Anyone thinking about a Russian invasion of Ukraine today should remember that it took the Red Army at the height of its power at the end of World War II “almost a decade” to pacify Western Ukraine, Viktor Mironenko says. Indeed, an invasion now could lead to “a Russian Vietnam or a new Afghanistan.”
The director of the Center for Ukrainian Research at the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences argues that unfortunately Kremlin policy now is being formulated by people who don’t remember the past and are operating on illusions about the strength of Russian arms and the weakness of Ukraine.
Mironenko’s comments came at a roundtable of political and military experts organized by the Rosbalt news agency. Other participants were divided on what the Kremlin is thinking and what may lie ahead. Independent military expert Pavel Felgenhauer argued that “for a large regional war, today everything is ready in Russia.”
But former Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryev said that he “does not see any logic” in such a move by the Kremlin.” Of course, Moscow wants to manipulate Ukraine; but “after Afghanistan, the Americans cannot allow themselves any foreign policy fiascos” and so Russian leaders know that the US would lead resistance to any Russian invasion.
The Kremlin’s threatening language has already given Moscow something it very much wants: more Western sanctions on Belarus, something that Vladimir Putin hopes will force Belarus to unite with Russia and give him a new post, head of a union state, to occupy after 2024.
Historian Elena Galkina says the probability of a large war between Russia and Ukraine is about “10 percent.” Moscow may have prepared its military but it hasn’t taken the usual steps to prepare its own population. “The population of Russia is much less prepared for war than it was in 2013.”
[quote]At that time, “Russians believed that half of Ukraine loves us; but now there are no such illusions … [and] today, fewer Russians are aggressively inclined.” Moreover, the costs of occupying Crimea are on everyone’s mind. The costs from an expanded war would certainly be even higher.[/quote]
Sociologist Pavel Kudyukin, however, warns that no one should “overrate the rationality of thinking in the Kremlin,” especially as the center of decision making has shifted from the Presidential Administration to the Russian Security Council where the siloviki are dominant rather than experts on the domestic situation.
And Marina Shapovalova, a writer and economist, says that media hype about the war has been “exclusively in the information field” rather than more broadly as one would expect if Russia were really going to invade. Moscow wants to ensure that Ukraine is never in NATO but doesn’t need to occupy and attempt to pacify it to achieve that end.
People “both in Russia and Ukraine are afraid of war, although in Ukraine, there is a definite stratum of citizens who are ready to fight for their motherland. In the Russian Federation, there are almost none of these to the extent that no one has attacked their country.”
In a separate comment, Rosbalt commentator Sergey Shelin suggests there is another constraint on Kremlin plans: “Russians do not want to go into battle with Europe on the side of Lukashenka.” They know how the West would react to that, and yet that alliance against Ukraine is precisely what Putin is talking about.
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