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What Would Happen if Russia Invades Ukraine?

Si Rusia invade Ucrania ¿occidente la defenderá? Imagen: Unsplash

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The scenario is not as far-fetched as it seemed a few months ago: Hundreds of thousands of Russian troops cross the border, while its air force bombs “strategic targets” in Kyiv with the aim of subduing the government of that country and getting it to “voluntarily” abandon its alliances with the West to appoint a new president, aligned to Comrade Putin’s orbit. Or, even more dramatic, that the entire country of Ukraine “requests” to return to Moscow’s control.

It sounds absurd. After all, if Putin’s regime were to dare this, it would basically imply a declaration of war against the Western powers, starting with the U.S. and Germany. How could Russia (with its GDP less than that of Texas and barely higher than that of Mexico) challenge the giants of the world?

And yet, something very similar happened just a couple of years ago. In 2014, Moscow’s army invaded Ukraine, hiding under the technicality of a “referendum” and seized from Ukraine the territory of Crimea, which today is part of the Russian Federation. The West got angry and complained, but nothing else happened. Putin got his way out and Barack Obama was left staring into the void, with no more retaliation than a handful of symbolic sanctions.

And that could happen again, especially if Ukraine and Georgia insist on becoming part of NATO, sealing their accession to the West and consolidating their “betrayal” in the eyes of the Moscow regime, which continues to see its former communist colonies as an indispensable area of influence for its national security and imperial projects.

But the underlying risk goes beyond that. Ukraine itself has symbolic political and geographical importance for the Russians. It is also that the West is increasingly unwilling to fight a full-scale war in earnest.

If Russia shells Kyiv and seizes Ukraine, what would the West do?

This is the key point: If Putin decides to launch his troops in a massive attack, (similar, for example, to those of the Yugoslav war) will the West be willing to pay the political, financial and military price necessary to stop him? The signs are very negative.

The armies of Western Europe are more or less dismantled. That was precisely Trump’s main complaint to NATO members which they were not investing even the bare minimum to defend their countries, let alone move a large-scale operation in Ukraine. And the United States? It is not in the mood either.

Just in the middle of the year, the Biden administration literally ran out from Afghanistan, in a display of incompetence, political cowardice and failure worse than that of Vietnam in the 70s. Neither the government nor the American public is willing to get into another mess with the appearance of civil war, especially now that inflation is at its highest level in 40 years.

And yes, I said civil war, because the large number of pro-Russians in Ukraine would almost immediately transform an invasion scenario into one of civil war where Putin’s government would play the role of “protector” of minorities, as in Yugoslavia Belgrade did exactly that (advised by Moscow) justifying its invasions as a defense of the Serbs in Bosnia and Croatia.

So, to stop the Russian invasion, the West would need to deploy perhaps 150,000 troops; and for seriously punishing Putin it would be necessary to mobilize many more troops, perhaps around 1 million capable of entering Russian territory, humiliating the Moscow government and forcing a regime change. And it would not be a “clean” war on battlefields, but a large-scale urban conflict, similar to those that devastated the former Yugoslavia, with hundreds of thousands of civilians killed.

Since we live in the Internet era, millions of videos would make public showing atrocities from both sides (because those kinds of things are inevitable in war zones), but with one key difference: Putin’s legitimacy does not depend on being “cool”, but on being powerful, so videos of his army crushing his fellow men would strengthen him. Conversely, every little mistake by the US military would immediately become a global scandal, irreversibly eroding the legitimacy of Biden and his NATO colleagues.

Putin está en un estira y afloja con occidente. Si Rusia invade Ucrania, se estará jugando su gobierno. Imagen: EFE/EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV
Putin is in a tug-of-war with the West. If Russia invades Ukraine, he will be gambling his government. (EFE)

The drone limit

Well, you may think, that the United States and NATO have drones and computers, they can make a “virtual war.” Yes, but no.

Indeed, Washington and its allies have a clear technological advantage and have successfully deployed drone and guided missile strikes, which also have the advantage of minimizing civilian casualties, but there are two problems: 1) Mistakes are made and those mistakes become scandals, and 2) At the end of the day, wars are not won with drones, but with boots on the ground. The U.S. has a lot of drones, but the Taliban is in charge of Afghanistan. And Russia is much more powerful than the Taliban.

That leaves us with the other weapon in the Western arsenal: “economic sanctions” but these come with their own pitfalls: in many cases (Cuba, for example) they can be extended for decades without real results, and Russia can easily counterattack where it hurts NATO countries the most: in the distribution of gas for Europeans to survive the winter.

So the “sanctions” would end up being mere posturing, and a very affordable price for Moscow, in exchange for Ukraine.

The underlying theme is that Western societies, protected under the wonderful international peace agreements that took place since 1945, are increasingly forgetting an uncomfortable truth: violence is an inevitable element of existence throughout the universe and particularly in human nature; although it is not a beautiful thing it is sometimes necessary.

Our grandparents knew this, but our parents were ashamed of it and our children, who condemn the atrocities of the past dancing on TikTok never knew it. Consequently, “woke” people, vegans, animalists, anti-imperialists and non-binaries accumulate more and more power, both in the streets and in the governments of America and Europe, convinced that everything can be solved with gender courses, angry tweets and videos of celebrities with constipated faces.

Putin and Xi Jinping look at the West with greedy eyes and smile with derision at this progressivism and its “cancel culture”, which frightens America and Europe, but provokes laughter in the rest of the world. In conclusion, while in America the zeitgeist is embodied at a Demi Lovato’s concert with some non-binary ghosts, the rest of the world calculates everything, and will eventually invade in the future.

Gerardo Garibay Camarena, is a doctor of law, writer and political analyst with experience in the public and private sectors. His new book is "How to Play Chess Without Craps: A Guide to Reading Politics and Understanding Politicians" // Gerardo Garibay Camarena es doctor en derecho, escritor y analista político con experiencia en el sector público y privado. Su nuevo libro es “Cómo jugar al ajedrez Sin dados: Una guía para leer la política y entender a los políticos”

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