MOSCOW - Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has remained quiet on the Ukraine crisis, leaving it to his ministers to fire verbal salvos at the interim government in Kiev.
But by putting his armed forces on high alert and ordering a six-day drill to test the Russian military’s combat readiness on Wednesday, Putin seemed to be sending a strong message to Ukraine’s revolutionaries …and its Western backers: “We’re here; don’t push us.”
While the announcement was sudden, it was not out of the ordinary: similar drills have been carried out since Putin’s re-election in 2012.
However, it involves the ‘Western Military District’ forces - precisely the troops who would come to the rescue of pro-Russian Ukrainians in the event of any emergency along Russia’s western border with Ukraine or on the Crimean peninsula.
The order does not mention Ukraine - nor the Crimea, or even Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which is based there. But the timing of the exercises, so close to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine, coming at a time when tensions are so high there, speaks volumes.
Putin’s move – typically – came on the heels of more cautious statements from other officials. Valentina Matvienko, the Speaker of the Federal Council - or Russia’s Upper House - called a Russian military operation in Ukraine an “impossible scenario” because Russia “has no right to interfere in the domestic affaris of a sovereign state.’”
Putin’s message seems to be that Russia doesn’t need to cross the Ukraine border to influence events there. Opposition officials in Kiev are reported to be worried about Putin’s muscle-flexing, and Britain’s defense minister, Philip Hammond, said the U.K. would “take note” of any Russian military activity.
Putin has achieved all that, without uttering a word.