First of all, while I'd like all of Ukraine, it is too big for my army to conquer easily. So I'll settle for much less.
I'd encourage Yanukovich to declare autonomous regions in the east, within Ukraine formally, but defended by local militias quietly supported by Russian advisers and weapons. I'd respond positively to Yanukovich's request for fraternal assistance.
I'd also annex the Crimea, claiming that the transfer to Ukraine in the Soviet period was premised on Ukraine remaining part of Russia and so is not valid. It doesn't matter if that stands up legally as a good argument. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. And with the Crimea being majority ethnic Russian, who will complain? Especially with lots of local militias springing up?
Assuming Russia has about 100,000 army troops capable of fighting, as the core of the potential force; and lots of paramilitary troops organized like army units, what would I have to start with?
The army would have 35,000 paratroopers and 65,000 regular army troops. I'll assume the Russians can pull together half of this force for Ukraine operations.
Russia will have other less ready troops that could be used for related missions, including logistics.
I further assume another 50,000 paramilitary units--especially after the Olympics missions are over--will be available for Ukraine.
Pure WAG, but that's what I'll assume. Russia is huge and the 400,000 army and paratroopers plus 400,000 paramilitary have lots of ground to cover. Say 25,000 paratroopers and 25,000 mechanized army troops for the invasion.
I assume Russian air supremacy.
I'd be confident from the Zapad-13 military exercises that my forces can execute a moderately sized mission to combat “escalation of relations with countries based on interethnic, interreligious differences, and territorial claims,” which would apply to the ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine quite well, I'd argue.
Crimea would be secured with 25,000 new forces.
Fifteen thousand paratroopers would be airlifted to Crimea and ten thousand paramilitary forces would cross the Kerch Strait to reinforce the Russian naval infantry regiment and other troops based in Crimea.
The main effort in eastern Ukraine would be 65,000 strong, on the ground.
Forty thousand paramilitary forces would head into eastern Ukraine, with half committed to cities from Kharkov anchoring the northern flank and points south; and the other half in the southern part, especially around Donetsk. These non-army troops would be the visible face in the cities of the intervention.
Part of me would want to advance all the way to the Dneiper River line. But I'd want my troops to advance on what they can carry with onboard fuel without resupply efforts during the
Besides, let the Ukrainians roll across the river through potentially unfriendly Russian-speaking areas between my liberated zone and the river.
This intervention would be portrayed as merely a means to preserve peace, prevent a civil war in Ukraine, and defend ethnic Russians from the "fascist coup leaders in Kiev." I would deny any intentions to annex the region or otherwise strip the region from Ukraine.
But my "police" troops would be on the ground, and I could wait to take further steps to absorb the region de facto and later formally when circumstances are better.
The 25,000 army troops in three motor rifle or tank divisions (or their brigade equivalents) would be divided into three groups, with one division near Kharkov, one near Donetsk, and one in reserve inside Russia able to move against Ukrainian counter-moves against either major city. This operational reserve force would also include 10,000 paratroopers.
The Moscow garrison of two divisions would be readied as the strategic reserve.
The Leningrad military district would mobilize troops to pose an implicit threat to the Baltic NATO states as a warning to NATO to stay quiet.
I'd also deploy tens of thousands of second-line Russian troops to Belarus, which would also be ordered to mobilize their 140,000 army and paramilitary troops, to pose a threat to Kiev and western Ukraine to freeze most Ukrainian troops away from the east and Crimea.
These troops would send a message to Poland, too. As would military activity in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave between Poland and the Baltic Sea.
And I'd shut down half of the rail traffic in the Northern Distribution Network supplying our forces in Afghanistan, under the pretext of security needs, just to remind us that our military relies on those supply lines.
Related to this, I'll leak suggestions that NATO is involved and display some captured "NATO" equipment (that I captured in the Georgia War of 2008) as proof of outside interference in Ukraine's internal affairs (see the UPDATE and the links there).
What I would not do is cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine, which also flows through to Western Europe. No need to make the fraternal assistance unpleasant for others, right?
Ukraine's 70,000 army and 80,000 paramilitary would have difficulty coping with this. However unready Russian and Belarus forces along Ukraine's northern border are, Ukraine needs to defend that long border. Russia could ready other troops to reinforce and potentially overwhelm a too-small force defending Kiev and points west to the Polish border.
Remember, if Russia has 100,000 effective army troops in their army, Ukraine's total is surely far less.
The port city of Odessa and the south would need to be protected from Russian airborne and naval infantry forces located in the Crimean peninsula.
So very little would be available to send east to reclaim Kharkov and Donetsk from the soft secession that Russian intervention would enable.
And so my forces sitting on defense in eastern Ukraine, with film of happy residents mixing with my paramilitary police in their armored vehicles posing as their protectors, and with the blessing of the still-legally president Yanukovich welcoming my forces, would dare the Ukrainian military to organize an offensive in the east or try to pry my troops from Crimea.
So let's talk about this whole messy situation and avoid escalation to war, shall we?
That's what I'd do.
I'll have to ponder my response as the Ukrainian defense minister.