So Putin has outed himself as nothing less than a blood-thirsty psychopath. In one of his creepiest and most disturbing statements he threatens any country that opposes him with a fate worse than anything they have experienced in their history. All countries in this region have experienced some of the most extremely violent episodes you could possibly imagine in all of human history.
And he’s saying he can do worse? Well, I have said several times that I do not think Putin is a ruthless madman, but I have to take that back. I was wrong and I stand corrected. Mine eyes have spotted the monster. Putin will stop at nothing to get his way. And what exactly it is he wants is now also covered in a thick fog. His end game is anyone’s guess.
This must be the lowest point in recent European history since Srebrenica.
As of today I have to admit that it’s not possible to predict how this crisis will end.
By way of a thought experiment you will find here a few scenarios as to how things could unfold from this point on. More scenarios are possible of course. I do not mention disruptive cyber attacks, because those are certain to happen in any kind of scenario now.
1. It’s bad enough, but let’s call the following the least troublesome scenario.
Russia destroys the already limited military capabilities of Ukraine and then pulls back out. There is no further escalation, apart from more sanctions targeting Russia
This is the best case scenario. The least disruptive scenario and the scenario that is already unfolding on our television screens. This is the scenario Putin has announced. But nothing Putin says can be believed as of now, so who knows?
What exactly does this ‘best’ case scenario entail?
Russia plays smash with Ukraine. All major military equipment and facilities in Ukraine are destroyed, the breakaway republics are then safe from any potential invasion by the Ukrainian army. End of story. You could even have a tiny bit of understanding for this scenario. Am not saying it should be condoned, but it’s still possible to understand the logic.
It’s most regrettable and disgusting it has come to this Russian onslaught, but Ukraine isn’t entirely innocent either. It’s been shelling those separatist regions for years. This has endangered 4 million people. Up until Russia’s attack 14,000 people have died. The majority of these losses were incurred by the separatist side. Sad that this could not be stopped peacefully.
Because if the prevention of further bloodshed is the main goal here then it’s all a bit paradoxical. Stopping bloodshed by causing more bloodshed? It’s the same ruse Hitler used when he attacked Poland. Hitler claimed the Poles were killing ethnic Germans. Though I don’t want to compare these two situations too much, because there are more differences than similarities.
To sum up once more:
Bad, but least harmful scenario >>> Russia destroys the Ukrainian military, avoids civilian deaths, pulls back out as soon as this mission is accomplished. Putin could then claim he went in to prevent something far worse, did so and allowed things to go back to – relatively – normal.
How likely is this scenario?
It’s not very likely at all.
For several reasons I now think that Putin will have to push things further than just destroying military targets and then leave.
Simply because it wouldn’t accomplish much in the long run and I think Putin wants nothing but total victory now.
So let’s look at scenario 2.
2. A more thorough version of scenario 1 with Putin not stopping until he has installed a pro-Russian government in Kiev, meaning… conquering Ukraine and occupying it
In this scenario Putin should capture Kiev and other major cities or he should at least make things so terrible for Ukraine that they surrender to any of his demands.
The current government is ousted. A pro-Russian puppet regime is installed.
If this is Putin’s real goal then things inevitably keep getting more complicated. Well, things are going to get more complicated from now on no matter what.
It’s virtually impossible the current Ukrainian government will simply roll over even if Putin takes Kiev and installs his own puppets there. They will most likely go into exile and will officially still rule over Ukraine. The west would support that government in exile and would never recognize the pro-Putin regime. This means that further, international escalation will be just round the corner for perhaps decades to come.
He also risks guerilla warfare against his occupying forces and terrorism. It could become a very costly and deadly occupation. I don’t know if the Ukrainians are as proficient in cobbling together Improvized Explosive Devices as the Iraqis were, but am guessing they are quick learners.
Resistance after the Ukrainian military has been defeated could anger Putin even more and he could start rounding up civilians and forcibly displacing them. Any kind of violent measures can now be reasonably expected. Putin is not even trying to hide his willingness to use any sort of brute force any more.
This scenario would be very bad for the vast majority of Ukrainians, but for now we haven’t thought about this conflict spilling over into other countries. So wait, cause it can still get worse.
3. Other countries get involved
One or more countries could decide to send troops into Ukraine to help them fight off this Russian onslaught. Poland would be more than willing to do that, but hopefully it will only act in accordance with whatever Nato decides. It’s unlikely Poland would without further ado choose to act on its own, but who knows? After today’s events everything is possible.
The Baltic countries are also clamoring for a stronger reaction, so it’s not impossible that some coalition – outside of the Nato framework – gets formed.
This would then escalate the whole thing even further, because in that case pro-Russian countries could also get involved.
Or Putin could prove his threats were as serious as they sounded and he could attack Poland as well. Russia has the capabilities to overrun Poland and Ukraine at the same time. It can call up enough manpower and has enough military equipment at its disposal.
This scenario can also be sparked off by some accident, some minor clash along some border and there we go… a major escalation.
But wait, things don’t have to stop there either.
4. All out conventional war between Nato and Russia, meaning the Third World War
This depends on how brutal, how far reaching and how long Russia’s offensive in Ukraine will turn out to be.
Few people are willing to attack Russia, because the probability of this leading to a nuclear war is too high to even consider this option.
