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Post What Would a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Look Like?
Created by John Eipper on 02/18/22 3:27 AM

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What Would a Russian Invasion of Ukraine Look Like? (Cameron Sawyer, USA, 02/18/22 3:27 am)

Anthony Candil wrote on February 17th:

"Let's keep in mind that over Ukraine, if the situation comes to that, Russian tanks will be fighting Russian tanks too, because both countries have the same equipment. No Western tanks would be deployed so far as I understand. Therefore, the tank debate is moot."

I agree about mud not being much of a factor in the potential upcoming invasion of Ukraine (journalists love easy, clichéd explanations for past historical events and often misapply them to present ones). All tanks can get stuck in the mud. Russian and Western military planners know how to take account of this factor. In the present case, mud is even less of a factor, because Russia has the air power and shock troops to quickly secure roads and railways. There will not be much need to do any slogging through mud.

As to "both countries have the same equipment"--this is however not true at all. Ukraine's tanks are predominantly ex-Soviet T64s, with a few working T72s, all of which are over 30 years old. Russia has in recent years invested a huge amount of money into building new tanks and AFVs and modernizing old ones, and now has the world's largest force of tanks, with possibly 1000 operational T90s in its inventory. The T90 is a modern, sophisticated, third-generation tank with reactive armor and, at least in its domestic version, the advanced sensors which Russia doesn't export, and is considered to be roughly comparable in capability to the US M1A2 main battle tank. The T64, first produced in the 1960s, is not in any way a match for the T90. Ukrainians will have much more hope of defeating Russian T90s with American-made Javelin missiles.

But I think we can safely doubt that there will be much tank-against-tank fighting in any invasion of Ukraine. This is not WWII. The Russians have the world's second largest air force in the world, and have acquired no less than 600 modern new fighters and 300 other new combat aircraft in just the last 10 years. Ukraine has acquired in the last 30 years exactly zero new fighters. Remember that Ukrainian GDP per capita is 2.7x less than Russia's--a greater difference than between Germany and Latvia, and Russia's population is 3x larger, so the Russian economy is almost 10x the size of Ukraine's. Russia's military budget in 2020 was $62 billion, 11x greater than Ukraine's.

If an invasion takes place, the Russians will invade Ukraine more like the way we conducted Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, than how the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. They will eliminate air defense capability first, establish air superiority, then destroy Ukrainian armor with Su-25 Frogfoots (old but rugged and effective attack planes which are roughly comparable to our A10 Warthogs), Ka-52 Alligators (state-of-the-art attack helicopters equipped with Vikhr anti-tank missiles), drones, and other air assets. Before sending in any ground force, just the way the US does it. It's not clear that they would even attack the capital by land--they might secure Borispol Airport with Spetsnaz and other airborne forces and simply fly in the forces needed to secure Kiev right over the heads of the Ukrainian military, using their massive air transport capability, second only to that of the US. So Russian tanks will in all likelihood end up going up mostly against Ukrainian infantry, not Ukrainian tanks, if the war even lasts that long. Which I doubt--I think it will be over pretty quickly.

And it will need to be over quickly, as I doubt that the Russian public will tolerate a prolonged and bloody brother-against-brother war in Ukraine, no matter how firm a grip on power Putin might appear to have today, nor would I even be certain that the Russian military would be immune from revolt, in case they were ordered to kill a lot of Ukrainians, whom the Russians as a people do not generally consider to be foreigners. This factor will certainly be informing Russian military planning.

Another thing to keep in mind--the Russian military has not been used for full-scale invasions since 1980. In this, the Russians are very different from us. We most often go in, bang things up, destroy other countries, ride around the ruins in Humvees, without any coherent idea of what we are trying to accomplish, then leave after some years (or decades) without having accomplished anything except destruction. Most recently, without even taking our own people with us when we go. The Russians are the opposite--on the rare occasions when they have used military force since 1980, it has always been in support of extremely narrow and clearly formulated objectives, accomplished quickly with overwhelming force. Longer conflicts are always done through proxies, not by using the Russian military. I would not expect the Russians to do Ukraine the way we (or they) did Afghanistan. They will have an extremely narrow objective clearly in sight--and that objective will be securing Ukraine against future NATO expansion, period and full stop. They will use the most economical means to achieve this objective, and take the smallest possible risks. Diplomacy would have been their first choice for achieving this, and their second choice would be forcing the Ukrainians into a deal under threat of military force (that's the phase we're in now).

