Analysis: Will the Russian leader now launch a new military campaign against Ukraine?

16 February, 10:32 AM
Russian servicemen pictured during a combat training (Photo:Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

Russian servicemen pictured during a combat training (Photo:Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

Russian President Vladimir Putin – the West having rejected his ultimatum on NATO's non-expansion east – now has two options: withdraw his troops away from Ukraine, or embark on a large-scale invasion. International observer Ivan Yakovina explains why both scenarios are possible.

With every passing day, there is growing understanding that in the near future Vladimir Putin will not get any of his demands in his ultimatum to the West. The question is, what will the Russian president do next? There are two options: either Putin will quietly and peacefully withdraw troops from Ukraine, or he will push ahead.

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Almost all observers, whose opinion I value, unanimously agree that the likelihood of a major conflict is minimal. Indeed, Russia will not be able to derive any benefit from such a war. Moscow will lose the war – even if it initially achieves certain military triumphs – because it will be impossible for the Russian army to hold any significant territory: After initial gains, only constant defeats and losses would lie ahead.

Such a war looks absolutely illogical, counterproductive, and idiotic from the point of view of the Russian Federation itself. Putin, of course, can assume any role, and ramble on, but not a fool who would "shoot himself in the head."

So major future military losses count against the option of invasion. Of course, Ukraine has much weaker aviation, rather weak air defenses, and so on, but if one fights not with huge army formations, but with small mobile groups of partisans, then the opponent’s advantage in aviation is nullified, especially without precision-guided munitions, of which Russia has very few. In this case, the key is the ability of the belligerents to navigate the terrain, as well as the presence of asymmetric weapons.

That is, small weapons, but ones that cause a huge amount of damage. The Ukrainian army has them: Javelin anti-tank missiles, and NLAWs, which can incinerate massive tanks at the pulling of a trigger. And without tanks, an attack and the subsequent occupation of territory in a modern war is impossible. Therefore, all the advantage of the Russian army is reduced to nothing, if one looks from a tactical point of view.

 On top of that there are the economic losses. Naturally, with the beginning of the invasion, Western countries will impose severe sanctions, and the losses for the Russian economy will be simply catastrophic. It has already been calculated that the sanctions will push the Russian economy back by at least six years. This, together with losses at the front line, will lead to a significant drop in Putin's popularity among Russians.

The sanctions that the Western countries are promising to impose will in many ways be directed against Russian oligarchs, who will enter some very hard times. All their property and accounts in the West will either be confiscated or frozen. These people, who for decades "saved up" for their cozy retirement in the West, taking all the loot out of Russia, will never be able to enjoy their money.

Of course, for the majority of Russian oligarchs, this is totally unacceptable. Accordingly, the imposition of sanctions will hit them hard and undermine Putin’s authority among this group of citizens.

And if Putin's popularity among the general public plummets, the economy will collapse, and the oligarchs will cease to trust the Kremlin. At this point, a revolution will be in sight. Everyone sees this clearly, including the Russian imperialist "flag wavers."

For instance, the Soviet and Russian Colonel-General Leonid Ivashov – the ultimate imperialist – published a letter last week stating that Putin is leading Russia to disaster, and if he starts a war against Ukraine, the Russian Federation will cease to exist as a single state and fall to pieces.

Moreover, Russian businesses have conducted stress tests in the event of the imposition of U.S. sanctions. Reports on this were sent to the government. Off the record, most complain that the situation will be practically a catastrophe. Russian manufacturers of electronics and other high-tech items have reported that devoid of Western components, chips, and microcircuits, they will all collapse, and will not be able to operate at all.

Their only salvation would be the Chinese company Huawei. But even for the Chinese giant, Western markets are much more important than the Russian market, and the firm will refuse to cooperate with the Russian Federation for fear of falling under sanctions.

In this case, all manufacturers from the Russian Federation will face the same situation as local law enforcement agencies, who are gradually being transferred to Russian-made servers and computer equipment. Because of this, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Federal Security Service and other bodies are panicking as none of it is working properly – it turned out that these servers are trash.

And Putin, having started a war against Ukraine, will have made sure that not only the security forces, but all government departments in the Russian Federation will get the privilege of working with Russian servers.

However, these arguments work if you deem Putin a rational and truly thinking person. But I, personally, do not have complete confidence that the Russian leader is currently guided precisely by rational motives. He lives in his own world, where the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union.

He sees himself as the greatest politician of our time. Incidentally, this was largely facilitated by the Western media, which have constantly called Putin a most influential and terrible politician. Remember how he said that after the death of Mahatma Gandhi he had no one to talk to.

Therefore, the President of the Russian Federation was certain that the West would accept the terms of his ultimatum. In his imaginary world, Putin is a “Messiah,” a “Messenger of God” who, on the one hand, must destroy the West, and on the other hand, must restore the Soviet Union and reverse the events of 1991. His ultimatum demands aimed to bring NATO back to its 1997 borders, allowing him to seize Ukraine.

 And that is prime goal of Putin's political existence.

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