However, it’s still a potential scenario. If the casualty toll in Ukraine rises substantially or if Russia decides to permanently occupy the country Nato may finally decide economic sanctions are not going to cut it and may launch some local attacks on Russian installations or Russian territory.
An obvious easy target would be Kaliningrad. It’s completely surrounded anyway. The important Russian naval base in Syria could be targeted or occupied.
Some kind of naval blockade could be announced, which could easily lead to some incident at sea. Let’s say two submarines firing at each other or something like that.
Nato could declare a no-fly-zone over Ukraine, which, if the Russians refuse to accept that, could ignite an aerial campaign between Nato planes and Russian planes. This would then escalate into an aerial campaign on all fronts.
Any kind of minor clash could snowball and lead to more violence.
Once some sort of hostilities break out between Nato and Russia it’s hard to imagine that any minor incident would not explode into a large scale conflict.
The two sides would be sort of evenly matched. Russia would not have to invade the US, for example, in order to win. Few countries in the west have many young men who are willing to lay down their lives for any kind of cause. Russia – almost anachronistically – does have those young men. It would only have to hold out long enough and kill enough attackers to quickly make Europe lose heart. Putin and the Russians have that kind of resolve.
It’s not possible to win a conventional war against Russia without putting billions and billions of dollars on the line and maybe millions of lives. If Nazi-Germany and its allies could invade the Soviet-Union with over 3 million men and still fail dismally I don’t see how a rather meek Europe and a struggling US could do much better.
If an all out conventional war erupts Europe would be very lucky if Russia doesn’t take Berlin or even Brussels or Paris.
And even if the west would manage to best the Russian bear… What then? Putin has shown himself to be so unhinged that he would turn to nuclear weapons if the tide goes too much against him.
5. All out nuclear war or Assured Mutual Destruction
I don’t consider the throwing of one or two nuclear bombs and then a sudden rush to the conference table to stop more of this insanity as a logical scenario. As soon as one nuclear bomb drops many more will follow. Whoever launches nuclear weapons first will want to wipe his opponent from the face of the earth in order to limit any return fire. It’s not possible for one side to use nuclear weapons without in return being hit by some nuclear weapons itself.
Even before they hit the ground the opponent will manage to launch some of its own.
This is called Assured Mutual Destruction and it’s a very fitting description of this scenario.
6. No further military escalation, but a long, never ending chain of inconveniences for all of us with Russia and some its allies becoming entirely isolated as some sort of besieged castle
We could get hit with so many sanctions from all sides that the result would be most unpleasant even without any further military escalation. With enough sanctions enforced by all sides we could witness some critical damage to the economy, to life on the internet, we could see our purchasing power decline even more rapidly. What am saying is: things can also escalate in a non-military sense. The situation could lead to a lower living standard for lots of people everywhere in the world. It’s not that Russia has so much economic power that it could retaliate with some sanctions of its own, it’s that enough sanctions could lead to some substantial chaos. Like Russia could be excluded from participating in all kinds of international system, including the banking world. If you come up with enough sanctions for Russia you can end up cutting into your own flesh as well. Russia is big. If you systematically start exluding it this could come back to bite you.
This could also lead to lots of infighting in the EU, because the individual members don’t necessarily have to agree as to which sanctions are convenient and which ones aren’t.
Bottom line: more war is not strictly needed to create a worse global situation. Annoying the hell out of each other non-militarily could also go very far and could also have dire consequences.
All sorts of boycotts could disrupt people’s daily lives to a considerable degree for many years to come.
7. To end on a hopeful note. The utopic scenario: Peace is brokered
This feels like dropping a peace bringing Deus Ex Machina into a wildly out of control play that is bound to end with all of the cast stabbing each other to death, but let’s be hopeful for once.
Imagine the following:
The west sends so much troops towards the Ukrainian border and anywhere near Russian territory or wherever in the world it bothers Russia and makes it clear it will attack Russia if it doesn’t pull back. Putin magically agrees and some peace agreement is reached involving an international peace force and perhaps some referenda to determine the fate of all Ukranians. Whoever wants to belong to Russia goes to Russia and whoever wants to stay a part of Ukraine gets that wish granted too. There is no more shooting and everybody cools the fuck down. This scenario may also include a popular uprising in Russia to dethrone Putin and put a new peace loving version of Gorbatchev in his place.
You’re struggling to envision this scenario? Yeah, so am I…
Oh, and as mentioned in a previous scenario. As soon as it becomes clear that Putin could steamroll over Ukraine without any serious repercussions a bunch of other local conflicts could escalate. China versus Taiwan. North-Korea vs South-Korea. Israel versus Lebanon or Syria or Iran. Azerbajzdan versus Armenia. The Turks could show more aggression towards the Kurds. The list goes on and on.
If Putin can do this with impunity then a lot of other leaders with aggressive plans could go ahead and launch their own attacks to push their agenda.
The main problem in punishing Russia for this is that the punisher will end up punishing himself.
Although horrible to watch, how many European nations are seriously willing to lose a significant number of men and materiel to protect Ukraine?
Condemning words, sanctions, some muscle flexing, yes, but who is willing to bleed for Ukraine (apart from a large number of Ukrainians, obviously…)
So… the most likely scenarios seem to be scenario number one or scenario number two.
That’s pretty awful, but then again, who wants to gloriously sacrifice his life in order to firmly add Ukraine to the western bloc?