But failing both of those, the military solution will not involve a long and bloody war or any long-term military occupation of the country, I predict. Don't forget, also, that although they already don't care what we think about their actions, they care very, very much what the Ukrainian people think, and what their own public thinks. And what other former Soviet republics think, particularly Belarus and Kazakhstan. So to achieve their objectives in an acceptable way and with the least risk, they will need to carry out a quick neutralization of military resistance, first of all, using overwhelming force and with as little bloodshed as possible, then following that, a quick decapitation of the current Ukrainian government. They will want to achieve all of this in less than a week. Then, there will be a massive propaganda campaign on behalf of the puppet government they install, and they will do their best to be seen to have left the country. There will be massive financial aid to the new government in an attempt to ensure that it is able to satisfy the Ukrainian people enough to stay in power. The new government will sign a formal military alliance with Russia, and will sign a treaty giving Russia certain veto powers in Ukraine's foreign affairs in exchange for Russia's guaranty of Ukraine's security.

We will fume and scold, and impose another round of sanctions, but if it goes down this way, the Russians will have won this one, I think. The Russians care enough about Ukraine, to be willing to go to these lengths to secure interests which they consider to be fundamental for them. We, on the other hand, don't care enough to do anything but scold; and yet we fecklessly take categorical positions which could never be accepted by the other side. The outcome of that kind of incompetent negotiation is pretty predictable.

That's my best guess. We shall see.

JE comments:  We can be pretty certain there won't be a replay of Kursk.  Cameron, as long as we're talking tanks, has Russia been able to mobilize any of its ultra-modern (and expensive, and glitchy) T-14 Armata tanks?

What you outline above gives us an excellent idea of the risks for Putin.  If the invasion doesn't succeed in a short time, his political position may become untenable.  And there is so much that can go wrong.  Is there any possibility that a "defeated" Ukraine will unleash a protracted guerrilla war?


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  • Ethnicity and History: Ukraine as Case Study (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/19/22 11:36 AM)

    Excellent post as usual from Cameron Sawyer, 18 February.



    I am nonetheless convinced that ethnic sentiment is one of the two moving factors of history.  The second factor is geography.  After that we may add religion and the economy.



    Ukraine in 2013 measured 603,628 square kilometers with a population of 42 million.  The official languages previous to the restrictions imposed by the new "democratic" government were Ukrainian 67.5% and Russian 29.6%. The other minorities--Hungarians, Tatars, Romanians, and Poles--were using their languages only at home.  After independence, a Ukrainization program was imposed on the minorities. Until a short time ago such a procedure was considered cultural genocide, but it can easily turn into a real genocide.



    A strange fact:  Even if the Russian language is used by 29.6% of the population, the Russian minority is considered to be only 17.2%.  In Kiev it was reported that Russian was more widely spoken than Ukrainian.

    The religion is Christian Orthodox 71%.  The ethnic Ukrainians follow the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine which detached from Moscow.  There is also the Catholic Uniate church in the Western areas of the country and Roman Catholics among the Polish and Hungarian minorities.  The Rumanian minority is Orthodox.



    The peculiar fact is that the strongest feeling of Ukrainian nationalism is in the parts that were united to Poland such as Galicia, Lodomina, Volinia, and Podolia. The last two regions were incorporated into the Russian Empire following the partition of Poland 1772-1795.



    Following the Russian Revolution between 1917-1922, three Ukrainian Republics existed for a short time.  The controversial Peace of Riga (see the strong comment against by General Pilsudski) gave to Poland Lwow, Volinia, and a few more oblasts, Czechoslovakia got the Transcarpatia, and Romania got Cernivci (Bucovina).

    After WWII we had the great expansion westward of Ukraine with the criminal ethnic cleansing of the newly acquired territories.



    Therefore we have to be extremely careful not to fall into any woke and/or cancel-culture ideologies, but view the facts according to the feelings of the time.  We should witness and not judge. Therefore Stepan Bandera can be a great hero and at the same time a criminal, while the Ukrainian SS Divisions of WWII can be at the same time great heroes and fascist criminals as per Putin.



