Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Calling War What It Is

What is the conflict in Ukraine?  Given some of the recent stories, it is clear that according to the standard IR criteria, it should count as a war involving Ukraine and Russia.  How so?  The Correlates of War Project defines a war as one in which there are more than one battle-related fatalities among all the actors involved AND an actor counts as involved if it has a minimum of either 100 fatalities or 1000 personnel involved in active combat. 

Recent articles show that both conditions have been met as over 1000 Ukrainian soldiers have died and Russian opposition politicians have indicated that more than 200 Russian soldiers have died.  One could question the veracity of these accounts, but if they are correct, then by conventional terms, this is a war. 

Why is this important?  Because ambiguity is Putin's friend/tactic, and we need to fight ambiguity with clarity.  Calling this conflict anything but a war gives Putin a bit of help as he tries to deny his country's responsibility.  This is not a war between random separatists and the Ukrainian government, but between the Ukrainian government and Russian army units with some separatists sprinkled in.  When Putin says that he is trying to encourage the separatists to meet the ceasefire, he is denying responsibility for his forces.  Pretty standard stuff, right out of the Milosevic playbook. 

The COW folks may have a struggle defining this conflict as international war or civil war, but since the primary actor on the other side is Russia .... I would call it an international war but the COW folks might disagree as one could contend that the bulk of the fighting is between the Ukrainian government and "separatists." 

Anyhow, my big point here is that if anyone says something like this might become a war, the answer is: too late, it is one.  And it would not be one without Russia's "assistance" to the separatists.  Thanks, Vlad.

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