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Russia/Ukraine: Salami Tactics – “slice by slice”

August 14, 2014

Summary:  A humourous and still oh-so-relevant lesson in realpolitik from a 1980s comedy as we contemplate a Russian humanitarian convoy’s meanderings close to the Ukrainian border…

I am not being particularly original here but I still want this on record.  The classic “salami tactics” clip from the BBC’s 1980s comedy “Yes Prime Minister” gives salient political lessons as we contemplate a Russian humanitarian convoy’s meanderings close to the Ukrainian border.  First watch and enjoy the masterclass itself:

So, following the syle of the scenarios offered to Jim Hacker, in the context of trying to understand Russian military intentions regarding the Ukraine, we might have:

Scenario 1:

  • Russian aid convoy genuinely full of aid
  • Seeks entry to Ukraine but deliberately mismanages its dealings with the ICRC and the Ukraine government (eg by not informing anyone of the convoy’s movements, desired entry location, contents of lorries and claiming agreements from ICRC and Ukraine) to ensure it is turned away.  This really does sound like the curent situation.
  • Russia gets to pose as a genuine helper and the Ukrainians as mean-spirited fascists who cannot or will not even want to help their own people – eastern Ukraine looks more towards Russia and away from Kiev, reinforcing and extending separatist sentiment

Scenario 2:

  • Similar to Scenario 1.
  • Russian convoy genuinely full of aid
  • Seeks entry to Ukraine but deliberately mismanages its dealings with the ICRC and the Ukraine government (eg by not informing anyone of the convoy’s movements, desired entry location, contents of lorries and misrepresenting any discussions with ICRC and Ukraine as approval for their actions)
  • Engineers a clash with Ukrainian troops/border guards as it tries to force its way into Ukraine
  • Provides justification for military action

Scenario 3:

  • Russian aid convoy genuinely full of aid
  • Seeks and gains entry
  • Gets to distribute aid, gaining a useful pause in all the negative media stories – much needed positive PR

Scenario 4:

  • Similar to Scenario 3 but establishes principle that Russian “humanitarian” personnel can come and go across the border, more convoys follow
  • establishes semi-permanent aid bases inside Ukraine for distribution purposes, manned by Russian personnel – access to bases by ICRC, journalists, Ukrainian representatives is restricted
  • Russian Emergencies Ministry security personnel involved – just for base security/crowd control
  • Riots/rocket attack/explosion occurs – Russian military personnel brought in to provide additional security, punish any attackers, etc, etc…

Scenario 5:

  • Aid convoy story “will it/won’t it cross the border” a distraction for some planned military intervention

Scenario 6:

  • Aid convoy is attempting to take weapons (or other forms of support) into separatists.  I really find this unlikely as it would be too easy to uncover the truth now the media spotlight is on it and the Russians have likely been running weapons into eastern Ukraine already anyway.  Suggestions that the convoy might now have divided into two parts,

BBC, 14 Aug: More than 100 lorries carrying Russian aid have set off towards the border with Ukraine, amid continuing confusion over their final destination

however, might suggest the idea that a smaller part of the convoy could break away from the main body with a more secretive mission in mind

Scenario 7:

  • The aid convoy is more or less genuine, but Putin really doesn’t know yet what to do and is still attempting to seize some form of media initiative.  This is at best an exercise in stalling for time while he decides what next.

As I look at these scenarios, I think I have accidentally produced them in ascending order of likelihood – that is Scenario 1 may be the most likely.  But the whole approach by the Putin regime has been to throw up as much sand and dust as possible to cloud issues until he can introduce another initative.  I think he quite likes having the world’s attention as it tries to guess what is coming next…

 

 

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