The stark warning comes from retired General Wesley Clark, who used to be the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Europe. His dire prediction comes at a time when tensions are rising in various geopolitical zones, but the most threatening situation would appear to be that which is developing in Ukraine. During a briefing with the Atlantic Council, Clark predicted that a new Russian offensive was “imminent” and would “most probably” take place between April 12, Easter for Orthodox Christians, and May 8, when Russia celebrates VE Day, writes Jeremy Bender for Business Insider.
Timeline for new offensive
Clark made his prediction after speaking with multiple source in the Ukrainian military, some of whom are based in the capital Kiev, and others on the frontline in eastern Ukraine, where government troops are struggling to halt the advance of Russian-backed separatists.
“Ukrainian forces expect attack within the next sixty days,” Clark writes for the Atlantic Council. “This assessment is based on geographic imperatives, the ongoing pattern of Russian activity, and an analysis of Russian actions, statements, and Putin’s psychology to date.”
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Troop buildups in sensitive areas have reached concerning levels, and Clark provided more details of the massing of forces. “[S]ome nine thousand Russian Federation personnel and thirty to thirty-five thousand separatist fighters are in eastern Ukraine. These forces include some four hundred tanks and seven hundred pieces of artillery, including rocket launchers,” he estimates. “Another approximately fifty thousand Russian military personnel are located along or near Russia’s border with Ukraine. A further fifty thousand Russian personnel are located in Crimea.”
Joining Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea
It is thought that a Russian-led assault will be made with the ultimate goal of linking the separatist-controlled regions of Eastern Ukraine with the Russian-annexed Crimea via a “land bridge.” In order to do so the rebels would first have to take the city of Mariupol, a strategic port which also produces steel.
It has long been predicted that the city, which sits on the Sea of Azov, would be an important target for the separatists. As it stands, the city did receive rocket fire from the separatists back in January, an attack which left 20 residents dead. Since then, an interview has surfaced in which a pro-Russian fighter states that the rebels began planning and preparing for an attack on Mariupol at the beginning of March, despite the fact that a ceasefire was signed in February.
Novoazovsk, Mariupol and beyond
Since the signing of the ceasefire there have been endless reports of troop and heavy artillery movements in the separatist-controlled zone. An article published by Reuters in February claimed that Russia was continuing to move tanks, missile systems and troop details into Novoazovsk, a separatist-controlled city some 25 miles east of Mariupol.
At the time a spokesman for the Ukrainian military said that Novoazovsk could provide a launching pad for an assault on Mariupol, and eventually the rest of the coastal corridor leading down to the Crimea.
Russia taking on more than just Ukraine
According to Clark, Russia and Putin are not only interested in joining together Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea. He claims that Putin is aiming to destroy the European political system as a whole, and any offensive in Ukraine is part of a far larger plan.
“[Putin’s] objective in this would be much broader than Ukraine. It would be to shatter the sense of well-being and confidence among the nations of Eastern Europe in NATO protection and, ideally, to drive a permanent wedge between the United States and its European allies, and the Western allies and Eastern Europe,” Clark said.
The situation in Ukraine may be about to become a whole lot more explosive, moving beyond the ongoing propaganda war and into a renewed outbreak of physical warfare. Commentators were concerned by the fragility of the ceasefire when it was signed, and it would appear that the separatists have continued to plan for further assaults.
Clark appears to have captured the mood among Ukrainian troops on the ground, and it seems that NATO would do well to assume the worst and prepare for a Russian assault on the very society that it stands for rather than being caught out by separatist scheming, despite a supposed ceasefire.
If Clark’s prediction comes true, the current geopolitical tensions could boil over into all out war as Ukraine’s allies take the incredibly difficult decision of whether or not to intervene and take on the Russians in their backyard. Obama and other Western leaders look set for an interesting spring during which they will have to try and outwit an unpredictable adversary in Vladimir Putin.