Ukraine Digs In; Baltics Next for Putin? - TribPapers
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Ukraine Digs In; Baltics Next for Putin?

Map of much of Europe. Graphic submitted.

Kyviv, Ukraine – The Russian invasion and occupation of Ukraine enflames concerns about the future security of much of Europe — with the Baltics looming as next on Vladimir Putin’s hit list and Finland and Sweden now also in his sights.

Time may be on the side of Ukraine and western allies. Ukraine’s stiff resistance, economic sanctions on Russia, weakened Russian military supply lines and anti-war protests in Russia all boost hope of taming Putin’s declared ambition to reclaim the former Soviet Union empire and seize Ukrainian natural resources.

Ukrainians fought hard, and repelled and stalled the Russian invasion enough to still control all main cities and keep Internet communication going as of Monday. That was the fifth day of invasion into much of Ukraine. Fighting on day one, Feb. 22 was in Eastern Ukrainian provinces with many Russian-speaking people. Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed he was rescuing them, as an excuse to invade.

Defiance, Valor

Ukrainian Pres. Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zalenskyy led by valiant example. He turned down a U.S. offer to get him safely out, stayed with his family in the capital of Kyiv, eluded a hit squad, and broadcast inspiring speeches from the streets. He said “no one is tired” defending the homeland. He warned “a new Iron Curtain is falling on Europe.”

With Russian forces circling Kyiv, Zalenskyy was apt to be captured, killed and be martyred this week. Zalenskyy, 44, became president in 2019. Earlier he portrayed a teacher elected president on the hit Ukrainian TV show Servant of the People.

Other inspiring feats by Ukrainian defenders include temporarily retaking a vital airport just north of Kyiv, civilians brandishing kitchen knives and guns to defend their homes at all cost, 13 Snake Island guards refusing to surrender and telling those on a Russian warship about to blast them to “go (bleep) yourself!”

Bitter street combat intensified Sunday in outskirts of Kyiv – with guerrilla ambushes and many casualties on both sides expected before any cease-fire pact emerges. Russia on Tuesday unleashed massively-destructive vacuum bombs, a long convoy, and deployed Chechen and Belarusian soliders. Russian saboteurs reportedly posed as Ukrainian police and Army.

More than 500,000 Ukrainians fled through Sunday, according to the United Nations. Ukraine has 44 million residents, with three million in Kyiv (“KEE-eve“).

Entrenched

Many clustered underground in frigid subway areas, bomb shelters or basements to avoid cruise missile blasts. They trained to make Molotov Cocktail bottle explosives. Males ages 18-60 were ordered to stay in Ukraine and take up arms, with 18,000 rifles distributed at police stations.

The U.S. is sending Ukraine more military and aid, before Russians close land borders. Germany is sending anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles. Finland is sending equipment, and Poland ammunition.

NATO is activating 40,000 troops to defend its member states. The U.S. on Thursday sent 7,000 additional troops. But Russia has four times as many warriors just from in its invasion of Ukraine, out of its 2.9 million (900,000 active and 2 million reservists) soldiers along with 2,840 tanks. Ukraine has 858 tanks, a standing army of over 150,000, 900,000 in reserve, and armed civilians.

Cyber Warfare

Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert Sunday. Russia might retaliate against U.S. sanctions with cyber attacks similar to the shutdown last year of a major oil distribution hub that halted gasoline supplies.

Ukraine is known for hackers, too. The decentralized hacker collective called Anonymous claims it disrupted Russian communications such as a Kremlin-backed propaganda website. Ukrainian military leaders spoke of using cyber espionage against urban invaders.

Ukraine Future?

If Russia gains control of Ukraine, it has options. It could annex Ukraine, as with Crimea that it invaded in 2014. More likely is setting up a puppet government — as it did in Ukraine in 2010-14 and has now in Belarus. Least intrusive is if Russia pulls back military to annex or control only Ukraine’s Eastern provinces.

The more land Russia ends up with, the more areas its occupation forces have to police to qualm inevitable uprisings.

Yet, the more Russia gains it empowers other adversaries’ invasions such as China on Taiwan. Taiwan Semiconductor is a lucrative target, as the world’s largest producer of computer chips.

China helps Russia by buying more of its natural gas and oil, to offset western sanctions.

Military Gateways

Ukraine is a pivotal geo-political buffer. Russian troops invaded Ukraine south from Belarus, which on Sunday joined Russia’s war effort. Those two countries border several NATO nations. Ukraine is beside Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. Belarus and Russia are next to the Baltic (Sea) states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

“He wants to re-establish the former Soviet Union,” Pres. Joe Biden said Thursday. British P.M. Boris Johnson remarked Putin “will stand condemned” for a “barbaric venture.” Hockey Hall of Fame goalie Dominik Hasek, 57, a Czech native, tweeted Putin is a “mad killer.”

Hitler-like Excuse

Putin with Eastern Ukraine copied Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s playbook to conceal a land grab as supposed rescuing of ethnic countrymen from persecution. Hitler played the ethnicity card in 1938 to seize the Czech Sudetenland, where ethnic Germans were a majority stemming from the Austria-Hungary Empire.

Putin recently threatened the Baltic nations. They each have many ethnic Russians — Soviet occupation in 1945-91. Their presence gives Putin a similar excuse to move in.

But unlike Ukraine, the Baltic nations are NATO members. In an “all for one” stance, NATO members are obligated to militarily defend each other. About half of the 30 NATO members were in Eastern Europe, which went free once the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991.

Nordic Targets

A bold development makes analysts wonder if Putin is getting unhinged. He now shockingly hints of military action against Sweden and Finland — especially if they applied to join NATO. This raises suspicions of Russia invading Western Europe — beyond former Soviet borders.

In reality, the Nordic nations are much safer if in NATO protection – which they still might get. Putin declared Ukraine joining NATO as unacceptable. Ukraine was much more vulnerable militarily since 1994, when it gave up its nuclear arsenal that was the world’s third largest. But those missiles were controlled by Russia. Ukraine sent many of its nukes to Russia, under false assurance it would not be invaded. That treachery casts doubt on validity of any upcoming Ukraine-Russia peace accord.

Sanctions

In a major punishment, NATO allies on Saturday banned most Russian banks from the SWIFT global banking network. But non-banned Russian banks can make up the financial load. Russian oil transactions were not limited yet. Doing so could cripple Russia economically, but also sink the U.S. economy and markets. Further, China bought more oil and gas from Russia.

Food prices are expected to rise in the U.S. Ukraine is a major exporter of microchip material, wheat, corn and fertilizer. Gasoline prices soared nearly a half-dollar in this area before the invasion spread, with the spectre of reduced Russian oil supplies. Russia already supports one-third of Europe’s natural gas — with one-fourth of that supply in pipelines going through Ukraine.

Republican U.S. senators call for restoring domestic oil production, and supplying our European allies so they no longer rely on Russia. UK Leader Boris Johnson said, “We must collectively cease dependence on Russian oil and gas” that provided “Putin his grip on European politics.”

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