    At present we have the following problems:



    1)  Ukraine is not the protagonist but the victim of the situation, in spite of its policy of oppression against its own minorities.



    2) The Western propaganda after the ridiculous error of indicating the day of the supposed Russian invasion is desperately hoping for a casus belli. After all, the Empire has a long tradition of fake casus belli from the US-Mexican war, US-Spanish war, US-Vietnam war, US-Iraq war, etc.



    The Empire badly needs a casus belli or better a "casus sanctionis" to completely separate Russia from Europe while at the same time destroying the European economy, completely ruined by a lack of Russian gas and oil.  In the meantime,  Russia with the high price of crude oil and gas has earned, just from the oil, U$87 billion in the last two years, while it can export all the gas that wants to the East. The European public opinion in spite of the brainwashing from their lackey governments is sick and tired of this story. 



    WWIII will not happen however, as the US is smart enough to know that now the two oceans are no longer a shield against enemy bombing.


    JE comments:  What could the US possibly gain from impoverishing Europe?  With our interconnected, global economy, all ships rise or sink together.  The US financial crisis of '08 quickly went global; why would the reverse be any different?


    Ethnicity is a driver of history, but it is also exploited in countless ways for personal advantage.

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    • Only Education Can Overcome Ethnic Hatred (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/20/22 6:31 AM)
      As someone who has seen and experienced ethnic-based discrimination all over the world, I cannot overestimate the importance of education to remedy such irrational feelings.

      Religion has not helped and economic development has not helped. Only education seems to have a positive effect addressing these destructive fears, jealousies, angers, etc.


      America has always prevailed to become the greatest nation on Earth because our population was on average relatively well educated. We respected our institutions and laws most of the time, strove for justice, made some progress. And now things are falling apart.


      Why? Can anyone please answer that based on fact and logic?


      JE comments:  I am as pro-education as anybody, but can we say that it (education) has a good record in neutralizing ethnic hatred--irrational or not?  Look at one case study among many:  Yugoslavia was a well-educated nation prior to its descent into fratricide.  The imposition of instruction in Serbo-Croatian possibly fueled ethnic resentment.  Tor, your countryman Paulo Freire argued that only through the "conscientization" of the oppressed can they rise up and achieve their liberation.  To be sure, Freire wasn't talking about ethnic grievances--but can they be tidily separated from economic or social ones?


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      • Education, Pseudo-Education, and Racial Discrimination (Tor Guimaraes, USA 02/21/22 3:57 AM)
        John Eipper questioned my firm belief that better education is the only remedy capable of curing the mental illness of racial discrimination. Religion has not only failed but often fuels this illness, and wealth seems unrelated.

        John referenced Yugoslavia a "well-educated nation prior to its descent into fratricide." Education, just like everything else, must be viewed in context. Education is no panacea; it must be qualified. Some nations are highly educated technologically, financially, socially, religiously, and normally some combination of these. Which combination dominated Serbia or whoever the war instigators were at the time?


        Was this Yugoslavian conflict initiated by the NATO/Russia pissing match, and/or perhaps a religious conflict? In such cases only military training and preparation can work. No one will listen to highly educated people.


        Let me give JE some help in showing that education is often useless in other domains also. It came to my attention that American (should we say global) oil companies have known a lot about climate change long before our "educated" people did. They planned to take advantage of the expected melting of the Arctic, knowing full well about seas rising, floods, etc. When our scientists sounded the alarm bells the oil companies knew what to do: manage the media, attack the messengers, bribe the governments, create doubt for a few more years or decades if possible. They were very successful; the planet was damned in the search for profits.


        As for other examples, the corn, sugar, and tobacco industries have used pseudo-education in the same fashion very successfully; people are damned for profits. For whatever reason, if Yugoslavia was indeed a "well-educated nation," however you defined the term, it sure did not work in Yugoslavia either.


        JE comments: Agreed. Pseudo-education is worse than no education at all.  I didn't want to bring Godwin into this, but let's now consider highly educated Nazi Germany, with its "scientific" racism and the like.  To be sure, the decision makers in the short-lived Nazi era had not been educated under the system they created.

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