Outlier Thinking on the Russian Invasion of Ukraine
I find it very puzzling that so much of the world is holding its collective breath right now, but there’s been relatively little discussion about the (imminent) Russian invasion of Ukraine and/or Ukrainian territories.
Does anyone care? Is the public so fatigued by foreign conflicts that we don’t recognize a major transgression? Do we ignore global events until they reach our doorstep? I’ll be kind and ascribe widespread American apathy to this conflict being complicated. I also presume we might agree that other nations (including the U.S.) can do little to stop the incursion. Nonetheless, it’s important to try and understand things.
Russia’s military and economic superiority in any conflict with Ukraine is blatantly obvious. But history proves smaller and weaker nations aren’t always as easy to conquer (and even more difficult — to occupy) as they seem. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are but a few examples. And the region from Ukraine to the Caucasus has historically been territory that takes a bloody toil on invaders. Just look at the Germans 80 years ago. Today, seeing imagery of tanks rolling across the snowy plains is reminiscent of that prior conflict. Winning a battle is one thing. Winning a war is another.
Could Ukraine be a 2022 redux of Russia’s disastrous 1979 invasion of Afghanistan? There’s some evidence that the Soviet Union’s miscalculation and overconfidence not only resulted in a catastrophic military defeat but ultimately ended with the downfall of the USSR a decade later. Could Ukraine become V. Putin’s Waterloo?
I think Putin and Russia have made another potentially disastrous miscalculation. Even in an autocratic state, winning popular support is essential. And once Russians start coming home in body bags, common citizens will begin asking themselves — for what? Indeed, if Ukraine can make this invasion as costly as possible for Russia — militarily, economically, and in terms of national confidence — the advantage could turn in Ukraine’s favor, very quickly.
Sadly, the more brutal an initial conflict, likely also the better for Ukraine in the long term. Russia would love nothing more than a step-by-step incremental move into the two (supposedly “disputed”) territories, which finally sets up the biggest tumbling domino — a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
If Ukraine wishes to survive as a sovereign country, it’s probably advisable to take a page out of the Chechen playbook (1999) and start bombing apartment buildings in Moscow the moment the first Russian tank crosses the border, start disrupting transportation networks, launch cyberattacks, and make life as miserable as possible for ordinary Russians. It wouldn’t be pretty, but that’s probably their only option given no other nations are likely to come to the military aid of the Ukrainians. Combined with international economic sanctions, which certainly would have an impact on the Russian economy, and whatever popular support for a protracted war in Ukraine could collapse.
The two wild cards in the conflict are (1) China and (2) Russian oligarchs, both of which will be instrumental in an extended war. Without China’s support (or at least a willingness to remain neutral while continuing trade), Russia is in serious trouble economically. As for oligarchs, how might they react if their vast wealth and power are threatened by a reckless invasion with a massive downside? Dictators are all-powerful, at least until they’re not. Recall Mussilini’s very rapid downfall which has some parallels to the Putin/Russian situation.
I’m not saying Putin will end up hung upside down in a public square anytime soon. But we should be cognizant of the connection between political miscalculation and sometimes shocking consequences.
Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts. There’s a discussion HERE on Facebook. Feel free to take any position in the argument — what would you do if you were: (1) Ukraine (2) Russia (3) United States (4) EU and other nations?