Yuri Felshtinsky

Is Putin planning a September surprise?

Russia has done it before

(Credit: Getty images)

Ukraine appears to be faring well in its fight against Russia. Explosions have rocked a Russian military base in Crimea and the country’s president Volodymyr Zelensky is confidently stating that the war must end with the liberation of Crimea. Aid is also pouring in from the West. But Ukraine has been here before – and Putin’s Russia could, once again, be preparing to up the ante. Any talk of Ukraine’s triumph looks dangerously premature – particularly as we approach the month of September.

In the summer of 2014, Ukraine was managing to fend off Russian advances and making significant gains. Then, at the end of August, everything changed. As Ukraine celebrated its independence day on 24 August, marking its escape from the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a dramatic shift. Russian commanders inflicted a major defeat on Ukraine at the battle of Ilovaisk.

It was a pivotal moment. Russian troops poured into the Donetzk region, occupied it, and moved closer to the harbour city of Mariupol. The rest is history: the defeat forced Ukraine to the negotiation table in Minsk for ‘peace talks’ about east Ukraine. They were meaningless: Russia did not allow Ukraine any discussion of what it had done. The West closed ranks with Russia. It, too, acquiesced in Russia’s blatant land grab, hoping that its aggression would quickly evaporate like an unpleasant smell. The parallels here with Sudetenland in 1938-39 are painful and plentiful.

What was it about the 24 August that made the difference in 2014 and why does it matter today? It was hardly the fact that it was Ukraine’s independence day. As far as the Kremlin is concerned that day is a joke: no one in Moscow pays attention to it. Since 2007, members of Putin’s inner circle have made it clear that it is current state policy to consider the borders of the Russian Federation to be those of the Soviet Union of 1922 and extended by Stalin in 1939-1945.

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