A quiet August is too much to ask for

After days of confusing media reports from the ground, official statements were made today in Moscow and Kiev:

The FSB agency said one of its officers had been killed during a shootout with a “group of diversionaries” on Saturday night, when they were supposedly discovered just inside Crimea’s border with mainland Ukraine.

Saturday was August 6th. Moscow says more fighting followed on Monday, August 8th:

The FSB said that following the firefight on Saturday night there had been a further incident on Monday involving “massive firing” from the Ukrainian side of the border and attempts to enter the region by force, during which a Russian soldier died.

“On the night of 8 August 2016 special operations forces from the Ukrainian defence ministry carried out two more attempts to make a breakthrough by sabotage-terrorist groups,” it said.

“Ukraine dismissed the story as fake,” The Guardian reports. Whatever really happened, what’s troubling is what might happen now:

  • Nothing, more or less.
  • A “small” war: a rating booster for the September 18 Duma election.
  • A big war, and then, “what election? we’re at war” for months and years.

Needless to say, I would so much prefer nothing, but August has a reputation for inquietude.

Update 1 (August 11). Kommersant suggests a more sensible narrative on behalf of the Russians than yesterday’s confusing statements, but narrative is not a synonym of truth, by any stretch – unless to a journo.

Update 2 (August 11). Luke Harding believes in three scenarios of his own, not that different from mine. His first is the lifting of sanctions, which isn’t going to happen anyway so it nicely corresponds to my “nothing” scenario. His second is a “limited military incursion”; mine’s a “small war.” For the third, Harding says “something bigger,” and I say, a big war.

Which provides some relief. I’m an outsider and a dilettante, and Harding is a Russia pro. If we see things east of Minsk the same way, we’re probably both wrong.

Update 3. Harding writes, “Crimeans, most of whom still support Russia…” I don’t mean to say most of them don’t, but how do you know? How can you be so sure? What independent, reliable poll results are available to support this assessment?


  1. I wouldn’t have thought it was a good idea for Putin to spark off conflict in Crimea again with the war in Syria not going so well. But this is 2016, hardly the International Year of Political Rationality, so who knows? As many have noted, he does seem to have a thing about upping the aggression during the Olympics too. And now Ivanov has gone…

    • Not just gone – a few other old comrades have also been shown the door lately – but replaced with an Estonian, the grandson of Moscow’s top man in Tallinn in 1978-88. One thinks of comrade Kuusinen, although that’s probably a weak parallel. The old guard has grown lazy and useless, in addition to their habitual incompetence.

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