Home Nonmilitary action Why Russia Likely Won’t Attack Ukraine

Why Russia Likely Won’t Attack Ukraine

2
0

The world looks with horror at the Russian-Ukrainian border, and for good reason. Russia has amassed some 120,000 troops at the border, and fighting along the line of contact between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian security forces has intensified in the last days. The panels at the top are no better. The Russian Foreign Ministry has published a draft proposal December 17 detailing security guarantees between Russia and the United States which explicitly draw a red line on NATO’s eastward expansion to Ukraine and other former Soviet states, and the Russian President Vladimir Putin published a Warning on December 21 of a “military-technical” response to what he called “aggressive” measures by the West.

American and Western officials have already judge many “unacceptable” Russian proposals, although the urgency of the situation has spurred plans to security talks between the United States and Russia in January. While many have tried to read tea leaves and psychoanalyze Russian President Vladimir Putin on whether or not he will make the decision to invade Ukraine, there is a broader structural framework for understanding and anticipating military interventions. Russians in the post-Soviet space which may perhaps be a more useful guide. Despite all of Moscow’s harsh words, Russia’s record shows that an invasion is unlikely.

What specific objectives would Putin have by launching an invasion? The answer to this question must be rooted in the geopolitical imperatives, which govern all ways of making decisions in Moscow. The main imperatives of Russia are domestic political consolidation on the home front, protection against external threats (whether from neighbors or from world powers) and the expansion of its influence both at the regional level – in particular in the countries of the former Soviet Union – and beyond where possible.

The world looks with horror at the Russian-Ukrainian border, and for good reason. Russia has amassed some 120,000 troops at the border, and fighting along the line of contact between Moscow-backed separatists and Ukrainian security forces has intensified in the last days. The panels at the top are no better. The Russian Foreign Ministry has published a draft proposal December 17 detailing security guarantees between Russia and the United States which explicitly draw a red line on NATO’s eastward expansion to Ukraine and other former Soviet states, and the Russian President Vladimir Putin published a Warning on December 21 of a “military-technical” response to what he called “aggressive” measures by the West.

American and Western officials have already judge many “unacceptable” Russian proposals, although the urgency of the situation has spurred plans to security talks between the United States and Russia in January. While many have tried to read tea leaves and psychoanalyze Russian President Vladimir Putin on whether or not he will make the decision to invade Ukraine, there is a broader structural framework for understanding and anticipating military interventions. Russians in the post-Soviet space which may perhaps be a more useful guide. Despite all of Moscow’s harsh words, Russia’s record shows that an invasion is unlikely.

What specific objectives would Putin have by launching an invasion? The answer to this question must be rooted in the geopolitical imperatives, which govern all ways of making decisions in Moscow. The main imperatives of Russia are domestic political consolidation on the home front, protection against external threats (whether from neighbors or from world powers) and the expansion of its influence both at the regional level – in particular in the countries of the former Soviet Union – and beyond where possible.

NATO’s enlargement to the former Soviet bloc thus violates a key imperative for Russia, leaving Moscow to feel fundamentally insecure both vis-à-vis neighboring countries joining the bloc and outside powers. – mainly the United States – which supports them. While Russia was too weak to halt NATO expansion in Central Europe and the Baltic States in the 1990s and early 2000s, Moscow was ready to go to war in Georgia in 2008 then in Ukraine in 2014 to prevent this from happening. But even this decision was not taken lightly or haphazardly by the Kremlin, which brings us back to the framework of Russian military interventions.

In its decision-making process on whether to intervene militarily in the former Soviet sphere, Russia’s calculation uses a strategic framework that relies mainly on five variables: 1) a trigger; 2) local support; 3) anticipated military response; 4) technical feasibility; and 5) relatively low anticipated political and economic costs, especially when it comes to non-military responses to an invasion such as sanctions or diplomatic restrictions.

