Western forecasts of Russia's «invasion» of Ukraine ignore the main issue

20:58, 09 февраля 2022

МОСКВА, 09 февраля 2022, Институт РУССТРАТ.

Forecasting «when Russia will attack Ukraine» has become one of the trends in Western analytical publications. Several dates of the «inevitable» attack of the Russian army on Ukrainian territory in November, December and January have already passed – according to the Telegraph, Kiev was saved by a warm winter and mud, in which Russian tanks would inevitably get stuck.

Now all the attention of observers is drawn to February — another fateful month for Ukrainian statehood, when Western publications expect another imminent attack by Russia due to the cold snap. At the same time, for some reason, the fact is forgotten that, according to Kiev’s repeated statements, Ukraine has been at war with Russia for the eighth year, and that this war is victorious for the Ukrainian army.

Another analytical review from the Economist is devoted to the popular topic of «military invasion». And it is very symptomatic – having practiced for several months in anticipating the Kremlin’s «military plans,» so far none of the authors, including those representing respectable structures, have been able to build a coherent strategic picture of Russia’s war against Ukraine. In addition, in full accordance with the laws of dialectical logic, telling in colours about the «Russian aggression», the authors sometimes reveal what they hardly wanted to talk about.

«What stands in front of us, what could be weeks away, is the first peer-on-peer, industrialised, digitised, top-tier army against top-tier army war that’s been on this continent for generations,” ex-military man and member of the British Ministry of Defence James Heappey emotionally states in the material. “Tens of thousands of people could die”.

The publication specified that in this regard, Britain decided to send to Ukraine «thousands» of anti-tank missiles – we are talking about manual NLAW anti-tank systems.

There are no explanations — where the opinion that Russia would attack Ukraine came from, and why exactly in February, the Economist does not say. Instead, having accepted the coming attack as an axiom, the authors of the material turn to military theory. Although it is unlikely that such a formulation is appropriate in this case.

The scenario of self-denial

According to the editorial board of the Economist, Russia’s attack can occur under various scenarios. One of them boils down to the fact that Russia «would simply do openly what it has done furtively for seven years,» writes the Economist. Namely, it will send troops to the Donetsk and Lugansk republics either to expand their borders to the west, or to recognise them as independent states, «as it did after sending forces into Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two Georgian regions, in 2008.»

The Economist does not explain what the connection is between the presence of troops on a certain territory and its recognition as an independent state. Expanding the borders of the territory controlled by the republican governments is certainly an achievable task, but in the situation described by the Economist, it is completely unclear what kind of military or political task can be solved in this way.

For recognition of the LPR and the DPR as state entities, it is not necessary to send troops there. The borders of the state can be expanded in order to gain control over resources, strategic objects or to take a more favourable geographical position.

Only the latter is relevant from this list for the republican governments of the DPR and the LPR — and it is connected with the critical proximity of Donetsk to the demarcation line. The outskirts of Donetsk are constantly being shelled by the Ukrainian side, and it is quite a logical desire to physically move the Ukrainian troops away, especially given the sabotage by the Ukrainian side of agreements on the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

If to read between the lines, the authors of the Economist attribute to Russia and the republics of Donbass a course of action that will be relevant only in one case: if Ukrainian troops begin to escalate the conflict.

«Another scenario, widely discussed in recent years, is that Russia might seek to establish a land bridge to Crimea, the peninsula it annexed in 2014,» writes the Economist. «That would require seizing 300km (185 miles) of territory along the Sea of Azov, including the key Ukrainian port of Mariupol, up to the Dnieper river.”

In the discussions referred to by the Economist, a simple but obvious question was never mentioned – for what reason would Russia create this land bridge? It was possible to imagine such a project before the Crimean Bridge was put into operation, when the supply of the peninsula, blocked by Ukraine on its side, was carried out at the expense of a ferry crossing. However, for several years now, the logistical isolation of the Russian regions from the mainland has been eliminated.

The only event when Russia may need to urgently «punch» a corridor through Ukrainian territory to Crimea will be a situation with some problems with the Crimean Bridge and a supply crisis on the peninsula. This can only be imagined if outside forces provide such a crisis and problems.

And this means that the plan described by the Economist has the right to exist only in conditions of aggressive actions from the Ukrainian side. The authors of the Economist do not pose the question of why Russia is interested in Mariupol, and not Nikolaev or Odessa, where the bulk of the ships that make up the Ukrainian Navy are now based.

Interestingly, further down the text, the authors of The Economist fall into a logical trap set by themselves.

«Such limited land-grabs would be well within the capabilities of the forces mustering in western Russia. What is less clear is whether they would serve the Kremlin’s war aims. If Russia’s objective is to bring Ukraine to its knees and prevent it from joining nato or even co-operating with the alliance, simply consolidating control over Donbas or a small swathe of land in southern Ukraine is unlikely to achieve it,» write the authors of the Economist, unexpectedly coming to a conclusion about the meaningless of scenario described by themselves.

