An Invasion of the mind

2014/02/27 • Analysis & Opinion

Over the last two days, the Western press has descended upon the southern Ukrainian city of Sevastopol. The reason? Kremlin saber-rattling and overblown talk of a Russian invasion in Crimea. If the journalists reporting from Crimea were able to separate Russian media hype from facts and take a step back to think logically and strategically, it would dawn upon them that such an intervention could only happen if Vladimir Putin were a raving lunatic.

In a city teeming with Russian nationalists who either serve in the Russian Black Sea Fleet, have family members serving in the Fleet or are retirees from the Fleet, some seem to have forgotten that Crimea is not only Sevastopol and not only Russian. Nor does the press ponder the implications of such a move by Russia, nicely serving as the latest group of “useful idiots” for the Kremlin.

Is Russia capable of invading Crimea?

Yes, of course. Russia already has a sizeable military force on the peninsula at its Black Sea Fleet’s base in Sevastopol, including a marine infantry brigade. Additional reinforcements could be brought in through the Russian-held airfield at Kacha or over the narrow Kerch strait from the Kuban peninsula.

Ukraine’s military has a much smaller force, largely made up of units of the Ukrainian Navy, on the peninsula. Most ships of the Ukrainian Navy are based in Sevastopol alongside the Black Sea Fleet, which dwarfs it. Part of the Ukrainian Navy presence on the peninsula is a Marine Infantry Battalion in Feodosia, which was planned to be employed against the Euromaidan in Kyiv, but has now returned to its base. The Ukrainian Army has no sizeable presence on or near Crimea, while the Air Force has a Fighter Regiment equipped with MiG-29 in Belbek and three Air Defense battalions spread out over the peninsula.

The battle-readiness of the Ukrainian forces is questionable, as is their willingness to fight were Russia to choose to use force. In fact, a swift strike could well eliminate most of the Ukrainian military presence in Crimea, as all the units, except for the Marine Infantry Battalion and one Air Defense Battalion, are located within the Sevastopol area.

Is Russia in a position to occupy Crimea?

Yes, absolutely…with a substantial force and at a high price. Crimea, especially the entire southern coast, is a mountainous place with a highly jagged coastline. Although Russians make up the majority of the population, 25% of the population is Ukrainian and 15% are Crimean Tatars. Expelled from Crimea by Stalin in 1944, the Tatars only began to return to their ancestral land after the fall of the Soviet Union. From 1.6% of the population in 1989, their numbers have risen tenfold and all of the new arrivals left Russia or Uzbekistan to come “home.” The Tatars abhor the idea of Crimea returning to Russia. They would undoubtedly wage a spirited and bloody guerrilla war against any Russian occupation force.

Besides garrisoning the peninsula itself with a sizeable force, Russia would need to organize a large number of coastal defense formations to guard against possible Ukrainian military landings and against Islamist fighters coming to join the fight alongside the Muslim Tatars. Moreover, Russia would need to guard the coast against Turkish supply transports getting to Crimea, as Turkey considers itself a guarantor of the Crimean Tatars’ well-being. Russia would also need a large mechanized force to guard the Isthmus of Perekop against a Ukrainian counterattack and would have to move its fleet from Sevastopol to the much smaller and not yet finished military harbor of Novorossiysk to avoid the constant threat of Ukrainian air and missile attacks.

Russia barely managed to control Chechnya (area 17,300 km², population 1.2 million) with about 60,000 troops; the manpower needed to control Crimea (27,000 km², population 2.3 million) would be almost double. A prolonged occupation and guerilla war would also wreak havoc on Crimea’s tourist based economy, which would stir up further unrest against the occupation and require large subsidies to at least keep the Russian population under control.

Will Russia invade Crimea?

