Russia has staged tanks, fighter jets and an estimated 40,000 troops on its border with Ukraine. But don’t expect them to charge across and start a conventional war — Russia is already achieving what it wants by causing chaos.
That’s the read from a retired Army general.
“I think Putin’s smarter than to have an invasion,” Gen. Montgomery Meigs told NBC News, referring to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. “He has the whip hand with all his special-ops guys running around firing up the Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine.”
The Ukrainian government is trying to establish control over the east, where pro-Russian militants have seized government buildings in at least nine cities — a sort of slow-motion invasion from within.
On Wednesday, Ukraine sent troops into the city of Kramatorsk, near where “Russian sabotage groups” commandeered six armored personnel carriers and flew the Russian flag from them.
Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his Russian, European and Ukrainian counterparts on Thursday in Geneva. Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman,
“We want the Russian to call for armed separatist groups in eastern Ukraine to stand down and disarm,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman. “Any destabilization that’s going on inside Ukraine right now is a direct result of Russian action there.”
Russia has already annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Putin’s goal now, according to Meigs: Further destabilize the country, making it impossible to govern and scaring Ukraine from pursuing closer ties with the West.
“Why risk the negatives of a conventional military fight if he can subvert the thing?” the general said. “Everything falls his way. And he scares the willies out of all the border countries.”
He mentioned Romania and Poland, plus the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
All five are NATO members. Ukraine is not. The secretary-general of NATO said Wednesday that it will fly more policing missions, beef up military training and possibly put ships in the Baltic Sea, and demanded that Russia stop supporting the militants.
As for eastern Ukraine: If Russia has its way, it will be “fractured politically, autonomous with a small ‘A,’ winking at the EU but never able to get out of the Soviet grip, the Russian grip,” Meigs said.
— Erin McClam