Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Ukraine/Crimea Strategic Thoughts
The Russian takeover of Crimea is perhaps the most interesting thing to occur in my lifetime; so I feel I should write about it. I'm reasonably good at predicting various things so I suppose I should highlight the outcomes and potentialities of this conflict. Firstly the Russian action is an extremely well timed maneuver. While lethargy on the part of the militaries of the various Western nations is ultimately going to get worse and worse the less wars are fought (not to say wars are a good thing, but they might as well be inevitable), the global economic troubles are somewhat unique so reliance on Russian natural resources is much higher than it might be in a few years. Doing it immediately after the close of the Winter Olympics is also quite smart because those events are ostensibly about peace-time activities; and the Ukrainian athletes at the event were not to my knowledge treated poorly in any respect.
So, what can the West do about it and what is at stake here? Well, Crimea and the Ukraine as a whole are a very bloodied area historically, while fighting over the Crimea has happened on numerous occasions Ukraine itself is just in this sandwich area between Western and Eastern Europe that has been the stage of numerous military campaigns. The Crimea is ridiculously valuable as a naval bastion, it is the best Russia can hope for in terms of naval basing in the Black Sea and as a greater outlet to the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans. Russia gaining this territory, whether as a satellite independent nation or as an unlikely annexation is quite useful for them, strategically and economically.
The natural and over-used comparison here is Hitler's invasion of the Sudetenland, Czechoslovakia, and Austria; the situation is not inherently comparable except for the justification of the war goal (i.e. protection of Ethnic Russians). What Russia being successful does is derail the "peaceful Western world" theory, that in a post nuclear weapons world we needn't fight conventional wars, which has always been an extremely, even foolishly optimistic outlook. Eventually some stronger nation is going to realize that it can become even stronger through military action and is unlikely to expand purely on the basis of trade. Essentially China has no real reason for military restraint in any situation if Russia wins this war without firing a shot; and while China is inevitably the most powerful country in the future it could become a veritable titan encompassing 1/3rd of the world's population instead of just 1/5th or so.
What can the West do about it? Well, basically in the next 48-72 hours the US and NATO have to send a sizable force to Ukraine and sit on the Crimean/Ukranian border under strict orders to not provoke the enemy. As long as they stay there there's a decent chance the Russians back down a la the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sending NATO troops to Kiev is not enough; because Russia is not really all that interested in Kiev to begin with.
A military conflict arising here might serve as a deterrent to other powerful nations but probably wouldn't stop Russia in this case. While the US could theoretically beat Russia in a land war it would take an extraordinary toll on our military forces and probably require a draft et cetera. This would probably fuel our economy back up to an impressive status since people would have to work a whole bunch for the sake of the war machine; but it doesn't matter because the vast majority of the United States' citizens are not even slightly interested in a war, particularly not one where tens of thousands of Americans would die. Russia's army is almost certainly more prepared for this sort of conflict at this point in time, while we obviously have technological advantages we don't have unified morale under a strong leader and we don't have all that many combat-ready troops. Our special forces can go toe to toe with the Russians but we just don't have enough of them, and the sequester sure as hell isn't helping.
I don't really have a stake in this war to be blunt, but I think the most likely result at this point is that the Russians just sit on Crimea until we allow them to grant the nation independence. This country would serve as a puppet state more or less but might eventually be a perfectly normal country in Eastern Europe; the Crimean Tatars were in possession of the land hundreds of years ago and them reforming that nation is not a particularly abhorrent action. It just depends what the US and the EU do; they can't really offer serious military resistance but they can put non Ukrainian troops in a dangerous situation and see what the Russians decide to do; if the Russians open fire first then that might propel various nations to send a more sizable force; at which point a larger conflict would begin. Ultimately economic sanctions that don't include China aren't going to be enough to stop the Russians or Putin; and it doesn't seem like there's any way China imposes those sanctions. However they could well be the swing power in this situation that I haven't heard many people highlight up to this point.
I may well write more on this in the future as it develops; but aside from that 5 days to Dark Souls 2, hopefully the world doesn't end before then.