Andrew L. Urban
Taking control of Kyiv is one thing. Taking control of the entire country quite another. But even if Putin wins the invasion of Ukraine, Russia will still not be the grand old Soviet-style empire of which Putin dreams. Nobody in the world would consider Ukraine a part of it, not even in Russia. It will be his own private delusion. And it will be forever bucking his rule.
The first days will be turbulent, violent and the risk of desertion among the young Russian soldiers will be high. Their morale pales into insignificance against the vehemence of the dedicated loyalty of Ukrainians, all armed, all handy with a Molotov cocktail. Every shadow will be a threat …
His puppet regime in Kyiv will need to be propped up urgently by a vast occupation force of not only soldiers but bureaucrats who will comply with the illegitimate regime. Not many Ukrainians will be applying for those jobs.
The challenges of occupying a hostile population by a foreign oppressor are enormous. Think about it: even after the exodus during the invasion, some 40 million enemies of the State looking for every opportunity to sabotage your systems. And perhaps millions trying to escape …
How would the occupying force manage the Ukrainian army & air force? The police? Not just for days or weeks… for years? The invasion force has to overcome well armed and trained defence forces, cells of resistance, arrest all members of parliament, secure all arms depots, take control of transport, communication, media and broadcast facilities, take control of police weapons and fill the streets with military-strength security forces.
The vast resources required to repair the medical and physical war damage and maintain a stranglehold on an occupied Ukraine would be highly challenging for even the most practiced occupation force. Which Putin doesn’t have.
Isolated and reviled, Putin’s leadership would face the challenge of ruling a belligerent population forever heaving with ferocious antagonism. A puppet in the President’s office will not quell either the domestic resistance nor redress the international expulsion of Russia – notwithstanding its veto power in the UN Security Council. (If anything, his blunder is making the UN Security Council even more irrelevant than it already is. Putin’s invasion has thrown into sharp relief the utter pointlessness of the UN.)
Unless Putin has been totally swallowed by his delusions, he will know all this. He will have determined that occupation is not an option. He may well be planning a puppet regime modelled on old East European patterns, where the regime is backed by Moscow, but is left to run the country. This scenario is also unlikely, although judging by Putin’s most recent rantings, he may be deluded enough not to recognise it. The old template developed with the acquiescence of the locals. It was Hungarian communists who played the Moscow hand, for example, gaining their own power, safety and privileged positions. In post-1945 Budapest, the Hungarian communists had a platform. Today’s Ukraine has no such cadres to help Moscow (and themselves, of course).
That leaves the abandonment option. Of course, it will be massaged (probably with agreement by all) as a joint decision to cease hostilities and sign an agreement. It will announce Ukraine’s neutrality and undertaking never to join NATO. Russia will undertake to cease its invasion – and may even undertake not to invade or threaten again. That document will be waved triumphantly in Moscow as well as Kyiv – and elsewhere. The West will take credit for showing united resolve. The Russian forces will withdraw from Ukraine. The world will applaud … but then what? Will Russia be reinstated as a world player with their old status returned in full? Will it be allowed back into SWIFT? Will the West be fooled again?
But hang on. There is one other alternative scenario to consider. What if … Putin presses on and oversees massive civilian casualties that tips international condemnation over the edge and domestic revulsion boils over. To avoid a popular revolution and total international isolation, the senior leadership orchestrates an instant coup, making Putin a prisoner, perhaps even agreeing to hand him over to the International Criminal Court, thereby saving their own fates. But then what? A new Putin?
There is also a silver lining to Putin’s invasion, no matter how it eventuates: rather than encourage and embolden Chinese President Xi Jinping to send his troops to invade Taiwan, he will recognise the inherent unlikeliness of success. Taiwan is at least as big a challenge as Ukraine for the invader. Geography alone adds several degrees of difficulty. Like Ukraine, Taiwan’s people are just as ready to defend their country, and the international community is just as ready to rally around them.
The Chinese Communist invaders would no doubt be met with what Ukrainian defenders on Snake Island famously told a threatening Russian warship, “Go f… yourself!”