It would be colossally stupid of Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and he’s not a stupid man
There is a threat today that there will be war tomorrow. We are fully prepared for an escalation, âUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said. Its chief of military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, has warned that around 90,000 Russian troops are now deployed in the vicinity of Ukraine and could invade “from several directions” by January. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has warned that the use of Russian force against Ukraine “will come at a cost”, without specifying what it will be. And the US State Department has said it is considering its options to deter the Kremlin, including sending military advisers and new weapons to Kiev. US intelligence began warning that Russian tanks were heading west several weeks ago. Ukraine played down the information at first, but now it is asking for new weapons to withstand the allegedly impending attack. A large Russian military force moved west last month: the 41st Combined Arms Army, which was transferred from Novosibirsk in Western Siberia to Yelnya southwest of Moscow. That puts it 280 km from the Ukrainian border, which is not exactly what catches the attention of Ukrainians. The Russian troops which are really close to the borders of Ukraine in the east and on the Crimean peninsula are exactly where they were before this “crisis”. So why did the 41st Combined Arms Army (approximately 30,000 soldiers) cover nearly 4,000 km? west last month? Here is a clue. It is now 280 km north of the Ukrainian border, but less than 100 km from the Belarusian border.
He’s not here to invade Belarus right now, of course. “President” Alexander Lukashenko, still clinging to power there after rigging an election last year and crushing the massive protest movement that followed, is a longtime ally of Russia. The 41st Army’s job is to keep Lukashenko in power if he can, and to make sure his successor is friends with Moscow if he falls. So there is no threatening build-up on Ukraine’s border – and Russia wouldn’t have the ease to invade Ukraine even if there was. Russia has three times the population of Ukraine, but its ground forces are not even twice as large (400,000 versus 255,000). It has many remote borders to guard, and half of its soldiers are conscripts serving only one year. Granted, Russian air power is far greater than Ukraine’s, so it might ultimately win if NATO didn’t intervene militarily (and NATO wouldn’t – no one wants nuclear war) . But it would be colossally stupid for Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine, and he is not a stupid man. It would end up occupying a country of 45 million people, most of whom resented the Russian occupation so much that a big, long guerrilla war would be almost inevitable. He would face a rejuvenated NATO that posed a real threat to Russia from borders much closer to Moscow than those of the old Cold War, as well as a crippling full spectrum trade embargo. There have been rhetorical saber-cuts from Moscow recently, but NATO has also pushed the Russians hard: American and British warships in the Black Sea have come very close to Russian-occupied Crimea, the US nuclear-capable bombers doing the same, and sales of advanced Western weapons to the Ukrainians. The Kremlin is just as suspicious and afraid of the West today as it was at the height of the Cold War. This does not excuse Putin’s behavior towards Ukraine, but if the “Western media” just print the documents, everything will seem under control until one day someone makes a serious misstep in the process. dance, and everything goes very badly wrong.
(Gwynne Dyer’s new book is ‘The Shortest History of War.’ The opinions expressed are personal.)