Ukraine crisis: The strategic importance of Slavyansk

RUSI Analysis: The Ukrainian military operation that began this morning (2 May) in Slavyansk seems to have been directed against a lesser problem for the Kiev government than anything that has happened recently in Donetsk, Luhansk or Kharkiv. But there are hard strategic reasons why this small city has become the new focus of the Ukrainian crisis over recent days. It is at the centre of an escalating game of deterrence that both Kiev and Moscow are playing against each other.

In the event of a conventional Russian military invasion of the territories of eastern Ukraine it is highly unlikely that Kiev’s troops could do more than buy a certain amount of time. In any direct military confrontation Ukrainian forces would lose. That does not mean, however, that the government in Kiev is without any military cards to play.

Kiev knows that it has a strategic reserve of Kalashnikov assault rifles and other light weapons stored in Ukraine as a mobilisation reserve dating back to Soviet times. It has hinted quietly but strongly in back channels between Ukrainian and Russian military establishments that it might be prepared to open this strategic reserve of weapons to an eastern Ukrainian population prepared to resist any Russian military incursions. Since the stockpile consists of up to five million weapons, the prospect would be a nightmare for Russian military planners if they realistically prepared to move into eastern areas of Ukraine. The prospect of civil war and an anti-Russian insurgency on an unprecedented scale with unpredictable consequences represents a real – if extremely dangerous – bargaining chip for Kiev. [Continue reading…]

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