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The War Nerd October 28, 2003
Ukraine vs.Russia: Get Off My Mudflat!
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email

You Moscow people are in luck. You're starring in the latest phony war, this big bluff between Russia and Ukraine over a little island-more like a mudflat -- in the Black Sea. The island, Tuzla, is officially part of Ukraine but Russia has been building a causeway to it, planning to link up to it and claim it. Meanwhile Ukraine has stationed troops on it, put up a few tank traps and laid some anti-tank mines. If you didn't know better, you might think something was going to happen.

The press is sure busy trying to convince us there's some chance of a real war between Ukraine and Russia. It would sure as Hell be a lot of fun -- some serious tank battles, for one thing.

Problem is, it's not going to happen. The real lesson from this fake standoff is how far we've come down in the past couple of generations. Ukraine borderlands were where the biggest, bloodiest, most god-damn magnificent battles of WW II were fought. Take the Kursk Salient, which is just over the border in Russia: you could spend your life studying that battle (or series of battles, if you want) and still find heroic, gory, fresh detail. From that battle between the two best tank armies in history to this fag-slapping, hair-pulling crap over a sandbar in just 60 years. Sad.

The whole mess goes back to the USSR breakup in the early 90s. It wasn't like the Ukrainians declared independence. It was Russia that suddenly announced it was ditching all the non-Russian USSR republics. Ukraine was suddenly an independent country without having to fight for it, or even think about how it would work out. They didn't run away from their Soviet mommy, she locked them out.

The trickiest problem was what to do with all that Soviet military infrastructure. Ukraine was where some of the USSR's best units were stationed. The Black Sea Fleet, the pride of the Soviet Navy, was suddenly based in Ukrainian territory. Nobody had a clue what to do. On some vessels, the crew just took a vote to decide whether they were going to be part of the new Ukrainian Navy or stick with the Russians. The Ukrainian Navy started out as a crazy mix of combat and supply vessels who voted Ukrainian. Just imagine if California seceded from the US and every USN ship from San Diego to Mare Island took a private vote to decide whether they'd run up the bear flag or the stars and stripes from the top mast. Frankly, I think there'd be a whole lot of shooting on board those ships before it got settled.

These Ukrainians must be a lot calmer than us Americans, because as far as I can find out, there wasn't a single firefight in the whole Black Sea Fleet when the ships took their votes. I get the feeling everybody out there was so dead tired and depressed after 70 years of Soviet crap they just wanted it over with. Ukraine, Russia, what's the diff?

Anyway, it wasn't the Soviet ships in Ukraine the CIA was worried about. It was the nukes. Ukraine was stuffed full of Soviet nukes: mobile ICBMs, bomber-carried standoff missiles, and cruise missiles. There were two ex-Soviet bases in Ukraine in particular that scared Intel analysts: the one at Pervomaysk had 40 SS-19s and 46 SS-24s, and another at Khmelnytsky was packing 90 SS-19s.

The SS-19 (NATO codename "Stiletto") was worth being scared of. A couple of these could've made a serious dent in the population explosion. The first version entered Soviet service in 1975, when the USSR was walking tall and the US was still dragging along trying to get over the mess in Nam. The SS-19 was MIRVed, meaning a single SS-19 packed six precision-guided warheads of 550 kilotons each.

Suddenly there were 130 SS-19s inside Ukrainian territory, out of Russian Army control and up for grabs. That's 780 nuclear warheads floating around. (That's not even taking into account all the Soviet bomber-launched and cruise missiles on bases in Ukraine. Some were flown back to Russia before Yeltsin dissolved the USSR, some were left in Ukraine.)

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Gary Brecher
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Email Gary at, but, more importantly, buy his book.

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The future of The eXile is in your hands! We're holding a fundraiser to save the paper, and your soul. Tune in to Gary Brecher's urgent request for reinforcements and donate as much as you can. If you don't, we'll be overrun and wiped off the face of the earth, forever.

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