War

Russo-Ukraine War – European impotence against Putin’s gold-plated balls

Just as we all knew that Russia would not easily allow a humiliating defeat of their proxy forces inside Ukraine, we now see the machine of a transplanted insurgency take root deeper. Russian volunteers with military training taking leave to go fight across the border. Taking with them often second tier weaponry from arms caches from mothballed stockpiles into another people’s country to help locals break away from the government they no longer consider legitimate. This allows the Russian government the deniability of saying “Hey these guys decided en masse to go help their ethnic brothers and we did not give them permission or weapons.”. But does Ukraine really have hundreds of tanks, trucks, artillery pieces, mobile SAM units, ammunition and military supplies to outfit tens of thousands of rebels? Where are the rebels capturing these equipment from, the hundreds of prisoners who surrendered and only a few thousand wounded soldiers they injured? The numbers don’t add up, and the only way to explain the discrepancy is Russian intelligence services are sending across commando forces to aid the rebels, even coordinate their battle strategy.

So Russia is driving this war to wreck Ukraine. What will the West do to counter this and make Russia pay a hard price? Economic levers are pressed and results are not effective. So an Afghanistan strategy needs to be devised. Poland, as Pakistan was in this scenario, needs to be the conduit of fresh arms and expertise in command and control with the Ukrainian Armed Forces. For one thing it is surprising Ukraine did not position veteran reserve troops in blocking positions in case of Russian invasion forces crossing over to flank and encircle their engaged combat troops in the Donbass. This is telling that the most capable forces are already committed and that Ukraine truly has a weak military capability remaining to deal with Russian reinforcements.

You cannot blame the Ukrainians for failing. They are using Russian designed weapons and battle tactics against forces who know exactly those capabilities and weaknesses. The entire country is covered with spies reporting troop movements, and social media and news outlets are not managed to hide activities in the rear echelons. Russia has the initiative for now, and Ukraine needs to take a few hits as it regroups. The West if they do not send covert military help, may see the Russian plan succeed in carving out a loyal feifdom of Novorossiya from Donbass to Crimea, effectively crippling Ukraine as a power in the region.

The clearest effort by Ukraine is to trap and capture whole units of Russian formations on Ukrainian soil intact, so unequivocally that denials by Moscow can no longer hold up by their lies to the world. And although Ukraine cannot withstand provocations turn full open war, they need to approach the strategy of fighting Russian forces on their territory using new tactics and methods. They should consult Finland and Western planning experts on how NATO would fight massed Russian troops and infiltration forces.

At some point soon the gloves need to come off and Donbass need to be reduced to utter ruin. Ukraine may need to recognize that if they fail to quell the rebels they have to make the region impossible for Russia to govern and incredibly costly to annex. Novorossiya will need to cost Russia hundreds of billions to repair and rebuild, bankrupting Moscow and amplifying sanctions and drain on Russian pensions and citizens. Hundreds more Russians must go home dead so hiding their activities killing in a secret war against another country can not be silenced by grieving families.

Lithuania and Poland will need to revisit their larger roles within NATO but partner up as regional friends of Ukraine and act. The worst that can happen is Russia attacks, and invokes Article 5. Russia talks nuclear reprisals but they know they cannot. All Europe is languishing in peacetime recession, which means people are bored and frustrated. Give them a reason to unite, rally against an external threat, and watch the sleeping giants like Germany, Norway, and France step up. Even the Romanians are itching to take back Moldova and push the separatists out of Transnistria. The Americans? We rather blast Russians than fight Islamic terrorists, easier to quantify tanks and cities smashed into smoldering ruin.

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Why didn’t Russia invade Eastern Ukraine? (Do they even need to invade to win?)

The obvious reason is cost.  Russia will have to engage the Ukrainian Army and Border Forces with artillery, tanks, and aircraft and bomb bases, infrastructure and major towns and cities that provide transit hubs for Ukrainian reinforcements.  Russia would have to kill and injure many Russian-speaking civilians to occupy the territories, which is far different than having boots on the ground and a major navy and air base in Crimea from the start that could quickly seize control.  Russia’s invasion of East Ukraine would be a bloody, messy process, and thousands would die and billions in damage would occur from harsh economic sanctions and physical damage from fighting the Ukrainians and push them out to the west of the country.

So far most of the misery and disruption to daily life is happening in the East.  Western Ukraine is largely spared any sabotage, armed takeovers, or kidnappings by armed groups.  Roadblocks in Donetsk and Luhansk choke off supplies and trade, affecting incomes of many of the working class folks living in the East.  Government services have been broken by militias, pensions not paid, stores looted and properties seized.  When Utilities such as water and power gets disrupted by fighting, the people will feel like the uprising and insurgency has created conditions that western Ukraine would not have.  Will they support the militants then, knowing that Russia will not re-draw the border and that Ukraine will not allow these regions to become independent states?

