The decisive campaign in Ukraine’s separatist rebellion — the battle for Donetsk — is imminent, and the looming question is how much damage the jewel of the country’s economy will suffer.
Fearing that the faceoff between 30,000 Ukrainian military troops and about 10,000 pro-Russian separatists will destroy much of the city of 1 million people, tens of thousands of residents have fled Donetsk.
Afraid that the military will use the artillery approach, billionaire Donetsk industrialist Rinat Akhmetov went on television July 6, the day after the separatists fled Slovyansk, to plead: “Donbass (the Donetsk and Lugansk regions) must not be bombed. Cities, towns and infrastructure must not be destroyed.”
Ukraine is already dependent on the West for cash and on Russia for energy. Taking the Donbass — Ukraine’s most industrialized region — out of play would put Kyiv in the impossible position of have to rely even more upon the kindness of strangers. Putin enjoys the luxury of being able to determine how much force Kyiv will have to employ in the Donbass, by sending in additional fighters and/or heavier weapons. Kyiv faces the choice of destroying its own industrial heartland, or seeing it go the way of Crimea.
If I were Putin, I’d send in enough men and matériel to keep engaged, then really turn up the heat (so to speak) once the weather turns cold and Kyiv simply can’t do without Russian energy supplies.