No, it won’t. Even though Putin might gain prestige at home in the short term, the repercussions would be so grave and destabilizing to his regime, that there is no scenario under which he would choose to invade. Some of the repercussions include:

  • The last time someone tried invading a neighboring country to annex it or parts of it was in 1990 when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. Invading Crimea would draw instant and universal condemnation and destroy the last shreds of goodwill the current Russian regime has in the world. Economic sanctions would follow that would wreck the Russian economy and severely curtail the Russian elite’s ability to travel.
  • A much more radical government would come to power in Kyiv and most Ukrainians would come to hate Russia passionately. Both would lead to armed clashes in Ukraine’s southeastern regions, clashes which would force Putin to intervene also there or he would massively lose face at home. But intervening in southeastern Ukraine would lead to all-out war between Ukraine and Russia—a war that would seriously drain the manpower and economy of Russia, especially as Ukrainians in the occupied territories would also wage guerilla warfare and force the Russian military to deploy most of its forces to Ukraine. This would inevitably open up new opportunities for Chechen guerillas in the North Caucasus and for Georgia in to take back Russian-occupied territories. Even Azerbaijan and Moldova might be encouraged to seize the moment and strike at their Russian-backed opponents.
  • Russia exports most of its gas to Europe through Ukraine and is depended on an uninterrupted flow of European hard currency to prop up its economy and regime. With Ukrainian gas pipelines closed down, only Nord Stream in the Baltic Sea and Yamal in Belarus would be delivering gas to the EU, with the latter pipeline a prime target for sabotage via Ukraine. Indeed, it is doubtful that Europe would buy any Russian gas at all should there be a Russian-Ukrainian war, as every Euro sent to Moscow would be seen as fueling the Russian war machine.
  • A Russia willing to attack its neighbor out of a sheer desire to make Putin look strong would reinvigorate NATO. Europe and the US would increase their military budgets significantly, new members would rush into NATO for protection against Russian aggression, and vast amounts would be spent to modernize NATO forces and redeploy them eastwards. A Russia crippled by sanctions and waging an unwinnable war in Ukraine would not have the resources to counter such a NATO expansion in capabilities and troops.
  • With the Russian economy tanking, travel curtailed, large numbers of young Russians coming back in caskets from Ukraine, and Russia’s military being driven back on all fronts by a resurgent NATO, the Putin regime would face surging dissent at home, requiring ever-more severe repression, thus further reducing its already-crumbling legitimacy.

So far, Putin has always been most interested maintaining the stability of his regime: invading Crimea would fatally destabilize it. Putin has not (to the best of anyone’s knowledge) lost his mind and started contemplating any kind of military intervention. The massive Russian propaganda blitz about Russians in Ukraine being threatened with extinction by “fascists and nazis” from Western Ukraine and its constant saber-rattling are nothing but Putin’s last desperate attempt to force the new leadership in Kyiv to give him and his satraps a say in the future of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s new leadership is well advised to ignore Putin’s noise and carry on with business as usual. Putin himself knows all too well what ill-advised imperial overreach can do to a socially and economically unstable country. Just as he came to power, he witnessed another megalomaniac and corrupt dictator thrown out of office and into a cell in The Hague, after losing a series of wars and leaving his country economically ruined. To end like Milosevic is not an option for Putin—and neither is invading Crimea.

Thomas Theiner

https://twitter.com/noclador

Thomas Theiner is a writer and production manager. He has previously lived in Kyiv for 5 years and worked at a subsidiary of Ukraine’s biggest film company.

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  • chornajuravka

    Reblogged this on Voices of Ukraine.

  • Henry

    You are wrong in your analysis that Putin will not invade the Ukraine. He did invade a country in 2008. See Abkhasia and Southern Ossetia. Same script there: “Russians” are in danger, Russia has to invade.

  • http://twitter.com/TeachESL TeachESL (@TeachESL)

    What about this?? Russian fighter jets on W. border on combat alert. http://www.debka.com/article/23710/

  • http://Cnn.com Zuki

    Russia does not have to invade to have the Crimea. It is already theirs now. They will create puppet like state
    in Crimea (think Pridnestrovie) and Russia will back them up with finance and military.

  • Freedom_for_all

    Perhaps Mr Putin is, in fact, a “raving lunatic” already now. At least, he already mobilised his mighty Russian army and the Russian army is on high alert on the Ukrainian border. Reportedly, Mr Putin already sent an armed battalion (or more than a battalion) to Sevastopol to his naval base in there.

