From Novaya gazeta, Nov. 26, 2021, p. 3. Complete text:
This week [Nov. 21], Bloomberg published a possible Russian plan for invading Ukraine that US intelligence passed on to its European allies.
The invasion would involve 100 battalion tactical groups with a total of 100,000 soldiers, half of whom “are already in position.” The incursion would be three-pronged and would come from continental Russia, the Crimea and Belarus. It is said to be planned for early next year . According to the article, “America and others are not saying a war is certain, or even that they know for sure Putin is serious about one. The people said it is likely he has not yet decided what to do.”
The current buildup of armed forces on the border is the second in a short period of time. The previous buildup, which occurred in the summer, was also accompanied by troop movements and ended with a meeting between [US President Joe] Biden and Putin.
The ongoing deployment comes on the heels of a major drop in approval numbers for the Russian government, the total defeat of the opposition and a crisis on the border of Poland and Belarus, during which [Belarussian President Aleksandr] Lukashenko threatened to shut off Warsaw’s gas supply while his spin doctors promised strategic Russian bombers.
Here I will attempt to explain why such an invasion is impossible.
First, the Kremlin has yet to wage a real war. It has only waged hybrid wars.
A real war is fought for the sake of victory. A reality check is important in such a war; as Japanese Admiral [Isoroku] Yamamoto once said, if [countries] start lying during a war, that war is already lost.
A hybrid war is fought not for victory, but for appearances. And in this kind of a war, the lie is one of the chief tools.
During a real war, all efforts are directed at maximizing the enemies’ losses. During a hybrid war, they are often aimed at maximizing information about the party’s own supposed losses. Sometimes a hybrid war is waged solely to recount how the Israeli military killed a child or how Ukrainian fascists crucified a boy.
Second, all the wars the Kremlin has engaged in have been built around the possibility of denial. “This is not Russia. These are private individuals.” . . .
And, finally, all the Kremlin’s wars have always provided the West with the opportunity to take a neutral stance and avoid irreversible decisions. “It’s all so complicated. It’s an internal Ukrainian conflict. Those are volunteers.” And so forth. This ability to allow the West to save face while doing nothing has always been an integral part of the Kremlin’s military strategy.
In fact, all of the above are signs of a hybrid war, i.e., a war that is being waged not to win, but to lie and to harm. To harm the enemy and to lie to your own people. For the Kremlin, the ideal war has always been a computer-generated image of Russian missiles striking Florida.
And, in spite of the pictures and promises to reduce the US to “nuclear dust,” the Kremlin has always carefully avoided any real war.
When the Americans routed a column of Russian mercenaries near Deir al-Zour in February 2018, the Kremlin not only failed to respond, but even pretended that there hadn’t been a battle at all.
When the Americans bombed Syrian infrastructure in April of that same year, Russia loudly declared that it would not tolerate American aggression, but then behaved very hybridly indeed: On television, it lied and said it had hit a bunch of stuff, and then immediately tried to put this unpleasant incident, which demonstrated the absolute superiority of American missiles, out of its mind. . . .
This is probably because the Kremlin is well aware of the real condition of its military equipment and remembers clearly the circumstances under which the phrase about the “small victorious war” – which turned out to be neither small, nor victorious – were uttered.
Clearly, a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine with air support and a contingent of 100,000 soldiers does not fall under the definition of a hybrid war.
And for Ukraine to counter such an incursion won’t be harder, but easier. The whole strength of Novorossia1 lay in the fact that pro-Russian fighters fought by posing as members of the “oppressed local population” and hiding behind civilians. In such conditions, every shot fired at a fighter really did land among the civilian population, and the West could breathe a sigh of relief and close its eyes to this complicated issue. An invasion by an army of 100,000 does not leave any chance for this.
1[Novorossia (New Russia) is the historical name of an area along the northern Black Sea coast that Russia acquired from Turkey by a series of peace treaties in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of it is now part of Ukraine. – Trans.]
It will not be possible to justify the legitimacy of such an invasion by creating a “legitimate government of [former Ukrainian president Viktor] Yanukovich” on Russian territory and then asking for assistance on his behalf. This didn’t even work for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Territories conquered in this way cannot be legally annexed to Russia. The social effect of such a war would be catastrophic. #KrymNash [the Crimea is ours] was popular because it took place without any casualties. But this would not be the case with 100,000 conscripts sent out under [Turkish-made] Bayraktar and American drones. As in the days of Afghanistan, the “rural folk” will be convulsed by funerals, while members of the elite will suffer from Western sanctions, which will strip all they have stolen of any value.
But the most important and most fundamental problem of such a war is that it is real, which means that it can be lost. A hybrid war, on the other hand, is by definition impossible to lose. We ended up with Novorossia – fantastic! We ended up with certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk Provinces – well, we’ll just stuff this cancerous tumor back into Ukraine’s body. Also not a bad outcome!
In other words, everything that is happening now is a bluff, just as it was last spring. It’s all the same hybrid war. It’s coercion into dialogue. It’s a response to sanctions. It’s an answer to projects to refuse Russian oil and gas. To the agreement [on strategic partnership] signed by the US and Ukraine. To Ukraine’s unwillingness to include certain regions of Donetsk and Lugansk Provinces in its territory on the Kremlin’s terms. This is a response to falling approval ratings and the failure to blackmail Europe using Lukashenko.
The US and Europe have two ways of responding to this bluff. The first is to get scared and “start a dialogue.” And the second is to make it clear that, if the Kremlin starts a war, Ukraine will receive enough military aid to rule out a military victory for the Kremlin.