Russia's increased military buildup along Ukraine's eastern border signals the possibility of a full-scale invasion and one that could lead to a worst-case global scenario, pitting NATO allies against old Russian foes and debilitating the global economy to nothing short of catastrophe if nothing is done to stop Moscow's aggression, U.S. officials and analysts told TheBlaze.
And the crisis seems to be heading in that direction.
On Friday, more Russian troops and armored vehicles were seen offloading from ships in the Crimean harbor, reporters in the area said. The day before, Russia had already massed more than 8,000 troops and armored vehicles along three regions of Ukraine’s eastern border conducting war games. The move alarmed interim Ukraine President Oleksander Turchynov, who announced he had called up 60,000 of his nation's national guard in preparation for a possible "full-scale" Russian invasion.
[sharequote align="left"]"No one’s ruling out the possibility of additional Russian military aggression."[/sharequote]
What happens before Sundays's referendum vote on Crimea seceding from Ukraine is anybody's guess, said a U.S. official with knowledge of the ongoing crisis.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the nature of their work, said the situation is being closely monitored and "no one’s ruling out the possibility of additional Russian military aggression.”
William Wilson, a former chief economist for Ernst and Young, LLP, and now a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank, warned that a full-scale invasion by Russia in the region would lead to "catastrophe" for Europe and affect the entire global market place.
"Those who don't believe Russia's actions won't effect the rest of the world are very mistaken," Wilson told TheBlaze, who returned last month from two years in Moscow.
"I think the Crimea story is over, that's done" he said. "The question is will [Russian President Vladimir Putin] go any further and I think if he invades over the eastern front of [Ukraine] then you'll get the Europeans involved, then you're looking at possibly a catastrophic situation."
[sharequote align="right"]"I think the Crimea story is over, that's done"[/sharequote]
Further, if the West fails to act decisively, ethnic tensions in Ukraine could begin to boil and Russia could use it as a pretense to invade the western half of the country and "the West would have no choice but to impose massive sanctions and that would impact the entire global economy," said Wilson.
One possible scenario includes Putin's threats to shut off Russian gas supplies from Europe, despite the fact that Russia is already on the verge of a recession. Ukraine is one of the main transit routes for the nation's gas and Russia can create a potential crisis across European markets, some which rely heavily on the product.
It wouldn't matter so much that it will also cause Russia to spiral further into economic chaos because Putin is gauging on future gains, not present losses, said another U.S. official familiar with the crisis.
Failure by the West to strongly impose limits on Putin now will only embolden anti-American leaders in countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria, China and even those in the Western hemisphere to take the opportunity to act against Western interests.
"We're losing our hard power and soft power … we're not admired around the world the way we used to be," Wilson said. "The nuclear genie is out of the bottle, there's no stopping North Korea from firing its rockets and continuing its program. And now the clerics in Iran see what's happening in Ukraine and say if you have a nuclear weapon you don't get invaded — you may get sanctions against Iran right now but you don't get invaded."
[sharequote align="center"]"We're not admired around the world the way we used to be."[/sharequote]
On Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent her most ominous warning to Russia yet, telling German lawmakers that there will be "massive" political and economic consequences for Russia if it fails to enter into "negotiations that achieve results"
She added that the only way out of the crisis is through diplomacy and assured them that "the use of the military is no option," adding that the European Union and other Western nations would soon freeze bank accounts and implement travel restrictions if Russia refused to enter such negotiations that "aren't just a play for time," according to the Associated Press.
But threats from the West to sanction the financial assets of Russian oligarchs may not be as effective a tool as some analysts may have suggested, Wilson said.
"Make no doubt that the Kremlin holds all the power in the country now, not the oligarchs — even though the oligarchs have the money — there's a very important quid-pro-quo between the oligarch's and Kremlin. Putin basically said, I'll let you keep your money and return you never delve in politics and if you do I'll take your money away and put you in jail," he explained. "Russians view Obama as extremely weak. They didn't like [George W.] Bush but they respected him, they knew he would use force … they have no respect for Obama and they view him as an extremely weak leader, almost laughable." Therefore, any sanctions on Russia need to deal a severe blow to Putin.
[sharequote align="center"]"Russians view Obama as extremely weak….almost laughable."[/sharequote]
That makes for a very dangerous combination as Ukraine prepares its limited forces against the mammoth nation. Currently, there are 130,000 Ukrainian soldiers and their military equipment is aging. They are no longer the powerful nation they used to be when Ukraine had the third-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. Ukraine's decision to sign the Budapest memorandum with the United States and Russia in 1994 mandating them to dismantle all their nuclear armaments has now left them vulnerable to Russia's 845,000-strong military. Russia has violated the treaty by invading.
Since Russia has violated the Budapest memorandum, it is being suggested that the U.S. no longer honor the Montreaux Convention of 1936 signed by Turkey, Great Britain and the former Soviet Union, among others, and recognized by the United States, a former Defense official with knowledge of the region told TheBlaze. This would leave Russia "extremely vulnerable and Putin would feel it his gut," the official said.
The treaty exempts Black Sea nations, including Russia, from military restrictions imposed by Turkey in the Bosporus Straits, which lead into the Black Sea. The treaty also contains the same provisions regarding the Dardanelles Strait leading into the Aegean Sea. If the treaty is broken then the straits used by Russia to move their military and oil tankers freely in the Black Sea "could go under NATO control and Russia wouldn't want this at all," the official said.
Men in military fatigues pass by the statue of a jet fighter close to the Belbek air base, Sevastopol's military airport, on March 14, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 14 told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the upcoming referendum in Crimea on the Ukrainian peninsula's future was in line with international law. On March 4, Russian forces surrounding the Belbek air base fired warning shots at Ukrainian servicemen trying to approach. (AFP PHOTO / DANIEL LEAL OLIVAS AFP/AFP/Getty Images)
Kevin Freeman, a financial analyst with expertise in economic warfare, agreed that sanctions need to have teeth. Freeman was commissioned by the Pentagon as a contractor to research the 2008 financial crash, saying in his 2009 report that it was partly the result of economic terrorism by hostile nations or individuals. He told TheBlaze that the "real risk if we go after [Russia] with economic weapons is they come back after us" — potentially creating an economic World War III scenario.
[sharequote align="right"]There’s nobody there looking over Russia’s shoulder." [/sharequote]
"There’s nobody there looking over Russia’s shoulder like we have with North Korea. We have the Chinese saying, 'don’t do that. That’ll mess with the world," said Freeman, referring to China's influence over North Korea. "Who looks over Russia’s shoulder?"
Even as Moscow saber rattles, European and U.S. leaders need to develop strong ties to Ukraine by promising large economic aide packages "under the assumption that economic restructuring will be done" and that the interim government needs to plan for future elections quickly, Wilson said.
"I think if you do all those things simultaneously you'll create a lot of legitimacy and it would be very bold then for Putin to invade the rest of the Ukraine," he said. "But the West is moving too slow."
Freeman said the Defense Department played out similar economic war game scenarios.
"If Russia and China team up in an economic war, they’d get hurt, but they win," he said. "We lose, and the Russians are well aware of it."
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