Sunday, March 30, 2014

Now What?

The Crimea crisis is sounding over. Putin will bank his territory and reputation--for now.

Putin saluted the performance of his troops in taking Crimea:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the actions of Russian military forces in the Ukrainian region of Crimea have demonstrated the "high level of preparedness" in the Russian armed forces.

"Recent events in Crimea constituted a serious test [for the Russian military]. They demonstrated new qualitative abilities of our armed forces as well as high morale of the personnel," Putin said.

Yes, he earned lots of style points for that conquest by a military that is less impressive than Putin claims:

Despite Putin's attempt to make his military look awesome, his military really isn't prepared to fight more than a small war with any type of skill.

Oh, he could send large formations into battle. But they'd suffer heavier casualties against any decent opposition and would achieve their objectives only with brute force.

And when the basic load of fuel and ammo in his vehicles went black, the resupply effort might be less than impressive. Which is why I think Putin's window to easily seize eastern Ukraine is closing.

Any victory with this force would not be pretty. And when you fight a small power, you need all the style points you can accumulate to avoid looking like a bumbling giant that simply overwhelmed a tiny foe with no business even being on the same battlefield.

Remember, Russia did not take Tblisi in their short war with Georgia--a small country. And Putin appears to have wanted to do so.

But his military's performance could not have inspired confidence when the decision to go for total victory had to be made.

Trying to continue the war by advancing into eastern Ukraine, creating a land bridge to Crimea, or even driving all the way to Odessa and on to Transdniestria would risk the military reputation that Putin is now touting.

The Crimea triumph of Russian quality and morale was not a real test of the Russian military's ability to fight, as impressive as the near-bloodless conquest was.

By now, Russia will have to fight to break into or through defended eastern Ukraine:

"Our own security forces have already been mobilizing for several weeks -- both the National Guard and army troops," says Mykola Malomuzh, a retired army general and the former head of Ukraine's Foreign Intelligence Service. "An invasion is already a considerably more complicated matter than it was before." ...

Ukraine's Defense Ministry says that it's already called out 40,000 reservists to back up existing ground troops. Nearly all are concentrated along Ukraine's eastern border, and analysts say that despite the dilapidated state of Ukraine's post-independence military, the soldiers are combat-ready and armed with vast numbers of Soviet-style tanks, rockets, helicopters, and antiaircraft missiles.


Kiev has already begun improving its defensive capabilities. On March 17, the Ukrainian Parliament allocated 6.9 billion hryvnia -- about $684 million -- to defense. In the last few weeks, Ukrainian armed forces, tanks and other defensive weapons have been deployed along the country's border with Russia. The number of border guards along Ukraine's southeastern borders has also increased. Kherson province is planning to build a 20-kilometer long ditch along its border with Crimea.

A National Guard has been formed, and its ranks are to consist of 20,000 troops. The Ukrainian Security Service appears also to have become more active in Ukraine's vulnerable southeastern provinces. No less important, the population is determined to resist and sales of guns have far outstripped supply. ...

Kiev's defensive efforts may or may not be enough to stop a possible Russian attack, but they would certainly make it far more difficult, risky, and bloody -- which may be enough to deter Moscow.

Unlike the Crimea invasion, Ukrainians are now psychologically prepared to fight Russia. And the Ukrainians have made more preparations than news stories portrayed to me.

So escalating to a new war with Ukraine will be an actual war this time, and threaten Putin's boasts of his military's prowess the way the drive on Tblisi, Georgia in 2008 tarnished the reputation of Putin's military.

And there is another factor that isn't something I think of much because we don't operate on what is a very old system of annual or semi-annual intake of recruits, which leads to discharges of lots of trained troops at one time as new civilians are brought in:

"If Putin decides to send in his troops, he has a narrow window in which to act," Russian military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer writes in "Foreign Policy," citing the need to seize on current troop readiness before Russia's spring draft brings in a wave of unseasoned conscripts. "The window of opportunity for an invasion will open during the first weeks of April and close somewhere around the middle of May."

Unless Putin wants to keep all those resentful draftees due to leave the army in for the duration of a renewed war with Ukraine, Russia's military has to win fast and have no lingering resistance.

I don't think Putin's generals are in any position to guarantee that the correlation of forces favors Russia (although they might be too afraid to tell the truth, I admit, making my guess the crisis is over wrong based on a very wrong assumption).

And if Russia doesn't win fast, they have to either let troops go in the middle of a war theater or deal with popular discontent as sons don't come home when expected.

So I'll hazard a guess and say the immediate crisis is over. And if it isn't, I think Russia risks defeat or an ugly victory.