Military Size by Country 2022:
|Country||Total Personnel||Active Duty||Reserves||Paramilitary||2022 Population|
The Saturday Feb. 12, 2022 call between Biden and Putin has ended. This will likely be the last direct communication prior to invasion, which I’m now estimating at 85% probability.
At a very high level, I’d compare the current post-pandemic situation to that after the Financial Crisis. Hard times lead to war, like the Arab Spring and the 2014 Ukraine war.
Recent quotes illuminate that it is not just sanctions that the US envisions. We are conditioned to expect governments we have supported to fold quickly like Afghanistan and South Vietnam, but our support to Ukraine has been more distant and they’ve been preparing for this for 8 years. See table of military strength above. The quotes, mostly drawn from https://www.cnn.com/europe/live-news/ukraine-russia-news-02-12-22/index.html
- US national security adviser Jake Sullivan warned that Russia could be preparing to attack Ukraine before the end of the Beijing Olympics on Feb. 20
- “We are basing his assessment on what we are seeing on the ground…which is a continued Russian buildup on the border with Ukraine, and no meaningful evidence of de-escalation, or really of any interest in de-escalation.” – State Department Official
- “As to our plans going forward, I think President Biden and other officials have been clear, that should Russia continue down the path to escalation, the United States will continue to increase our support to Ukraine, to enable it to defend itself, and you know, that approach has not changed,” the official said.
- Back in 2014, Reznikov (Ukrainian defense minister) said Ukrainians “were not psychologically ready to resist someone with whom they sat at the same table yesterday,” but “the situation is completely different” now.
- Biden administration officials on Saturday reiterated their calls for US companies to remain vigilant in the face of potential Russian hacking threats. Hacking attacks are routinely traded between the US, Russia and China. Officials today warned of Russian hacking threats. Cyber war would not be limited to territory. Other parties get drawn in as the attacks domino around the world. Escalation could happen in a few hours.
Russians and Ukrainians feel about each other like American whites and blacks did prior to the late 20th century. This is not perceived by Americans because they look indistinguishable to us. But I have experienced it first hand by traveling there and attempting to speak Russian, and being given heavy cream when I asked for milk, among other insults. And no, there was no misunderstanding. When my guide advised me to abandon speaking Russian, I immediately got milk. When confronted with a group of Slavic people in the US, the first thing my Russian wife does is tell me whether they are actually Russian or Ukrainian. She has no trouble telling them apart.
Ukraine’s military was slow to react in 2014 for two reasons. First, they perceived they were fighting a civil insurrection against their own kind, which they were mostly not willing to do. Second, they thought their borders were guaranteed by the Budapest Memorandum in which Russia guaranteed their territorial integrity in exchange for Ukraine giving up their nuclear arms. The US signed this agreement. But Obama did not treat it as anything the US would actually stand behind, which undoubtedly surprised the Ukrainians.
Why should we care, or should we?
While Russia has the power to invade Ukraine and probably take over the whole country, it does not have the power to do this without a massive WWII-style invasion and commitment to total war. Ukraine has the world’s 13th largest military, counting reserves, and Russia the 6th. Russia has maybe a 3 to 1 advantage in personnel, but Ukraine has the home field advantage.
Deaths of Ukrainian forces will just make them more determined and angrier, while deaths of Russian forces will undermine support from a public that doesn’t care about Ukraine any more than we do, and are not really expecting Russia to actually invade (according to my wife).
There are already warnings from retired Russian military leaders that invading Ukraine is a bad idea, not in Russia’s interest, which will merely provoke NATO to strengthen. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/a-former-russian-general-is-warning-putin-not-to-invade-ukraine-that-might-be-a-big-deal/ar-AATKtPG?ocid=msedgdhp&pc=U531
The invasion of Ukraine should come immediately after the Chinese Olympics, otherwise the ground will be too soft for troop movement. It may already be. However, Putin may be overconfident. We’ve seen Napoleon and Hitler underestimate weather factors in invading Russia. Putin is just the sort of leader they were.
The invasion of Ukraine would be preceded by air and missile bombardment. This contains a risk that has not yet been discussed. Ukrainian military targets are not highly concentrated. The Russians would kill many civilians. Ukrainian military targets are not embedded within cities. If the Russians attack civilians or cities, the personnel involved could incur the indefinite lifetime risk of being apprehended and prosecuted for war crimes. There is no expiration on this risk. Personnel from the war in Kosovo and even WWII are still being apprehended and prosecuted. Even if such personnel never traveled overseas, there is a risk that some post-Putin Russian government would find some advantage in allowing them to be apprehended.
Air and missile bombardment would harden NATO’s resolve to deploy anti-missile defenses along Russia’s border, something Putin does not want. It appears Putin has lost his sanity. It appears to us on the outside that Russian leaders are impregnable, but typically they are removed at some point. Sometimes peaceably as in the case of Khrushchev and Gorbachev. Sometimes by poison, which Russians are fond of. It is at least possible Stalin was removed by poison.
