Russia Moves to Annex Eastern Ukraine

April 13, 2014

Patrick Johnson

Armed Russian soldier 

Events in Ukraine over the past few days seem to indicate that Russia is gearing up to annex Russian-speaking eastern parts of the country, much like it did with Crimea last month.

There are a few hints of Russia’s plans in the recent storming of several government buildings in eastern Ukraine. Men wearing the uniforms of the disbanded Berkut riot police have occupied the Donetsk police headquarters, and similar occupations have been recorded in government buildings in Drushkovka, Snezhnoe, Kramatorsk, Lugansk, Gorlovka, Konstantinovka, and Slavyansk. Shots were fired in the taking of offices in Kramatorsk and Slavyansk, and at least one member of the Ukrainian security forces was killed in the latter incident.

Firsthand descriptions of the pro-Russian forces seizing government buildings in eastern Ukraine differ, but most seem to suggest indirect Russian support at the very least. Some partisans have been seen in camouflaged uniforms, armed with what appear to be Russia military-issue AK-47s. The arrival of these mystery soldiers mixed in with well-armed pro-Russian locals suggests a chain of events similar to those leading up to the annexation of Crimea.

Though accounts of Russian involvement in developments on the ground may differ, Moscow’s diplomatic maneuvers are a lot more transparent.  By warning Kiev off any military intervention ahead of four-party talks in Geneva this week, Moscow is essentially encouraging the further deterioration of an already explosive situation. Putin is doubtlessly aware that the authorities in Kiev have already tried everything from promises of more political autonomy to assurances that armed gunman would not be arrested if they left peacefully. Force is the only option Kiev has left.

Russian posturing is motivated by one of two things. Either Putin seeks to annex the eastern parts of Ukraine and is contriving the necessary pretense to do so, or he is engaging in brinkmanship to secure a better political deal for Ukraine’s eastern regions (likely in the form of greater devolution of powers), and to prove once more that Russia is too important on the international stage for the West to risk isolating.

Yet even if Putin is going the route of calculated brinkmanship, it’s likely that events will quickly spin out of control and precipitate the first scenario: Russia’s annexation of eastern Ukraine. Or even worse, a civil war. The government in Kiev has a rotted-out foundation, both economically and politically, and it lacks the legitimacy required to use violence against its subjects in the east – no matter how treasonous their actions may be. Without decisive action from Kiev, the protest movement in the east will continue to spread.

Given the high levels of local support for Moscow, it would take Russia publicly disavowing its commitment to the Russian-speaking people of eastern Ukraine for the spiral of instability to grind to a halt. This is not going to happen. Thus, the question becomes: which outside actor is best equipped to bring the situation under control.

The answer is Russia, and this a fact that is surely not lost on President Putin.

All eyes are on Ukraine in the coming weeks, for we will potentially see a repeat of the Crimea annexation under the pretense of re-establishing stability/protecting Russian-speaking people. And though such a move would be welcomed by some portions of the local population, it would come with a set of new political, economic, and military challenges that would make Moscow’s Crimean adventure seem like a cakewalk in comparison.

Patrick Johnson is a contributor to

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  • Roman

    What a lie!!! You are trying to blame Russia in every case. Its not Russian forces its people of Donetsk that do not agree with Kiev terrorists who occupaid with guns goverment there with help of USA! We have not ellected them! They are terrorists that needs to be in prison not in government!

  • Johnson’s analysis is typical of Western analysts generally. In a nutshell – Russia is the big scary baddie – it’s infantile.

    Russia needs Europe to buy its gas. Europe needs Russian gas; Ukraine needs the transit fees + Russia as the only market for its aging defense industry. The ONLY country (or rather axis) that benefits from chaos in Ukraine is US-UK-NATO.

    So-called ‘analysts’ who buy the ‘Aggressive, expansionist Russia fairy tale are either dependent for their career prospects on US-UK-NATO, or terminally naive

  • Gary James

    They should put this issue to a vote again as a referendum and let the people of the eastern Ukraine vote and decide if they want to be annexed by Russia. Why should the EU and the USA have their nose in this matter when the super majority of the people from the Crimea (97%) voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. Let the people chose the Government rather than the dishonest politicians chose it for them.

  • Gary James

    They should put this issue to a vote again as a referendum and let the people of the eastern Ukraine vote and decide if they want to be annexed by Russia. Why should the EU and the USA have their nose in this matter when the super majority of the people from the Crimea (97%) voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine and becoming part of Russia. Let the people chose the Government rather than the dishonest politicians chose it for them.

  • Speck

    "Russia military-issue AK-47s"

    There is no other variety! So this is clearly a try to manipulate the reader’s perception unduly.

  • FreeOregon

    Instead of assuming Putin would do what you would do were you in his position, why not listen to him?

