Desperately seeking a single case of a military invasion that was stopped by sanctions



2014/09/18 • Military analysis

Article by: Luc Vancraen

The EU, being the primary financier of the Russian army through its energy purchases, keeps claiming that there can only be a political solution to a Russian military invasion. Going after such a solution, it has imposed weak sanctions on everything but Russia’s primary income, namely its energy sales. Looking at past conflicts, I see that it was every time the military efforts that made the difference  — not the sanctions. Vladimir Putin has also claimed this consistently. In an interview he stated: Russia’s position on sanctions is well-known; w have long since realized that sanctions as a foreign policy instrument are not very effective and almost never produce the hoped-for results, even when used against small countries, let alone against a country like Russia.

Let us look at the three most notable conflicts of the last century:

Korean war

The Korean war was a direct conflict between the West and communist countries, in which, after heavy losses, US military general Mac Arthur threatened China with tactical nuclear bombs. The West lost over 200.000 soldiers in it. Fearful of confronting the United States directly, the Soviet Union denied involvement of their personnel in anything other than an advisory role, but air combat quickly resulted in Soviet pilots dropping their code signals and speaking over the wireless in Russian. This known direct Soviet participation was a casus belli that the UN Command deliberately overlooked, lest the war for the Korean peninsula expand to include the Soviet Union, and potentially escalate into atomic warfare. After the war, and to the present day, the USAF reports an F-86 Sabre kill ratio in excess of 10:1, with 792 MiG-15s and 108 other aircraft shot down by Sabres, and 78 Sabres lost to enemy fire.

We all know what happened to North Korea, the territory that we decided to leave behind in 1953 and that to this date is still left behind. Way more people died in North Korea after the war due to repression than during the war.

Vietnam war

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russian officials acknowledged that the Soviet Union had stationed up to 3,000 troops in Vietnam during the war. Some Russian sources give more specific numbers: between 1953 and 1991, the hardware donated by the Soviet Union included 2,000 tanks, 1,700 APCs, 7,000 artillery guns, over 5,000 anti-aircraft guns, 158 surface-to-air missile launchers, 120 helicopters. During the war, the Soviets sent North Vietnam annual arms shipments worth $450 million. From July 1965 to the end of 1974, fighting in Vietnam was observed by some 6,500 officers and generals, as well as more than 4,500 soldiers and sergeants of the Soviet Armed Forces. In addition, Soviet military schools and academies began training Vietnamese soldiers – in all more than 10,000 military personnel.

Soviet war in Afghanistan

After the US Stinger Surface to Air Missile was introduced to the Afghanistan war, the Mujahideen shot down on average more than one aircraft per day. The suddenly escalating costs of aircraft losses became a major additional drain on the costs of the war and many analysts believe the unsustainable aircraft losses caused by the Stinger was the primary catalyst to cause the Soviet Union to withdraw from the war. Many Western military analysts credit the introduction of the Stinger as the turning point in the war but many Russian military analysts tend to be dismissive of the impact to the Stinger. With a kill ratio of about 70% and with over 350 aircraft and helicopters downed in the last two years of the war, most directly attributed to the Stingers, the effect of the Stinger was at least notable.


Objectively speaking, the EU is the enemy of Ukraine. It is an active participant in this conflict through its financing of the Russian aggressor. It continuously forces Ukraine to surrender territory in return for EU sanctions that are not result-oriented but time-limited. Looking at historical precedents, the chances that Ukraine gets the territories it gives up back are remote. The EU created a sanction myth to get rid of its role as guarantor of Ukraine after it offered an AA for which Russia invaded Ukraine. Cutting off the gas supply is the smartest thing Ukraine can do. Even if some EU countries now supply limited arms on an individual basis that still in no way compensates for the massive funding of the Russian army done by the EU.

Edited by: Alya Shandra

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  • Rods

    I think sanctions have to looked at as just a useful tool in a locker of many tools. Other tools that have been deployed to help Ukraine have been much needed financial support, non-lethal weapons and army training. Hopefully, we are now going to see the delivery of lethal weapons to bolster the power and effectiveness of Ukrainian forces. The west has to face the fact that this is an east-west conflict by proxy.

    Sadly, this is looking like it is going to be a prolonged bloody war, with Ukraine again paying a high human price due to Russia. This time it is the containment of them against their attempted aggressive expansion. I can’t see much of what Putin has done making strategic sense for Russia over Ukraine, but if the allegations are true of an angry divorced late middle aged man with a chip on their shoulder and having a personal mid-life crisis then they aren’t going to be the most rational, just one of the most dangerous!

    Russia is the biggest country in the world, but is relatively poor due to lack of economic development of the country, so apart from an inflated leader’s ego, why do they need even more territory at the expense of the development of what they have got? Russia is entering a demographic time-bomb where people of child bearing age are going to imminently start dropping dramatically with a halving of the Russian population in the next 50 years. So how does starting a war with your neighbours, so lots of their young die, help with this?

    I agree with you over gas and oil and fortunately the world is entering an easy oil phase with soft prices, much of it due to US fracking, which will help when we lose Russian oil and gas. I’m sure there is much planning within the EU at the moment on removing Europe from Russian oil and gas dependence, but it is going to take time. Where we have seen Russian aggression with counter sanctions to try to divide the west, I’m pretty sure that Russian will use the gas weapon against Europe this winter and the EU has already published a pooling and coordination plan to handle such an event.

  • Mat

    Sanctions are a deterrent but no a push back.