    During the last televised meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart (back then), Mr Yanukovich, in the Kremlin Palace amid the ongoing massacre of Kyiv, Mr Putin appeared like a man who was shaken to his core…at least he did so to my eyes.
    Although it was just a personal impression of mine, he and his proteges inside the Kremlin Palace are probably not as optimistic as they used to be before the bloody massacring of the unarmed Kyiv protesters came to its end when the coward commander-in-chief (Mr Yanukovich) decided to flee his own position in and near Kyiv, taking a helicopter to Kharkiv, Donetsk and then to Crimea.
    Mr Yanukovich now lives in a self-imposed exile in Moscow, apparently, and is staying in a luxury hotel in Moscow and an old Soviet sanatorium in the countryside, according to well known latest reports such as the one on the Washington Post at the moment. He still claims that he is the legitimate president of the country.

    Many people around the world also know that the Kyiv Post reported already that a Kremlin official (retired or current) was advising the self-claimed Ukrainian President-in-exile before or during the bloody massacre in Kyiv last week.
    This is still a mere allegation but, as many people know by now, the Kremlin failed to officially DENY the allegation. This means that the Kremlin and Mr Putin himself were apparently involved, one way or another, in the Kyiv massacre of the civilian protesters there (about 100 were killed by coward snipers reportedly).
    Massacring of civilians is one of the most serious crimes a head of state can ever commit. But the two heads of states, Mr Yanukovich and Mr Putin, were taking it too lightly. …Until Mr Yanukovich suddenly fled his own position in or near Kyiv city last week at last.

    Some pundits in the Western countries are fearing at the moment that a Russian intervention in Ukraine or an outright Russian invasion of Ukraine is in order. However, it is probably a delusional view.
    Perhaps, those pundits are still appeasing their Cold War counterpart (enemy and friend at the same time) although the Russian Federation is NOT the USSR any more today. Even the former USSR failed to invade Czechoslovakia during the notorious Prague Spring of 1968 to kill off the young democracy and freedom movement of the country. Back then, even the USSR needed the whole Warsaw Pact countries to join the unfortunate and criminal adventure against Prague although the Romanian leadership refused to join that. The Russian Federation will have to gather some more friendly countries to do the same in Ukraine but, unfortunately, none will join such a criminal invasion.
    Mr Yanukovich is already wanted by the Ukrainian government and is to be sent to The Hague to the International Criminal Court. If so, his unknown accomplices such as the alleged Russian official above is going to be tried in The Hague, too. If the allegation of the Russian involvement in the massacre in Kyiv is ever true, Mr Putin will lose everything soon, unfortunately.

    At least, in this context, the ousted Ukrainian President, Mr Yanukovich, is a man who “knows too much”, unfortunately. So, Mr Putin may want him to be silenced, one way or another, while Mr Yanukovich lives in Moscow, too…

    Still, the Kremlin and Mr Putin may decide to go to war against the new government of Ukraine, defying a possible international condemnation, international isolation and a series of economic sanctions against the Russian government and Mr Putin himself in the near future. Such an adventure in Ukraine will finally destroy the already worn out power of the Kremlin within the Russian Federation, where even ordinary people started chanting something like “Ukraine Slava” on a street and in a football stadium, reportedly.

    But, true, the Russian President may want to risk everything in order to cover up the well known allegation of involvement of the Kremlin in the Kyiv massacre last week. True, that is possible because, at least, Mr Putin is the commander-in-chief of the Russian military (at the moment).
    In that case, Mr Putin is truly insane. Good or bad, in that case, the Kremlin will lose everything at last. And, in that case, Mr Putin and his friend, Mr Yanukovich the would-be President-in-exile, will be remembered in history as the most bloody and pathetic modern time czars of Russia and Ukraine.

    • Freedom_for_all

      Now, it seems I was wrong to speculate that Mr Putin would not invade Ukraine or interfere in Ukraine.

      At the moment, Twitter messages of a BBC correspondent to Moscow, Daniel Sandford (BBCDanielS), are reporting that he saw Russian military trucks on the road to Simferopol from Sevastopol, unfortunately. That situation has been going on at least since one hour ago.
      Apparently, these Russian troops are trying to occupy the airport there to secure their military flights to-and-from Simferopol.

      So, I have to conclude here that, unfortunately, Mr Putin is truly insane already. Like a cornered animal, he probably decided to risk everything in Crimea instead of honestly negotiating with the Ukrainian government or extraditing the fugitive, Mr Yanukovich. So, he will lose this time.

      It appears that he learned no lesson from his experience of the Prague Spring. Maybe he was too young back then (17 or so) to learn a bitter lesson from the criminal adventure but, unfortunately, ignorance is no defence for him once he himself starts an actual aggression incident like this one.

