Some interesting thoughts from James Sherr of The International Centre for Defence and Security, Tallinn. These were written nearly two weeks ago, so events have moved on, but it is still worth noting Sherr’s views on the form that a Russian military intervention might (or might not) take.
In his opinion:
The war that the West dreads most — an all-out invasion of Ukraine — is unlikely. It is not that the battalion tactical groups on Ukraine’s borders are insufficient for invasion. They will be good at it, but not for what comes afterwards. The Russian military leadership is better informed than those Western commentators who believe that Ukraine’s army will disintegrate in hours and stay dead. But whether they know it or not, they will be opening the door to people’s war. It will be waged by reconstituted forces, veterans of the Donbas conflict, volunteer insurgents, saboteurs as well as special forces who know, at least as well as their Russian counterparts, how to wage war in places and by means the adversary does not anticipate.
But the last thing we can expect is the kind of ‘off-ramp’ and ‘face-saving retreat’ that Washington hopes to prepare. Things have gone too far for that. It is time Western democracies understood that in Russia, authority does not depend upon institutions, but respect.
Rather, Sherr expects one or both of the following to occur:
The first, as I wrote in March, would be an occupation in force of what Russia already occupies, viz., the Donetsk and Luhansk pseudo republics. The second or simultaneous scenario, also mooted by the author has been set out in detail by Frederick Kagan and other experts at the Institute of War: viz. the deployment of ‘airborne and/or mechanised units to certain locations in Belarus’.
These deployments would have three merits. First, in all likelihood, they would be unopposed. Second, they would create a new military-political reality for Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states and, to be sure, a substantial augmentation of threat. Third, they might be sufficiently justifiable in legal terms and sufficiently ambiguous in political terms to defer or dilute Western counter-measures and undermine Alliance cohesion as well.
So far as the Belarus route is concerned, “the new military-political reality for Ukraine, Poland and the Baltic states” is a traditional one, blending weaponry with geographical access. Russia already has a lengthy border with both Latvia and Estonia, but its only border with Poland and Lithuania is provided by the relatively small Kaliningrad exclave. Adding Belarus as a possible jumping off point for action against those two remains highly unlikely (Poland and the Baltic states are in NATO), but adds a little more pressure to a region that already has more than enough of it. More important, perhaps, it gives the Russians another route to Kyiv.
Meanwhile Reuters reported this over the weekend:
Kyiv believes a hacker group linked to Belarusian intelligence carried out a cyberattack that hit Ukrainian government websites this week and used malware similar to that used by a group tied to Russian intelligence, a senior Ukrainian security official said.
Serhiy Demedyuk, deputy secretary of the national security and defence council, told Reuters that Ukraine blamed Friday’s attack – which defaced government websites with threatening messages – on a group known as UNC1151 and that it was cover for more destructive actions behind the scenes.
It’s no secret that Belarus is a close ally of Russia (translation: Putin keeps its leader, Alexander Lukashenko on a fairly tight leash), but while an overt act of (cyber) aggression by Belarus on Russia’s behalf is in itself not hugely surprising, the timing is . . . interesting.