Motyl: Could Russia Occupy Ukraine?

Citing a 2008 study by US Army Major Glenn E. Kozelka and a 1995 RAND Corporation study by James Quinlivan, Motyl comes to the following conclusions when assessing troop requirements to occupy Ukraine in a military invasion scenario:

  • • In order to occupy Donetsk and Luhansk provinces alone, Russian would have to deploy somewhere between 26,702 and 133,514 troops.
  • • A “land bridge” from Crimea to Transnistria would mean occupying Kherson, Mykolaiv, and Odessa provinces—which would entail somewhere between 46,497 and 92,994 soldiers.
  • • Occupying all seven southeastern provinces would require between 118,536 (26,702 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 91,834 for the others) and 317,182 (133,514 for Donetsk and Luhansk and 183,668 for the others).
  • • If Russia decides to conquer all of Ukraine, it would need an additional 548,587 troops—for a grand total of 667,123 to 865,769 troops.
  • • Kyiv city and Kyiv Province alone would require 90,676 occupying soldiers.

In light of Russia’s estimated current force levels on Ukraine’s borders (50,000–80,000), the best Russia could do under low- and medium-violence assumptions would be to invade a few southeastern provinces. If those assumptions are changed to medium or high, only one or two provinces would be within its grasp. These conclusions assume that an invasion would entail no force deterioration as a result of the Ukrainian army’s resistance. Change that assumption, and Russia’s capacity to occupy southeastern Ukraine declines even more.

Dr. Alexander Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia, and the USSR

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Felgenhauer: Russia’s Window of Opportunity in Ukraine

If Putin decides to send in his troops, he has a narrow window in which to act. The winter of 2014 in Russia and Ukraine was relatively mild with little snow, while the spring is early and warm. The soil is drying rapidly, meaning that it will soon be possible to move heavy vehicles off of highways and into fields in southern areas of Ukraine close to the Black and Azov Seas. A key date is April 1, which marks the beginning of the Russia’s spring conscript call-up, when some 130,000 troops drafted a year earlier will have to be mustered out as replacements arrive. This would leave the Russian airborne troops, marines, and army brigades with many conscripts that have served half a year or not at all, drastically reducing battle readiness. The better-trained one-year conscripts can be kept in the ranks for a couple of months but no longer. Otherwise they’ll start demanding to be sent home, and morale will slip. As a result, Russia’s conventional military will regain reasonable battle-readiness only around August or September 2014, giving the Ukrainians ample time to get their act together.

Ukraine has scheduled a national presidential election for May 25 that may further legitimize the regime the Kremlin hates and wants to overthrow. The Kremlin may find it hard to resist the temptation to attack Ukraine and “liberate” the south and east while Russia is ready, the Ukrainian military weak, and the regime in Kiev unstable. Such a move could lead to more Western sanctions, but this risk maybe dwarfed by the vision of a major geostrategic victory seemingly at hand.

The window of opportunity for an invasion will open during the first weeks of April and close somewhere around the middle of May. During his long rule Vladimir Putin has generally shown himself to be a shrewd and cautious operator, but his actions during the Ukrainian crisis have been rash. So far his daring has paid off. This, unfortunately, is precisely what could trigger more bold moves down the road.

Paul Felgenhauer is a military analyst and journalist based in Moscow

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Snyder: Russian intervention could inspire Beijing

 It should go without saying that an attempt to seize Ukrainian territory would be a disaster in the short run, ruining Russian credibility around the world and likely starting a major war. In the long term, such an action, even if it were to succeed, would set a rather troubling precedent — for Russia itself.

Beijing pays attention to Ukraine because it has a major stake in Ukrainian agricultural territories. It will likely note the developing Russian doctrine on the flexibility of Russia’s external borders. China also has a stake in eastern Siberia. It needs fresh water, hydrocarbons, mineral resources such as copper and zinc, and fertile soil for its farmers. The Chinese economic relationship with eastern Siberia is a colonial one: China buys raw materials and sells finished goods. Beijing actually invests more in eastern Siberia than does Moscow. No one knows the exact number of Chinese citizens in eastern Siberia — in part because the last Russian census declined to count them — but it certainly dwarfs the number of Russians in Crimea, and is expected by Russian analysts to increase significantly with time.

It seems rather risky for Russia to develop, on its own border, a challenge to the basic premise of territorial sovereignty. Beijing and Moscow currently enjoy good relations, and Chinese leaders are too sophisticated to consider open threats to eastern Siberia. But down the road, as demographic pressures mount and Russian resources beckon, a Russian doctrine of the ethnic adjustments of Russian borders could provide Beijing with a useful model.

Timothy Snyder is an American historian and Professor of History at Yale University.

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Ukrainian Policy note: More on the Chinese demographic issue in Siberia can be read in Will China Colonize and Incorporate Siberia? by Richard Rousseau and in China Doesn’t Back Russia’s Invasion Of Crimea — And That’s A Big Problem For Putin featured in Business Insider. Here is an excerpt from the latter:

Mr Walden says the Chinese have never forgiven Russia for seizing East Siberia under the Tsars, the “lost territories”. They want their property back, and they are getting it back by ethnic resettlement across the Amur and the frontier regions, much as Mexico is retaking California and Texas by the Reconquista of migration.

