Imagine that you’ve just sat down to Christmas dinner and beeping and buzzing erupts around the table. The grandparents look confused, but everyone else pulls out their phones to learn that Russian warplanes and cruise missiles are attacking command-and-control points in Ukraine, where it is the middle of the night. A war is starting on the day people should be celebrating peace and goodwill.
Or, perhaps on New Year’s Eve, while people are celebrating leaving 2021 behind us, the news trickles in that Russian tank squadrons are advancing into Ukraine under a barrage of artillery fire. As word spreads, it becomes obvious that this is a coordinated attack taking place at nine different locations along the South and Western borders. Meanwhile, most of the politicians and government officials who could respond are otherwise occupied.
Are these unlikely scenarios? I think not. Russia could launch a surprise attack over the holidays, knowing they might catch some Ukrainian military units unprepared and under staffed. It could also delay any European response.
Even if Russia doesn’t choose to start the invasion on a holiday, I expect they will invade Ukraine despite Biden’s threat of “economic and political countermeasures.” Putin knows wars are won and lost on the field of battle, not in the legislature. Economic pressure didn’t win wars under Obama and it won’t under Biden.
Economic Sanctions vs Military Destruction
Russia, specifically President Vladimir Putin, has to weigh the threat of economic sanctions and being cut off from the SWIFT system, which allows international fund transfers, against the benefits of occupying one of the largest countries in Europe, a former vassal state. A military gain for some economic pain? It would not surprise me to see him take that risk.
For decades, the idea of mutually assured destruction, or MAD, kept the U.S. and the USSR fighting proxy wars with no direct conflict. The Warsaw Pact and NATO both stood ready to fight each other, possibly using tactical nukes to stop an advance. The lack of a military threat today might embolden a country that, for decades, could not use its military force to its fullest because it feared a counter attack.
In short, by not keeping open the possibility of a military response, Biden may as well invite Russia to launch their invasion, just as the United States’ minimal response to Saddam Hussein’s threats to invade Kuwait contributed to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. We often say “We are not taking anything off the table.” This makes our enemies think twice. By taking a direct military response off the table, Biden may give Putin a green light.
A Distracted Europe
An invasion of Ukraine is primarily a European problem. If Europe will not aggressively support Ukraine, then I don’t think the U.S. should. That means no boots on the ground engaging Russian troops. That said, we should provide more military aid, weapons, and training. Russia provides material assistance to our enemies. Why not return the favor?
Europe has its hands full dealing with a host of problems: Immigration, violent Muslims, the ever-present threat of terrorism, COVID-19 lockdowns, shortages, protests against mandates, inflation, and monetary and economic woes. They don’t want to fight a war. On the other hand, they also don’t want to deal with the enormous wave of refugees that would flee Ukraine if Russia were to invade. I haven’t seen that issue addressed.
In addition, Russia is a leading supplier of natural gas to Europe. That gives Putin enormous power. The ability to stop shipping oil and natural gas, driving up prices of both, could be just the pressure Russia needs to resist economic sanctions.
In the end, Ukraine will have to defend itself. Only by denying Russia a rapid victory and by sending home dead Russians will they have any hope of winning in the long run. They must stall the Russians and make them pay dearly for every inch of ground, probably by fighting a non-traditional war utilizing guerilla warfare tactics.
Europe in Blinders
European countries have a long history of not believing they are secure and then falling one-by-one like dominoes. Look at World War Two as an example: In 1938, Nazi Germany consumed Austria in a single gulp. The Austrians greeted them with cheers and flowers instead of bullets and bombs. In 1939, they invaded Poland. That was just a warm up. The Nazis invaded Denmark and Norway in April 1939, followed by Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and France in 1940. They invaded Yugoslavia and Greece in April 1941. In June of that year, they invaded the Soviet Union, opening a second front. This eventually resulted in their downfall, as they had bitten off more than they could chew.
NATO is the only thing preventing Russia from rolling across most of Europe like the Germans did. Most of Ukraine’s neighbors, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, are members of NATO. Attacking them should generate a much harsher response. While the United States is not obligated to defend Ukraine, we are the primary moved in NATO and would have to respond to Russian aggression against another NATO member.
Maybe an invasion of Ukraine will convince Germany and other NATO members to finally spend more money on their militaries and build up their defensive forces.
A big downside to those of us here in America is that our country will look weak if Russia invades Ukraine after President Biden warned them not to. Biden will also look even weaker than he does today and his policies may be called into doubt. That may embolden other bad actors. It may also worry other allies who question our commitment. For example, how will Taiwan feel if we do not defend Ukraine?
Think how China’s view of the world may change if they see us respond only by slapping economic penalties on Russia. I expect they will step up their aggressive actions in the South China Sea, looking for a red line and pushing it back. This could lead to a dangerous situation.
If our alliance with Israel is the primary thing keeping Iran from attacking them, will this change that delicate balance? If we look weak and unwilling to defend an ally, Israel may pre-emptively attack Iran rather than waiting for the Mullahs to attack them. It may also affect how Iran proceeds with the nuclear treaty negotiations.
A low-key reaction by the U.S. will be best for preppers in the short term. It will be the least disruptive to the markets. The country is unsettled enough already. We don’t need another crisis or another huge spending bill that sends military aid to a country that will never pay it back. If some of these longer-term issues develop, that would a different story.
The worst-case scenario would be Russia uses its invasion of Ukraine as cover for an invasion of Romania or Poland. I doubt they would try this because it would require a response by NATO, but it would be incredibly devious. It would also give them an immense advantage with hundreds of thousands of troops on the ground and well-established supply lines. NATO would be seriously behind the eight ball if Russia rolled right on through Ukraine and into Poland.
Let’s hope they are not that bold.