A third option appears by itself in the Economist: “imposing massive costs on the government in Kiev — whether by decimating its armed forces, destroying its critical national infrastructure or overthrowing it altogether.

One option would be for Russia to use ‘stand-off’ weapons without troops on the ground, emulating NATO’s air war against Serbia in 1999. Strikes by rocket launchers and missiles would wreak havoc. These could be supplemented by more novel weapons, such as cyber-attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure like the ones which disrupted the country’s power grid in 2015 and 2016.”

This option is really more rational. However, the authors again do not answer the question – what task could Russia solve with such actions? There is no doubt that the Ukrainian army will be defeated in a matter of hours, and the use of the entire range of the Russian army weapons will allow destroying any significant infrastructure facilities in minutes, even without crossing the border.

In one of the previous materials of the RUSSTRAT Institute, the issue of Russia’s actual immunity from military consequences was considered in sufficient detail in the event that Moscow decides to eliminate the immediate threat arisen on the territory of Ukraine. The only situation in which Russia can take such a step will be a direct threat to the territory of our country or the republics of Donbass, in which diplomatic mechanisms will be ineffective.

A grain of truth among the chaff

The Economist article has a thesis with which one can unconditionally agree — there is no point in occupying Ukraine. Although the Economist has its own reasons.

«The country is as large and populous as Afghanistan,» writes the Economist, «and since 2014 over 300,000 Ukrainians have gained some form of military experience; most have access to firearms. American officials have told allies that the Pentagon and CIA would both support an armed insurgency.”

Given that the hypothetical invasion of Russia will affect the territories of Donbass controlled by Ukraine, as well as Russian-speaking regions, the number of «uprisings» may not be at all what it seems to Western analysts. And they may not flare up at all where the Economist’s forecast suggests. Separately, it is worth noting a flattering comparison of Ukraine with Afghanistan.

Going beyond the already established stereotype, the Economist recalls that for Russia it is not necessary to attack from the east. And, if the task of capturing Kiev arises, then it is much easier to act from the territory of Belarus.

«An attack from the north, over the Belarus-Ukraine border, would allow Russia to approach the Ukrainian capital from the west and encircle it,» writes the Economist, noting that it’s unlikely that Ukrainians would want to live in a situation where the centre of Kiev will be within range of missiles.

«Even if Vladimir Zelensky, Ukraine’s president, is willing to tolerate a siege, Russia may gamble that his government will simply collapse—and it may use spies, special forces and disinformation to hasten that process,» assures the Economist.

However, a complimentary assessment of the moral and volitional qualities of the President of Ukraine does not give an answer to the question: how is Kiev’s security, from a strategic point of view, any better now? For example, the ships of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol have enough “Kalibr” missiles with a range of 2,000 kilometres for ground targets, and any small missile ship can strike at any Ukrainian strategic object even without departing from the pier. But what is the military or political meaning of such an attack?

The Economist does not give an answer to this question. But its editors are sure that Russia will suffer serious losses in the war, the meaning of which the authors of the Economist still could not explain. This is precisely what Peter Zwack, «a retired general who was America’s defence attaché in Moscow during the Kremlin’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014,” insists on.

“‘This is going to be hard for Russia—and they are basically alone’. Coupled with the threat of heavy sanctions being prepared by America and its European allies, and the apparent absence of any domestic support for a new adventure, all this may, even now, be giving Mr Putin pause for thought,» explains the Economist.

Although it is difficult to consider Russia «alone», taking into account Belarus, the CSTO and the actual military-political synergy with China, let’s agree that it is not easy to support the scenario described by the Economist. First of all, due to the fact that this scenario has no logical basis, purpose and meaning for implementation in the existing conditions. It can become relevant only when Russia is forced to think about the military elimination of the threat that will be formed against it.

«Meanwhile, the White House said it had intelligence showing that Russia was planning staged acts of sabotage against its own proxy forces in eastern Ukraine to provide a pretext for attacking the country,» the Economist concludes.

As the Economist itself convincingly proved above, an effective pretext for an attack on Ukraine for Russia can only be an objective and real threat to Russia itself. If Moscow makes a political decision to use military tools for tasks related to Ukraine, «staging acts of sabotage» would be clearly an excessive event.

As of July 2021, 611,000 residents of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics have received Russian passports, and in accordance with the Constitution, the Russian Federation has every right to ensure their protection without any «preparatory» actions.

The Economist article is an excellent example of how the forecast of «Russian aggression» against Ukraine, when analysed soberly, leads to conclusions that completely refute the original concept of such theories. Describing possible scenarios of actions affecting the territory of Ukraine by Russia, the authors do not mention the reasons that could cause these actions.

Without exception, all the plans that the Western media attribute to Russia make sense only as a response to the immediate threat emanating from the territory of Ukraine. Nothing else can follow from the options offered by foreign think tanks.

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