Reviews | If Russia invades Ukraine, Putin’s military victory will be quick – but then his troubles will begin

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Russian President Vladimir Putin will quickly win the initial tactical phase of this war, if it occurs. The vast army that Russia has deployed along Ukraine’s borders could likely capture the capital of Kiev within days and control the country in just over a week, US officials say.

But then Putin’s real battle would begin – as Russia and its Ukrainian proxies try to stabilize a country whose people largely hate them. If only 10% of Ukraine’s 40 million people decided to actively resist the occupation, they would mount a powerful insurgency. Small groups of motivated fighters overthrew America’s overwhelming military might in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Russia’s problems would not only be within Ukraine’s borders. As Putin tried to digest what US officials hope was a Ukrainian “porcupine,” the Russian economy would be squeezed by sanctions; its business and political leaders would become international pariahs; and much of the wealth that Putin and his cronies have accumulated would be frozen.

Ukraine may seem like a triumphant victory for Putin at first, but it’s unlikely to end well. When leaders wage pointless “choice wars” with no clear endgame, they often face catastrophic unintended consequences. Think of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which helped create Hezbollah, or President George W. Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, which destabilized the Middle East. East and made Iran a regional superpower. Putin would be the last leader to join what historian Barbara Tuchman has described as “The march of madness.”

President Biden’s response rests on three pillars, according to senior officials. First, he believes that the rules-based world order would be threatened by an unprovoked Russian invasion, and that Putin would have to pay a heavy price if he took this lawless action. Second, Biden is determined to avoid direct military contact between Russian and American forces, which would risk provoking a nuclear war. Third, he is convinced that, as during the Cold War, the security of the United States and its European friends depends on the unity and strength of the NATO alliance.

Russia has gathered forces for a pulverizing offensive. US and European officials describe the order of battle: About 130,000 combat troops encircle Ukraine on three sides, with much more support. When the United States invaded Iraq, with a population and area similar to that of Ukraine, it had a smaller combat force.

Russian ground forces are just the beginning. Dozens of Russian bombers are loaded with precision-guided munitions and dozens of artillery batteries are ready, along with nearly a dozen missile batteries. Eleven amphibious ships ring along the Black Sea coast, ready to dump marines on Ukraine’s southern underbelly; the airborne forces are ready to land behind the lines, near Kiev, Odessa, Lviv and other targets; and engineer battalions are preparing to build bridges over Ukrainian rivers. Meanwhile, to test any idea of ​​NATO intervention, Russian nuclear bombers, missile forces and submarines will be on alert this month in a hastily scheduled “exercise”.

The dirty part of this war would be carried out by special forces: in the hours before an invasion, GRU “Spetsnaz” units and FSB intelligence teams could seize key targets in Kiev and other cities, like radio and television. stations, electrical installations and government installations. Assassination teams could target senior officials; Russian “false flag” operations that appeared to be Ukrainian would confuse and confuse. Russia would take control of the electronic warfare space, so it could jam the communications of the Ukrainian government or military commanders. Ukrainian troops might want to fight, but they would find it difficult to coordinate their actions with the commanders.

Looking at the map, US officials can see how the Russian invasion might unfold. From the north, several thousand Russian soldiers gathered at the western edge of Russia, ready to cross the border and rush towards Kiev, overwhelming Ukrainian forces a fraction of that size. Further west, a similar number of Russian troops are in southern Belarus, ready for a second push into Kyiv, again facing minimal Ukrainian strength.

The bloodiest fighting could take place in eastern Ukraine, where nearly half of its roughly 250,000-strong army is based. Russian forces could attack simultaneously from the southeast, through the separatist-controlled Donbass region, and from the east, near Kharkiv. This pincer movement could attempt to envelop the Ukrainian army and destroy it for several weeks. A trapped army, facing a crushing defeat, would spark desperate international calls for a ceasefire – which Putin would likely grant only on his terms.

Putin probably won’t decide until the last moment precisely what he will choose from this meat grinder of options. Political leaders often wait until the last minute to make such decisions, in order to maintain maximum flexibility. But US military officials say Putin has sent orders to his commanders to prepare for a possible battle by the middle of this week, when the ground in central Ukraine freezes to over a foot. depth, allowing rapid advance of tanks.

Putin’s ruthless determination against Ukraine, which has been unfolding for a decade, is the product of his beliefs and life experience. He really seems to believe that Russia is threatened by the West; that it needs buffer zones to protect itself against foreign aggressions such as those which it has maintained for centuries. His own family suffered greatly from the Nazi siege of Leningrad during World War II. His father was wounded in battle and limped the rest of his life; his mother was left for dead in a pile of corpses and only survived because someone heard her moan. When Putin talks about the weight of Russian history, he feels it viscerally.

In the days ahead, we will witness a frantic last-ditch effort to find what diplomats like to call an “exit ramp.” This seems unlikely, given all the military hardware in place and NATO’s refusal to make the concessions demanded by Putin.

The world will shake if the onslaught of tanks and missiles begins, as we witness a weak country facing a blitzkrieg, alone. Cries for a negotiated settlement will grow, with some offering further concessions to appease Putin. But after this global shock will come a wave of rage and a demand that Russia pay the price for its aggression. Then this war will enter the porcupine phase, in which Putin, too, will feel the pain.


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