The population of far Eastern Siberia has collapsed to 6.3m from over 8 million twenty years ago, leaving ghost towns along the Trans-Siberian Railway. Russia has failed to make a go of its Eastern venture. With a national fertility rate of 1.4, chronic alcoholism, and a population expected to shrink by 30m to barely more than 110m by 2050 — according to UN demographers, not Mr Putin’s officials — the nation must inexorably recede towards its European bastion of Old Muscovy. The question is how fast, and how peacefully.

Is Russia Opening a ‘Crimean Front’?

Recent discussions, such as Ukrainian journalist Velentina Samar’s article, Russia has Opened a Crimean Front, assert that experts are now seeing the necessary preconditions for Russia engaging in a ‘Georgian scenario’ with regard to Crimea. In the aforementioned article, Samar claims that there is clear evidence that such an Anschluss is already being carried out. American analyst Paul Goble was kind enough to offer translation and commentary on the scenario as well in his own article.

Samar points out the ongoing Russian pressure from trade wars to act as a lever in the region, its current involvement in the formation of a ‘fifth column’, and the laying of groundwork for military deployment.

Neo Cossacks
Militants & neo-Cossacks at a rally in Sevastopol

With regard to the emergence of a fifth column in Crimea, possible suitors could be neo-Cossacks, the use of Russian biker gangs, or neo-Soviet radicals in general. The issue here which requires further study is just how much popular support such groups could rally, or how effective their mobilization could be. By and large, the majority of the nation’s so-called Antimaidans outside of Kiev have taken place in the cities of Simferopol and Sevastopol, but not much has else has taken place in the rest of the republic. While incredible for their visual symbolism, the effectiveness of these groups remains to be seen. As Goble pointed out recently, “ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues.” The Russian Bloc, if used as a measure of political radicalism in Crimea, is for all intents and purposes is fringe even in the regional scene. While Ossetia was in crisis, Crimea is comparatively sleeping.

With regard to potential military involvement, Samar does allege what would be troubling developments in Crimea at the moment. Vladislav Surkov, former Deputy Prime Minister and noted supporter of Chechen leader Kadyrov, who is also known for his his involvement in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, has recently been visiting Crimea to speak with the political leadership. The discussions, she says, concern the construction of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, connecting Crimea to Russia. This, while potentially a long-term play, would allow for theoretical troop movements to take place. When Russia invaded Georgia, it did so via the Roki Tunnel.

Umland’s recent article The EU should prevent the “Georgian scenario” in Ukraine, also weighs in on this topic, pointing out that notable pro-Russian politicians and activists has begun petitioning for Moscow to intervene in Ukraine to “protect” the inhabitants of the Black Sea peninsula, which holds a Russian ethnic majority. The echoes of the need to protect Russians abroad misleadingly points to the Georgian scenario and here is why: South Ossetia’s population prior to invasion was 3% Russian (2,100) citizens. Abkhazia, by comparison, also had no ethnic Russian minority of note. The pretext, instead, was that much of the population (illegally) held dual Russian citizenship. A much better historical comparison of ethnic liberation as a pretext for invasion would be the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland, in Czechoslovakia. Also, a Georgian scenario would require an armed civil conflict between the Ukrainian military and Crimean separatists, a Sudeten scenario would only require allegations of oppression.

So, is Russia really opening a Crimean Front?

Motyl illustrated recently the ineffectiveness of a separatist or occupation scenario. The ruling regime benefits more from the threat of separatism in order to receive concessions, than from actually leaving the country. The Crimea is an economic sink on the state budget, receiving considerable subsidization from Kiev. A pseudo-independent Crimea would require substantial investment and subsidization from Moscow – a Crimea within the Russian Federation would be even costlier. South Ossetia has a population of 55,000 people, while Crimea’s population is nearly 2 million. That is also 2 million potential less pro-Russian voters in Ukrainian borders.The realpolitik conclusions here are straightforward from Russia’s perspective. Perhaps it is too early, and sensational, to speak of a ‘Crimean Front’ having already been opened.

Motyl: The Secessionist’s Bluff

Alexander Motyl explains why threats of secessionism in Ukraine are a bluff which would only negatively impact the Donbas regime as well as Russia, and how Ukraine’s divisions are no different than any modern state:

Has any country ever been “one” country—especially twenty-odd years after its establishment? The United States was a loose agglomeration of former colonies—and, oh, yes, there was that slavery thing between the North and the South. Canada? Ditto. Otto von Bismarck’s Germany? Mazzini’s Italy? Ditto, ditto. And how about Russia? It’s always been a multinational empire marked by enormous regional, ethnic, and confessional diversity

Personally, I have no doubt that Ukraine without its southeast would be much stronger, more stable, and more prosperous than Ukraine with its southeast. The southeast’s rust-belt economy needs either to be shut down entirely or to be refitted at the cost of trillions of dollars of non-existent investments. Moreover, the statistics plainly show that Kyiv subsidizes the Donbas, and not vice versa. The southeast also has a low birth rate, a high death rate, low life expectancy, high energy consumption, and high AIDS and crime rates. Last but not least, the southeast is home to the ruling Party of Regions and the Communist Party. Remove the southeast and Ukraine’s treasury experiences an immediate boon; its demographics, energy consumption, and health improve; and its politics automatically become more democratic and less corrupt.

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