      I thought Mr Putin told the world that the Georgian side started the August war of 2008 in South Ossetia and it was an aggression by Mr Saakashvili. Now, today, he is doing this in Crimea… Then, nobody will believe what he says about aggression of somebody else any more, unfortunately.

      Now, it is important for us, the international community, to let Mr Putin and the Kremlin lose and have justice served for those who fell in Kyiv in the bloody Maidan.

  • http://wix.com/amigodlosdebiles/noun Per_sé

    2014 – 26 Feb_
    Protests in Russia Village, is fear
    ‘sanctions from the EU, USA and allies for the invasion
    sovereign territory of Ukraine (Crimea).

    War propaganda on the Internet of Putin
    collapses networks in metasearch,
    Putin bots
    invade propaganda information
    criminal, justifying the invasion of Crimea
    by Putin.

    I have done the tests and test.
    Confirmed.

    Do not know you expected NATO to
    defend sovereign territory of
    Ukraine.

    There seems to be a thought
    revanchist absurd installed on pro-Russian,
    romantic communists and radicals
    leftmost worldwide
    theme by Ukraine, but all
    that thought is misplaced
    plug it or hide it has been the same
    people of Ukraine who has been the
    that created the new government
    in Ukraine.

    Alert Ukrainian friends.

    Greetings from Spain.

    Congratulations to the Ukranian people
    and Timoshenko.

    Reconquista !

  • http://albertphd.wordpress.com albertphd

    To be sure, I have the advantage of hindsight (now almost a month since this prediction that Putin would not invade The Crimea). It is more clear to the world, especially to Eastern Europe that Putin will not stop at anything. He is determined not only to convert the Crimea into a Russian Federation but all of Ukraine as well. And no doubt Ukraine is only the first pawn in his chess game to build a new Euro-Asian Empire! In a sense, this daring (yet dumb) move on Putin’s part proves he is still in the Post WW II Cold War Era, the ‘other world’ (as a noted Chancellor aptly described his psychosis). Resting on his 130 billion dollar recent accumulation of personal assets, no doubt Putin thinks he is a world player, now temporary President of the world’s largest country?! But all of his best-laid plans and ambitions are, shall we say “temporary”?! Before the long-awaited 25 May 2014 election in Ukraine, there will be more than mere economic sanctions laid against Russia, in particular against the multi-billionaire Putin, his side kick, Yanukovych as well as the Prime Minister of Russia (who 100% supports Putin it appears), Dmitry Meldevkev. Ukraine is determined not to let Russia keep the Crimea (for long!) but even more so not to allow one more ‘little green man’ (masked, disguised, unmarked and heavily armed) to enter mainland Ukraine. The 57,000 active Ukrainian military personnel are being called to arms and are authorized now to use lethal force to repel the invader(s). Soon the 1,000,000 active Ukrainian reserves will be fully employed (already upwards of 20,000 of them have become enlisted) as the USA now states that it is ‘reconsidering’ Ukraine’s request to arm these 1,000,000 soldiers with weapons worthy of their opponents. The playing field will soon become more level, and will then cease to become a game but a downright contest of ruthless survival. If Putin wishes to play hardball then hardball it will be. Every Ukrainian (worthy of the name–and I do NOT include, Viktor Yanukovich and those pro-Russian ‘Ukrainian citizens’ who fall in the category of a Quisling!) knows that this battle will be for the very identity and cultural survival of Ukraine as a people and as an honored Sovereign Nation–the Republic of Ukraine, never to return to a Federated State. Ukraine has left the CIS and (contrary to Putin’s wishes) has already signed up to join the EU and will (most likely) join NATO as well, to ensure that Russia will never again humiliate, exploit and mock the will, and mind and soul of the Ukrainian people. The 100 fallen martyrs of the Maidan movement have not died in vain. Every drop of their blood will count for yet another defeated invader! The SOUL of Ukraine has been freed, Now the mind and body and spirit of Ukraine will be free as well! There is no turning back! There is no looking back! Today, Ukraine will move forward and set the example for other oppressed nations to follow–from Moldavia to Belarus, from Georgia to the very peoples of Russia themselves! May God Bless the Republic of Ukraine, and may Ukraine remain for ever FREE as a Government of the people, by the people and for the people!