President Putin’s blitzkrieg approach to the invasion of Ukraine has seen Russian forces capture vital strategic nodes and disperse across the country at lightning speed. But what can happen next? MARK ALMOND, director of the Institute for Crisis Studies at Oxford, goes through options.
1. SUDDEN WITHDRAWAL
Vladimir Putin loves to surprise his opponents. Given the speed and scale of the Russian invasion, what could be more shocking than the sudden cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of troops?
If Putin decides that his ruthless punitive action has achieved his main goal – to force Ukraine to comply with his demands and humiliate NATO – then his army can make a “triumphant” march home.
Such an unexpected retreat could prevent the worst of the Western proposed economic sanctions and allow Putin to pose as a “peacemaker”.
Probability: Vain hope.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke today in a special televised address about the authorization of a special military operation in the Donbass of Ukraine.
2. UKRAINE IN THE PARTITION
The effectiveness of the Russian bombardment and the speed of their tanks advance suggest that this war will be over in a few days. Indeed, US sources fear that Kiev could fall as early as Sunday.
The Russian army and officers of the FSB – the new KGB – may soon spread out across the country to hunt down those who spoke out against Russia’s ambitions before the invasion.
And while only a small percentage of Ukrainians may be willing to cooperate with a massive military presence, a puppet government could be installed in Kiev.
In the meantime, millions of Ukrainians will be allowed to flee to the EU, the easiest way to rid the country of potential rebels.
Probability: The most likely outcome.
An explosion lights up the night sky over Kiev, Ukraine, early Thursday morning as Russia invades.
3. Ukraine strikes back
Russia’s first triumphs may turn out to be illusory. In 1941, the Nazis quickly took over Ukraine, but were soon undermined by massive partisan resistance.
The proliferation of firearms and man-portable anti-tank weapons by the Ukrainian government could mean that Russian troops will increasingly be ambushed deep in the occupied territory.
And significant losses of the Russians can undermine the attitude towards the war at home.
Burned Russian AP near Glukhov, Sumy region, today in Ukraine, when Russian troops entered the country
The sight of body bags being returned during the 1980s Afghan war caused widespread discontent and helped to undermine the stability of the Soviet Union, although today Russian troops use mobile crematoria.
Putin may have started this war in his own time, but stopping it may prove more problematic.
Probability: high. Kiev distributes weapons to any citizen who asks for it.
4. RUSSIA STRETCHES OUTSIDE UKRAINE
If Putin decides he’s on a roll, his army could move toward the weak, neutral former Soviet republics bordering Russia (Moldova, Georgia, and the Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan).
Last month, Russian airborne troops staged a test trip to Ukraine when they flew to Kazakhstan to “stabilize” the situation after unrest over rising energy prices.
This successful operation set a precedent.
The Kremlin may well conclude that NATO will not interfere in Russia’s military takeover of these defenseless states.
Russian Collective Security Treaty Organization peacekeepers leave a Russian military aircraft after the withdrawal of troops from Kazakhstan, last month
Indeed, all indications are that Western leaders will limit their response to sanctions as long as Russian aggression is limited to non-NATO former Soviet republics.
Quite quickly, Putin could create a vast new Russian empire while the West effectively retreats to the EU’s borders. This will lead to a dangerous new cold war.
And let’s not forget China.
Chinese President Xi Jinping may see Moscow’s quick recovery of former Soviet territories as a pretext for invading Taiwan. At the very least, China’s navy and air force can try to stifle the island’s trade.
Probability: Given Putin’s imperial ambitions, remains a real possibility.
5. NUCLEAR COLLISION WITH THE WEST
During the Cold War, both Washington and Moscow agreed that this would be CRAZY—a suicidal path to mutually assured destruction.
But Putin openly threatened to use nuclear weapons in his speech yesterday morning announcing the invasion of Ukraine.
What if the collapse of the Ukrainian military, trained and equipped in the West, galvanized him enough to take on those East European NATO members he considers “soft targets”?
The launch of a Yars intercontinental ballistic missile during a training launch as part of the Grom-2022 Strategic Deterrence Force exercise at an undisclosed location in Russia this month.
The Baltics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, for example.
This could give effect to Article 5 of NATO, which requires all members of the alliance to come to the aid of a member country under attack.
Under such circumstances, Putin could move from nuclear blackmail to deploying Iskander missiles against his NATO neighbors.
Even this horrific scenario cannot be discounted now.
Probability: subtle, but cannot be completely ruled out.