Russian invasion looms: A small wager…

Written 13 August 2014

A lot of media  attention has been focusing on the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, following the reversals experienced by pro-Russian forces in the east of the country. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary-General of NATO is partly responsible for this, by declaring that the possibility of invasion is high. While I of course am very much open to the possibility that I will be wrong in the forecast that I am about to make, I would like to first demonstrate my success with predicting events in Ukraine.

The rise of nationalism in Eastern Europe:

Over a year ago, I was seeing trends in Eastern Europe which were frightening. I wrote something short about the resurgence of hypernationalism in Eastern Europe and highlighted the fact that in the region, nationalism (and fascism) has a breeding ground which has been there for over a hundred years. While most were hailing the rise of democracy in the post-communist world, I was warning about the threat that these ideologies still pose. The supposedly most intelligent and well-informed people who study international politics even went as far to predict en masse that Eastern Europe will play an insignificant (even nonexistent) role in American strategic relations with the world.

Well, we know what is going on in Ukraine now and we know how wrong most analysts were. I highlighted how the threat of nationalism has been ignored in another post which can be accessed on this blog.

Crimea moving away from Ukrainian control:

This is not a very significant prediction — and I thought it was self-evident — but I was able to foresee Crimea moving away from Ukrainian control just before the Russian invasion. Of course, I expected calls for independence instead of direct annexation by Moscow, but the basic premise behind the foresight was the same. Either way, Crimea would have invariably ended up within Russia’s orbit. And although the post was made just before the invasion, I had been talking about in conversations right after Yanukovych was driven out of the country.

Crisis in the Donbas Region:

In my post about the ensuing victory of Putin in Ukraine (which I still believe will happen, at least in the short term), I said: “Russia can also destabilize the Donbas region of Ukraine when it seeks to do so. … With this in mind, it is important to pay attention to the Donbas region. 

Do I need to explain further?

Also, be sure to read the rest of the post as I made some other forecasts.

No Russian annexation of Transnistria:

While the media was worrying itself over another Russian annexation (because of something a NATO official said; sound familiar?), I confidently said that this would not happen. This was with regard to Transnistria and you can read more about it here.

I can’t attest to everything I said offline which were not recorded, but as you can see here, I was able to foresee several significant geopolitical events affecting Ukraine. With that in mind, I will now make my prediction: Russia will NOT launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine again. While there is not doubt Russia will continue to drive the conflict further, by arming and even sending its men (re: Igor Girkin), Russian Army tanks will not roll across the border. There are a couple of reasons for this.

The first is that Western sanctions against Russia are really starting to bite. Russian GDP growth this year is expected to be at 0.5%, and while not suggestive of any upcoming major calamities, it is significantly less than previous years. An invasion of Ukraine would bring forth much heavier sanctions against Russia, which would undoubtedly target Russia’s energy industry. While sanctions would no doubt hurt the West, they would devastate Russia, especially when considering the fact that nearly 70% of its exports are from the energy sector. An invasion offers too much to lose and too little to gain.

The second is that an invasion would be costly and difficult. The Ukrainian Army already has men at arms and is mobilizing more and increasingly nationalism will ensure that the fight would not be an easy one for Russia. The Russian Army faced significant problems in its 2008 invasion of Georgia, and even though the force is now more advanced, the Ukrainians also have a much larger and (now) more experienced fighting force than Georgia did in 2008. It would be difficult to see Putin risking it all in a costly battle which could end up failing, after all the gains he has made.

Instead, what I see happening is an ongoing conflict backed by Russia to provide enough instability to ensure that Ukraine remains weak, leaving an the country open to more direct Russian influence. As I said several months ago in an aforementioned previous post, Putin will continue to rely on three key strengths he has within the Ukraine: a suggestible Ukrainian oligarchy; his control of the pipelines running through Ukraine; and the Donbas region. It is likely for Putin to push through a federalization of Ukraine. Doing so would ensure not only the Donbas (which would probably gain some sort of autonomy), but also other parts of Ukraine with significant Russophone communities which would be heavily influenced by Russia.

With the significant pro-Russian losses in Ukraine within the last two months, some have suggested that Putin is in a “quagmire” and “on the verge of a huge defeat.” However, this seems to be far from the truth, as pro-Russian forces have made a significant comeback in the last week by restoring rebel access to Russia in its southern front (compare this map from August 3 with this one from August 12). Recent outbreaks of unrest in Kiev furthermore make it more difficult for Ukrainian forces to lead a successful operation in Donbas, not only from the troops which have to be taken out of the warzone to quell the violence, but also from the ensuing confusion it causes for the political leadership.

In short, it seem highly unlikely that Russia will invade Ukraine anytime soon, despite what media fears may suggest. Putin has too much to lose from invading, and too much more to gain from continuing what he is already doing.

If am wrong, well, I’ll be wrong.