The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi may have proved a distraction for Russia and its president, even as events in Ukraine were fast and furiously upsetting the old, pro-Moscow political order. But no sooner were the Olympic flames extinguished Vladimir Putin turned his full attention to influencing developments in the neighbouring country. His military chiefs ordered a major military exercise – involving almost 150,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and artillery batteries, and dozens of aircraft and ships – to start on Friday and last four days.
What is behind this dangerous military escalation? At the very least, a military exercise on this massive scale, so close to the borders with a sovereign state, is meant to send a stern message to the new leaders of Ukraine that there is a limit to that nation’s independence. Moscow has refused to recognise the new political order in Kiev, denouncing the parliamentary ouster of President Viktor Yanukovich as “armed mutiny.” Any new government in Ukraine will need to take account of Russia’s interests, or so the message goes. Continue reading »