Russia-Ukraine part 2: A look at the military and geopolitical choices facing Putin

Albert Marko | February 2nd, 2022

As most of the media cry foul and predict World War III, few if any, have truly analysed Russia’s capabilities and rather continue to take the Biden’s administrations wild rhetoric at face value, such as “sacking Kiev”. The Biden administration must be rattled. Here we have inexperienced and arrogant leadership from the White House and Pentagon looking at the biggest Russian troop movement since at least 1988, frantically sending doomsday messages to Eastern Europe and pumping media outlets with narratives. But what is really going on in the region?

Russia is nearly impossible to predict. It acts like a monkey with a hand grenade, but today, it is hard to conceal troop movements and overall intentions. This is a case where the West does not want to send troops to Ukraine and Putin does not want to invade, as he would be risking economic collapse within 3 months and drawing the public’s ire, as Russian troops come home injured or in coffins.  The most likely situation is that Putin is trying to bluff for a baseline of negotiations, in which to discuss disarming the Eastern European threat at its borders, as he is looking to see who reacts with fear from NATO members rather than any sort of global support. Putin may be saying “I want to negotiate but my military is not rational and I can’t fully control them”, forcing everyone at the table to ante up. This sort of talk may seem strange, but the reality is that not all of Russia’s military is fully under Moscow’s control. This I have discussed at length with Harald Malmgren in relation to those Russian generals in proximity to the Chinese border. 

The Russian military is far too small and far too underfunded to grow and expand Moscow’s desire to reach global hotspots. The reality is that Russia is stretched thin right now, given that the drama in Kazakstan forced Moscow to decide on whether they solidify it or push for a Ukraine incursion and continue to pressure the West.  For Russia to conduct an appropriate mission in the region, it would need to use its elite forces. However, they are already deployed in Kazakhstan and will continue to stay there. We know that around 75 Ilyushhin planes were sent there, equating to one battalion of elite forces per three planes. If there is to be real action in Ukraine(major operation to expand from its 2014 mission), those planes full of elite troops would be shifting to the front lines of Ukraine, but as of now, there has been no indication that such a deployment has occurred.

The most likely scenario is that Putin, or his generals, initiate a small incursion into Ukraine in order to solidify its already occupied areas and create chaos and embarrassment amongst NATO members. A full invasion of Ukraine, wherein they take down the main cities and “sack” Kiev is simply off the table. 

Some Key Questions: 

What would signify a small incursion vs a large invasion?

In the short version, I can figure out the following versions of invasion (from small to large): 

a) “cyber” invasion;

b) invasion with “green men” (like Crimea);

c) the locals of the Pro-Russian districts in one perfect day will be quickly “multiplied” by the civil-dressed Russian militaries equipped with good Russian weaponry;

d) somehow try to organize the Afghanistan-79 type scenario, – whereby some group does something like a (military) coup and officially asks Russia to help. Note that the new version of such a scenario was successfully tested recently in Kazakhstan.

What are the differences between the choices above? 

a) and b) are slightly long-term, but are easy to operate surreptitiously and without any need to show the flag;

c) and d) are a short and sharp, wherein the main phase must be finished within a maximum of 72-hours  and where it is impossible to note any Russian identity keeping things clandestine, ie “to keep the flags in secret”.

What is China’s role if any? Would Moscow even consult China on a Ukraine incursion?

China is a short-term friend of convenience for Russia per the Eastern proverb “ the enemy of my enemy, is my friend”. If Russia were to somehow try and ask for help, China would attempt to extract a so-called “double profit”:

·         “direct” and touchable success in the East Russia region, such as increasing the presence of one or more businesses, as well as increasing the exports of the Russian resources at favourable pricing, and;

·         “indirect profit” – devaluing the image of US and Western society..

Russia, in any case, must start consultation on least on one crucial issue – be ready for the case of oil sanctions. In fact, they should be close to completing their plans in case thereof:

·         China is a permanent member of the Security Council at the UN and has an exclusive right to VETO;

·         If the Western block of countries somehow agree to sanction Russian Gas and Oil, then China can becomes an “emergency rescue client” for Russian oil

Does Russia have the capability to invade and take all of Ukraine over?

In military terms, taking over the whole of the Ukraine would require a 72-96 hour airborne operation, especially if Russia forgets the “good image” strategy in the public eye and starts Putin’s long dream of rebuilding as the USSR did much like in the 1920’s, HOWEVER, when those active military campaign 100 hours are finished, Russia will face the real hell of an insurgency from the civilian population of Ukraine, especially the population of Western Ukraine, as well as potentially from the US/NATO/UN on the international side sending it special forces to pick off a few soldiers. It’s more than likely some are already there.

A takeover is not a big problem – the issue of keeping the territory is the primary question going forward.