Written by Anders Aslund
Source: Atlantic Council
Observers have greatly feared that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would start a small regional war this August. Russia has moved up its State Duma elections to September 18. Although only Putin’s parties are allowed to win, he has a predilection for “small and victorious wars” to mobilize his people.
In 1999, the second war in Chechnya preceded his rise to president. In August 2008, Russia attacked Georgia. In February 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, a move that was greatly popular in Russia. Its war in Syria has been an unmitigated success. For the last two years, Russia’s economy has been in recession, giving Putin all the more reason to mobilize his compatriots around a small war.
August is the best time for Moscow’s military action because Western decision-makers are on holidays. The Berlin Wall was initiated in August 1961, the invasion of Czechoslovakia occurred in August 1968, and the Moscow coup took place in August 1991.
The parallels with the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war are striking. That conflict started with the Olympic games in Beijing. The United States president was a lame duck amid the presidential election campaign. Russia was pursuing a large-scale military exercise called Caucasus 2008 in the Northern Caucasus. The Kremlin blamed Georgia for an implausible attack.
A war in August has seemed quite likely for domestic reasons, but where? In the last week, it has become clear that Ukraine will be the target. Major Russian troop movements with hundreds of tanks and heavy artillery to the Donbas and Crimea were reported during the weekend. They were part of a big Russian military exercise named Caucasus 2016.
Read more: Kremlin Tightens Grip on Devastated Donbas
On August 6, the Russian puppet leader of the Luhansk People’s Republic, Igor Plotnytskyi, was severely wounded by a car bomb in Russian-occupied Luhansk. Ukrainian intelligence blamed internal power struggles in Luhansk, while Russia blamed Ukrainian intelligence.
During August 6-7, Russian troops amassed in northern Crimea. Roadblocks were set up and the three checkpoints connecting the region to the rest of Ukraine were closed. Vague Russian reports complained about some Ukrainian incursion. President Petro Poroshenko has put Ukrainian troops on high alert.