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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Thursday 19 October 2023

Putin Takes Crimea 2014

 This is Mark Galeotti's take on Putin's Crimea grab for Osprey, which almost certainly emboldened him for the later full-scale of Ukraine. This is the story of the 'little green men' as the news media described them then. In practice, the occupation was delivered by a mix of Russian special forces, Ukrainian defectors and local gangsters. 

The history of the Crimean Peninsular is fascinating in its own right. Even in Britain, many city streets have Crimean names thanks to the Crimean War. The Greeks were one of the earliest to colonise the Crimea, followed by invasions from the Scythians, Huns, Mongols and others. The Tartars were vital allies/subjects of the Ottoman Empire and spearheaded most of their assaults on Christian Europe. Russia used the Cossacks primarily as a buffer against the Tartars, although there were significant Armenian and Jewish populations even then. It was only in the Soviet period that the Tartars were ethnically cleansed from the region, and large numbers of Russians moved in. It was Khrushchev who gifted Crimea to the Ukraine in 1954.

A narrow majority of the Crimean population voted for Ukrainian independence, but disputes quickly broke out over the Black Sea Fleet. A partition deal was agreed in 1997, along with Russia leasing naval bases. However, tensions continued, leaving large numbers of Russian forces and many more retired ones in Crimea.

Galeotti describes the military doctrine behind the hybrid warfare that was the basis of Moscow's strategy in Crimea. There has been a parade of new terms – asymmetric war, sub-threshold operations, non-linear warfare – but the favoured term appears to be ‘grey zone warfare’, operations somewhere in that hazy conceptual no-man’s land between peace and full warfare. There was nothing 'grey' about the 20,000 Russian troops already based in Crimea. They faced a slightly larger Ukrainian force, although few were in a high state of readiness. Even those who were well-trained suffered from years of underfunding.

The new Ukrainian government made a political blunder by revoking the law that made Russian a second official language in regions such as Crimea. Pro-Russian elements used this as proof of enforced ‘Ukrainianization’. Provocateurs turned peaceful demonstrations into violent ones, and units of cossacks and the Night Wolves motorcycle club were used to fan the flames. Local gangsters were financed to set up local defence militias. These all provided deniable assets as cover for the Russian takeover, led by troops without unit insignia. Conventional units sealed off the peninsular as more troops were flown in or landed on the coast. The Ukrainian response was patchy and poorly coordinated, aided by naval commanders who defected to the Russians while the remaining Ukrainian navy ships were blockaded. There were brawls but little actual combat.

Crimea was a successful operation. However, it also proved disastrous for Moscow as it drew them into the Dombass insurgency and then used it as a blueprint for the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. Many in the military warned that the circumstances in Crimea were exceptional, but the political figures trusted by Putin became overconfident. Today, the Black Sea Fleet has largely abandoned Crimea and Ukrainian forces regularly attack Russian bases. Fortress Crimea has evaporated.

Mark Galeotti has written many books on the Russian military, and this book demonstrates yet again his detailed knowledge of the subject. The actions are clearly described with ORBATS, maps and illustrations. There is the basis of some 'what-if' actions for wargames, but I don't expect to see many 'little green men' on the show circuit anytime soon. 

Some of my 20mm modern Russian forces.


1 comment:

  1. Pretty much a “must have” then. Thanks for the review. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