraine and appease the tensions in the region. In that regard, incorporating Crimea back into Ukraine via the implementation of the Crimean Platform Initiative is a fundamental goal of Ukraine. The second top priority concerns the relations with NATO and the evolution of the Membership Action Plan (MAP). That is a current top priority for Ukraine leaders. The support of Ukraine's allies is therefore essential. These allies include the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, neighbouring countries of the Black Sea region, Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. Developing interoperability is a short-term goal of Ukraine. Another interesting final point Col. Siromakha raised during the conference was the Russian activity in the Arctic that we need to be mindful of.