If any of these conditions are insufficient or non-existent, Russia is unlikely to intervene militarily, even in the former Soviet space. If all of these factors are present, the likelihood of Russian military intervention is much higher. And if Russia plays badly, it pays a very high price.

Take Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia: each of the five variables was satisfied. The trigger came in the form of Georgian bombing of villages in South Ossetia. Local support for the Russian intervention was strong, but only in the regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russia not sending its ground forces to Georgia proper, where local support was much weaker. Russia had direct access to Georgia through the rokhi tunnel, and Georgian military forces were much weaker than Russia’s, making intervention technically feasible. Georgia was not yet a member of NATO and Moscow calculated that the West’s response would be relatively limited and the costs were therefore manageable. Russia’s goal was to undermine Georgia’s continued NATO membership, and the result was the 2008 Russia-Georgia War.

In the case of Russia’s 2014 invasion of eastern Ukraine, all five variables were again met. The trigger was the Euromaidan Revolution, who overthrew pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Local support for the Russian intervention was strongest in Crimea and the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine, but was very limited in the rest of the country. Logistically, Russia already had troops in Crimea and had direct access to the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but going further into Ukraine would have resulted in long supply lines and more actively hostile political territory. Like Georgia, Ukraine was not yet in NATO and Moscow calculated that the bloc would not intervene in the event of military action. Russia’s goal was to undermine Ukraine’s pro-Western government and prevent NATO membership, and the result was the annexation of Crimea and the ongoing separatist conflict in the eastern Ukraine which continues to this day.

There are other cases where Russia has not intervened militarily despite a perceived justification. For example, Russia did not invade Estonia in 2007 following the Bronze soldier incident, although it had the perceived justification in terms of protecting ethnic Russians. The reason: Estonia was already a member of NATO and the potential costs of a Russian military intervention were seen as too high. Russia also did not intervene militarily in the ethnic clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in southern Kyrgyzstan in 2010, although it request by the Kyrgyz government to do so. Such intervention was not necessary for Russia to fulfill one of its imperatives, and there was no threat from NATO, so the costs outweighed the benefits.

Which brings us back to the original question: Is Russia about to invade Ukraine – again? First, what specific objective would Russia have in invading Ukraine now? There is no clear answer to this, other than to further undermine the Ukrainian government, use revenge to bolster domestic support, or send a message to the West. Without a basic trigger, intervention seems unlikely. But such a move could backfire and push Ukraine even closer to NATO, violating one of Russia’s fundamental imperatives. And while each of the five variables was in place for a Russian invasion in 2014, many of them have changed. For example, Ukraine now has many more Support the West, and even if it is not a member of NATO, the economic, political and potentially military costs for Russia would be considerably higher. Additionally, local support in Ukraine for a Russian invasion would be much lower today than in 2014, with the exception of existing strongholds in Donbass and Crimea, where Russia already has troops and / or personnel. military.

Thus, the application of this framework on military intervention suggests that an impending large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine is unlikely. However, this does not exclude alternative and unconventional military measures by Russia. These can involve various aspects of hybrid war, such as covert activity, political manipulation, cyber attacks, propaganda and disinformation, including the signal of a potential invasion that we are currently witnessing. There is also the possibility of Russian military reinforcements elsewhere, such as arms deployments in Kaliningrad or in countries closer to Moscow, such as Belarus.

A Russian invasion of Ukraine is not impossible, as conditions could certainly change to lead to a different calculation for Moscow in the future. Furthermore, this framework is not a specific model anchored in a particular political document, but rather an empirical model based on observations of Russian trends and decision-making in the military sphere during Putin’s reign.

But a close reading shows that Russia’s use of military force during Putin’s time – though it often seemed aggressive and erratic – was actually rather conservative and risk-averse, with a solid cost-benefit analysis. carried out by the Kremlin in each particular case. With the help of such a framework, it is possible not only to understand Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and elsewhere in the former Soviet space, but also to anticipate them in advance.


Source link