Friday, February 25, 2022

Russia's Invasion Could Unleash Forces the Kremlin Can't Control

The Ukrainians a determined, fierce, and awfully brave. 

Just a few minutes ago on CNN, William Taylor, a former ambassador to Ukraine, argued that the Ukrainians will never allow a Russian-back puppet regime in Kiev. People will take to the streets. Strings will be cut and puppet squashed.

And now, at Foreign Affairs, see Douglas London, "The Coming Ukrainian Insurgency":

Russian forces have struck targets across Ukraine and seized key facilities and swaths of territory. The Ukrainian military is no match for this Russian juggernaut. Although some reports suggest Ukrainian troops have rebuffed attacks in certain parts of the country, it seems more likely that Russian President Vladimir Putin will decide just how far Russia goes into Ukraine. As a retired Russian-speaking CIA operations officer who served in Central Asia and managed agency counterinsurgency operations, I did not think Putin would have attacked Ukraine unless he had already devised a reliable end game, given the costs of an intractable conflict. But Putin’s best-laid plans might easily unravel in the face of popular Ukrainian national resistance and an insurgency.

If Russia limits its offensive to the east and south of Ukraine, a sovereign Ukrainian government will not stop fighting. It will enjoy reliable military and economic support from abroad and the backing of a united population. But if Russia pushes on to occupy much of the country and install a Kremlin-appointed puppet regime in Kyiv, a more protracted and thorny conflagration will begin. Putin will face a long, bloody insurgency that could spread across multiple borders, perhaps even reaching into Belarus to challenge Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, Putin’s stalwart ally. Widening unrest could destabilize other countries in Russia’s orbit, such as Kazakhstan, and even spill into Russia itself. When conflicts begin, unpredictable and unimaginable outcomes can become all too real. Putin may not be prepared for the insurgency—or insurgencies—to come.


Many a great power has waged war against a weaker one, only to get bogged down as a result of its failure to have a well-considered end game. This lack of foresight has been especially palpable in troubled occupations. It was one thing for the United States to invade Vietnam in 1965, Afghanistan in 2001, and Iraq in 2003; likewise for the Soviet Union to enter Afghanistan in 1979. It was an altogether more difficult task to persevere in those countries in the face of stubborn insurgencies.

Russia can likely seize as much of Ukraine’s territory as it chooses. But plans to pacify Ukraine will require far more than the reserve forces Putin has suggested might occupy the territory as “peacekeepers” after initial combat objectives are met. Thanks to Putin’s aggression, anti-Russian fervor and homegrown nationalism have surged in Ukraine. Ukrainians have spent the last eight years planning, training, and equipping themselves for resisting a Russian occupation. Ukraine understands that no U.S. or NATO forces will come to its rescue on the battlefield. Its strategy doesn’t depend on turning back a Russian invasion, but rather in bleeding Moscow so as to make occupation untenable.

Any future insurgency will benefit from Ukraine’s geography. The country is bordered by four NATO states: Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia. Belarus, a Russian ally, is itself bordered by Poland on the west and another NATO member—Lithuania—on the north. These long borders offer the United States and NATO an enduring way to support Ukrainian resistance and a long-term insurgency and to stoke unrest in Belarus should the United States and its allies choose to covertly aid opposition to Lukashenko’s regime...