    Why are we concerned about Ukraine? Haven’t we caused sufficient problems? We’ve stolen the Ukrainian gold. How much more impoverished must we make them for them to invite in Russia with life saving supplies and food? Are we in a position to give humanitarian aid? We cannot even take care of our own people in our own country.

  • Tatyna

    It’s pure lie, please stop making false stories… Russia has nothing to do with the eastern Ukraine, and sure has no intentions annexation. As far as Crimea, Russia only returned its own land that was unjustly annexated by Ukraine during the USSR desintegrayion. And this return was made according to all international laws.
    By the way the US practices in Ukraine are against all reasonable laws and rules. Please, let people deside their fate by themselves, stop teaching everyone your false democracy, deal with your own problems.

  • Mississauga Dad

    Many people are saying it’s none of our business to get involved, that Ukraine is not our concern. So let me ask then, when is it our concern?
    1. When Russia invades all of Ukraine?
    2. When Putin decides to ‘protect’ Russians in Moldova – there are 1000 Russian troops in Moldova already.
    3. When Putin decides he wants to take back Belarus – looks very probable before summer.
    4. When Russia invades Armenia? (Russia has immense financial and strategic interest in Armenia – particularly in the ownership of most of Armenia’s gas and electricity production – and overall a large majority of Armenian enterprise is Russian owned – certainly a major set of assets that needs ‘protetcing’.
    5. When Russia invades Azerbaijan? (the largest Russian diaspora in the region – sounds like a good excuse to ‘protect’ ethnic Russians’)
    6. Georgia? Woops. Sorry. Already done that.
    7. When Russia invades Kazakhstan? (Russian space centre there – Putin decides it will be the RUSSIAN Space Centre again. ALL American astronauts rely on it).
    8. Kyrgyzstan? I hear that the Kyrgystan takeover is already in motion.
    9. Turkmenistan? Uzbekistan? Tajikistan?
    10. Lithuania? Estonia? Latvia? Lithuania already has a large troublemaking Russian population.
    11. Bulgaria?
    12. Romania?
    13. Hungary – got practice on that one already.
    14. Slovakia and Czech Republic – lots of experience there too.
    15. Poland? Don’t I recall an invasion of Poland (albeit by someone else originally) causing major issues a few years back – I think it was called WWII.
    16. Finland? It has been so terrified of the Russian bear over the years that it would be easy pickings.
    17. How about if Putin decided he wanted East Germany back?
    18. How about the disputed Kuril Islands?
    19. What if Putin decides to put nuclear missiles in Cuba again?
    20. How about if he decides to ‘protect’ the Socialist Republic of Venezuela and its oil resources from outside threat by providing Venezuela with a massive buildup of Russian military materiel?
    21. What if Putin decides that much of the Arctic that Canada has claimed for decades is REALLY on Russian land? Do we just say “Yeah, no problem. Take it. It’s yours”. You can be 100% sure that Putin IS GOING TO challenge many of Canada’s Arctic territorial claims. He has already planted a Russian flag at the North Pole under the ice on the sea bottom.
    22. How about if Putin decides that Russian didn’t get enough in the Alaska purchase deal and he wants it back?
    At what point is it OUR business?

  • Well from the other side of the world, it looks like the Russians are on the move again, this time fuelled by gas driven revenue. NO country has the right to annex any country no matter how much they have invested in it. How many times has Russia invited international investment only to years later declare the finished foreign owned infrastructure State Owned and the investing companies had to eat it!
    When this is over, Europe, including Russia, will be a mess again. Many thousands of innocent people will die in the coming winter when gas supply lines are destroyed and cut in protest then No-body in the East will have peace.
    If you truly believe that Putin is not involved then Putin needs to say so and put-in end to the whole affair. He has his port now he needs to abide by the law and wait for the next elections.
    When will you people understand the nature of a TRUE democracy. We don’t always get what we want in the first trial but you can vote them out the next time, if that’s what the people want! thats how the rest of the democratic world makes it work. Russian shoe banging won’t do anything for this post GFC world except start a war.

  • guest

    Nonsense! Leave Ukraine alone! What happened, has happened. They have their weak and cowardly politicians in Kiev.. maybe, they deserve it now. Surely no one wants them as they are now- the country is a BANKRUPT, it will be a very costly annexation for anyone… Putin is not that stupid – to pay for the criminals who robed the country. have a bit of mercy for the common people…start preparing for humanitarian help…

  • Mark

    Russia has a history of expansionism and ‘russification’of other countries, at what point do Russians take responsibility for adopting a failed ideology i.e. Communism rather than trying to blame the West for all their failings. Khruschev gave the Crimea to the Ukraine, that was a mistake but it was Russia’s mistake, communism has slaughtered many ethnic minorities now the Russians bleat about the fact that they are unpopular. Russia dosen’t have a democracy just an ex KGB Tsar propped up by criminals, get real.

  • AndrewO

    You should date your articles… This was written when… In April? Obviously, the rumors of Ukraine’s death in Eastern Ukraine were greatly exaggerated!


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