Air and missile bombardment would be ineffective without a following troop invasion. This invasion would face an entrenched and distributed force with effective anti-tank weapons, and not just those provided by the US and NATO. Ukraine has developed an arms industry and manufactures its own cheap anti-tank weapons reported to be extremely deadly, perhaps as effective as the US Javelin. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2022/01/11/ukraines-homemade-anti-tank-missile-has-been-blasting-more-and-more-rebel-vehicles/?sh=5e5d6a0e43ca
Currently Ukraine lacks effective defense against air and missile strikes. Lithuania just days ago promised immediate shipment of air defense capability. Ukraine has a missile defense development program underway, but it will not be ready in time for this invasion. Preventing such development likely determines Putin’s timetable. He must invade now or forever give up his ambitions to restore the USSR hegemony.
The West’s notion that it can control Putin with sanctions, or that he will only take Ukraine and quit, are no better than the weak ideas of Neville Chamberlain in appeasing Hitler. The US is currently distracted with the hoopla of comparing Donald Trump to Hitler. Trump only managed to marshal an ineffective band of conspiracy theorists to attack a building, most of whom are now in jail. Putin commands cruise missiles, high performance aircraft, and nuclear submarines, and has demonstrated willingness to use them.
Putin sees the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as a sign of weakness and lack of resolve. Given that he cannot wait for Ukraine to develop missile defense, I think it likely he will order an invasion of some kind this year. Nothing is yet certain, and this article may be obsolete within a few days, but that’s where the logic is driving him.
Putin also recently permitted Belarus to force down a commercial airliner flying over its airspace in order to seize dissidents onboard. The lack of effective Western response to that also will have emboldened him.
China is onboard with Russia’s plans and promising to buy their oil and gas. China’s Xi had newly taken office in 2013 when Russia took parts of Ukraine before and his aggressive policies had not yet been established. Putin could not be sure of China’s backing then. He is now.
Biden was vice president when Obama failed to take any meaningful action in 2014. Biden was historically an anti-war politician from the 70s. Putin is probably patting himself on the back for throwing the US into political disarray via his meddling in various campaigns. One cannot know the mind of Biden any more than Trump, but Biden has been belligerent with the press lately, and they can hurt him worse than Putin. He’s likely still fuming over the treatment of his son Hunter by the Russians. And Biden approved and carried out a successful boots-on-the-ground terrorist raid recently, something he opposed when he was vice president.
Biden, 79, could die at any moment leaving Kamala Harris as President. Her statements on Ukraine have been very evasive and there have been none in the last three weeks. This situation would be extremely unpredictable. She might fold. She might feel the need to establish herself and take more aggressive action than Biden.
Currently Republicans in Congress favor pre-emptive sanctions against Russia NOW, prior to invasion, and Democrats favor only a response to an invasion. Fact is, Putin has already caused a lot of problems and the Republican position is justified. Their position is oddly different than Trumps go-soft approach to Russia and will distance them from Trump in the mid-term elections. Early polls already show them gaining control of both houses of Congress to be a high probability.
A “small invasion” of Ukraine would not do anything for the Russians. Biden appeared to offer this a few weeks ago, and was quickly chastised. A small invasion would leave the West even more militarily supportive, and accelerate Ukraine’s missile development. It makes no sense to Putin. It’s all or nothing. If he backs down now without any concession from the West, he’s lost time and time is not on Putin’s side as Ukraine’s military gains more power by the day.
Add to this the racial element of disrespect and disregard for Ukrainians, and it seems very likely Putin could underestimate the costs and order an invasion.
Unless he can close the matter in a week with minimal loss of life, it will absolutely terrify Europeans. It will not be possible to get 6000 American citizens and several thousand UK citizens out of Ukraine. Most of the UK citizens are tightly coupled, with families and new babies that don’t have passports, and consular services have essentially been shut down. Russia has also withdrawn diplomats. These are historically moves in anticipation of danger, particularly due to a violent transition of government.
I see four possible outcomes at this time:
- Unexpected removal of Putin, 5% likelihood.
- Russia bogged down in a partly successful invasion, 45% likelihood.
- Russia quickly successful and not making additional threats, 10%.
- Russia backing down 10%
- Russia succeeding eventually and demanding NATO withdraw from other border states, 30%
In the case of Russia bogged down, arms would flow across the border from Western nations, likely causing escalation such as cross border strikes. Russia demanding NATO withdraw from other border states and making military moves against them would eventually draw Europe into full scale war. Thus I see a 75% likelihood of a broader conflict than Ukraine to one degree or another.
The West will come to the realization that its precious world order has ended and economic sanctions will no longer be effective. A possible outcome is structural changes to the institutions put in place after WWII, including removal of veto power in the UN security council. In the case of a new world war, the UN would be completely dissolved and replaced with something else by the winners. Well, by whoever is left, if anyone. Nuclear winter would solve global warming.