LONDON – Europe plunged into its worst security crisis in over half a century after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to march into Ukraine.
And although the Russian leader referred to the invasion as a “special military operation” confined to the eastern part of Ukraine, the hints he offered about the purpose of the operation indicate that Russia’s objective is nothing less than the removal of the Ukrainian government, and the imposition of Russian control.
The pretext for the operation was created early in the week when Mr Putin announced that Russia is recognising two enclaves controlled by Russian-speaking rebels inside Ukraine as “independent states”.
It is now evident that the United States intelligence services were correct in identifying this step as the prelude to the all-out offensive.
The Russian president as well as his country’s representatives continue to claim that they are not at war with Ukraine and that the operation is just intended to provide further protection for the enclaves.
However, early indications from the ground point to the unmistakable conclusion that there is nothing limited about the Russian action: Ukraine is facing a massive military offensive from all directions, as part of an operation that was clearly well-prepared and thoroughly rehearsed.
Reliable evidence suggests that Russian cruise missiles are hitting targets near the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv; the targets are likely to be command-and-control posts, in order to paralyse the Ukrainian military and prevent it from offering strong resistance.
Other major cities throughout Ukraine have also reported explosions. This may have come from guided munitions released from either air or ground, but also from Russian crack units specialising in sabotage operations.
The purpose of these coordinated attacks in a variety of places may be not only to destroy Ukraine’s military capacity but also to sow utter confusion, severely restricting the government’s ability to coordinate a response.
And in what is probably the grimmest news of all at this stage, there are indications that Russian special forces are already landing around Odesa, Ukraine’s key harbour on the Black Sea, a city of more than 1 million people.
If the reports are confirmed, they will add credence to the theory that one of Russia’s first objectives in this military campaign is to block altogether Ukraine’s access to the sea, thereby rapidly throttling the country’s economy.
It is also likely that in addition to the main Russian offensive which is coming from the east and southern approaches of Ukraine, Russian forces will soon pour into Ukraine from neighbouring Belarus in the west.
The Ukrainian state will therefore be crushed in a pincer movement from all directions.
However, the clearest indication that this is not a limited military operation comes from President Putin’s demand that Ukraine should be “demilitarised”.
The only way this can be achieved is if the entire country is subdued.