In his radio interview on December 17, 2018, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused President Poroshenko of preparing a military provocation on the border with Crimea by year’s end and has threatened Poroshenko with a tough response from the Russian side.
Paradoxically, it seems that Lavrov may have set the time and place for Russia’s own intended action. If Russia were to orchestrate another military provocation, then—for a number of reasons–the last week of December and the Crimean border would be the perfect time and place to make it.
First, it is important to note that the thirty-day period of martial law expires on December 26, 2018; President Poroshenko will face a difficult choice if a military incident occurs before that day or soon after. His decision to introduce the martial law was legitimate and formally justified. However, the public opinion of the martial law was so critical, that any extension of the martial law could result in unexpected consequences inside the country. Only one-third of Ukrainians support the decision and believe that it will help to defend the country, while more than half do not.
Second, a delayed Western reaction during the holiday season (Christmas and the New Year) will certainly benefit Putin. As it was, the Western reaction to the November 25 incident was rather muted. Moreover, Ukrainian MPs are also used to spending their long winter holidays far away from Ukraine.
Third, the “Crimean border incident” has set a precedent. Russia’s current occupation of Crimea provides them with exactly the same justification of using military force openly and disproportionately against Ukraine.
Following the Kerch Straight incident on November 25, both Russia and Ukraine have warned of a dangerous escalation of tensions due to a military reinforcement in and near the conflict zone in The Donbas as well as in the Azov Sea and Crimea. Both sides have voiced their concerns about possible provocations.
Such provocations are, unfortunately, quite plausible and possible. The facts are even more worrisome–at least from the Ukrainian point of view. According to various sources, Russia has encircled Ukraine with land, sea, and air force that far exceed any of Russia’s purely defensive purposes. As the elections in Ukraine approach, the risk of further incidents and provocations from Russia will only rise.