The Ukrainian military, backed by its fledgling National Guard forces, are trying carefully to isolate and block the militants from expanding their control of key areas they have not already seized.  They do not want to invade and occupy Donetsk City, but fighting at the main airport suggest they do plan to retain aggressive control of strategic military assets.  The test will be at Sloviansk, where it seems the Russian-led militia there are better equipped and organized to deter the Ukrainians from retaking the town.  As Russian insurgents and trained guerrillas cross the border and reinforce those holdings, they will start to try and push the Ukrainians back and link up their forces.  If the Ukrainians can hold them and besiege them and contain their forces, perhaps the stalemate will force Russia to further negotiate with Kiev for a political settlement.

Open War between Russia and Ukraine in the east will be a public relations and economic nightmare for Putin.  He knows it, which is why he is slowly testing the waters of insurgency to keep the Ukrainians off balanced.  But the Ukrainians have shown some competence and capability to hit back and that is giving him some pause.  Especially since NATO advisers and troops are arriving this summer for exercises, and possibly covertly help coordinate the fight to take back the East.  There are as many ethnic Ukrainians as there are Russian-speakers in the East, and local support for Russian incursions will be limited in success.  The same difficulty the Ukrainian national forces face will be faced by Russian occupiers.  Which is why Russia is positioning better experienced and trained soldiers into the fray than allow the ragtag militants to run the campaign.  They relied on criminals and thugs to foment unrest, but now this is a real fight and they cannot have undisciplined men going up against the military.

What would be the Ukrainian Army’s next move?  First they need reinforcements and position their strike forces (heavy armor and attack helicopters) outside of immediate Russian air base range. This limits their mobility to reinforce the border, which is why the insurgents are attacking the border posts to keep their arms and supplies flowing in.  The Ukrainians need to build lines of supply and reinforcement to these posts, but also start to interdict the groups of insurgent militia roaming around attacking their soldiers.  They need to gather better intelligence on where these insurgents are operating and how they resupply, and conduct raids to destroy those meager supplies.  The insurgents are hijacking, kidnapping, and seizing cars and goods from regular people.  That criminality will not sit well with locals if it keeps happening.  The Ukrainian Interior Ministry and SBU needs to launch their own counter-insurgency operations that target insurgent leadership, using drones to monitor, and human assets to find and arrest rebel leaders.  Without leadership, the DPR will weaken dramatically and be a poor replacement for the government.  Russia will either have to step up or step in to govern or lead, which will play into the narrative of the West and Kiev government about the Kremlin’s direct meddling in their neighbor’s internal affairs.

The Ukrainian government needs to also start calling the DPR leadership and its militias “Traitors”.  They need to publicize the criminal backgrounds of these so-called leaders, and begin to counter the Kremlin’s narratives in the East by broadcasting information about the misinformation being fed to them by their pro-Russian leaders.  The Ukrainian government needs to also reach out to the industrial workers in the East, and negotiate pacts that secure their livelihoods while considering the needs of the economy.  Kiev must show it is going to fairly govern and protect the rights of its citizens in the rebel regions.

If Kiev cannot win the East over to its vision of the better future being a closer partner with the West, it will lose them to Russia’s vision of a divided world.  Ukraine’ friendship with the rest of Europe should not be feared, but Ukrainian sovereignty and neutrality between NATO and Russia must be clearly defined to assuage fears by the Russian-speaking population that their culture will not be forcibly erased by European values and greed.  Ukraine must take a position of strength by declaring itself a neutrally aligned nation, like Finland and Sweden, that would not seek to join NATO but serve as a center of trade between the EU and Eurasian Economic Union.  This declaration will ease tensions, but also give Russia little justification to invade.  Ukraine wants to go its own way but not be forced into marriage to anyone.  Ukraine will then be free to reassert its control east with less resistance from Moscow.  

It would probably then be about 10 years before Ukraine can improve the economic health of its country, but the east of the country can benefit if the threat of armed invasion and war is quickly replaced by a political settlement and reintegration of civilian life.  Ukraine can only prove the Russian world view is completely false by improving the lives of its people.  If it has to do it with without its industrial East, it should.  But it is in Ukraine’s national interest and ambitions to also improve those lives of Ukrainians in the east.  If Kiev gives up in the east, it also has given up its right to legitimately represent and rule the Ukrainian people, opening up the opportunity for Russia to be seen as the only viable ruler.  Ukraine has to provide strong leadership and determination to invade the East with jobs, prosperity, and services that improve the lives of regular people, for guns and tanks improve nothing.       

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