19 January 2015

Ukraine and the Lessons of Georgia

January 18, 2015 - The XX Committee

Today Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, breathed fire about his country’s ultimate victory in its war with Russia. Perhaps encouraged by reports of a local victory at Donetsk airport, which has seen a major uptick in fighting this weekend, Poroshenko assured Ukrainians with tough talk that “invaders” will be evicted from their country’s soil, every last inch.

This, however, is more optimistic blather of the sort Poroshenko has applied considerably in recent months, without much action to show for it. Ukraine needs not peace marches and blustery speeches, rather force generation, counterintelligence, and above all strategy. I laid all this out in my piece yesterday, which got considerable pushback from those who think Ukraine can be defended with wishful thinking and the right hashtag.

As I explained, Ukraine needs to get serious about the war if it wants to win it. Croatia two decades ago, when that country lost a third of its territory in 1991, only to regain it four years later after building the right military and applying it strategically, offers a model for success if anybody in Kyiv is looking for one. That template is imperfect but far better than any others out there right now.

What Ukraine must not do is emulate Georgia, and I’m providing this warning clearly because there’s a good chance that Poroshenko and his cadres of image-over-substance pols will be tempted to ape Tbilisi when they need to follow the Zagreb model. What I mean by the Georgia model is the road to disaster followed by President Mikheil Saakashvili in the run-up to his country’s stomping by Putin in Georgia’s brief, painful war with Russia in August 2008. This is especially relevant because Saakashvili, a strategic illiterate, thought he was following the Croatian model of the 1990’s when, in fact, he did the opposite.

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