Will Putin succeed in the Russian occupation of Ukraine?

A day after the start of Russia’s violent military assault on Ukraine, Putin’s intentions are becoming clear. An initial goal was to dismantle Ukraine’s air defenses and claim control of its airspace, thereby allowing Russian ground forces more freedom to occupy any part of the country. Territories were also claimed in the eastern region of Donbass, individual operations were mounted against the Ukrainian navy, military stores and weapons depots were destroyed, and the command, control and communication systems of the Ukraine were disturbed.

If this conflict follows the typical pattern of an early 21stwar of the century, such as in Afghanistan or Iraq, there will already have been a thorough bomb damage assessment by Russian analysts to determine the impact of the attacks, and this will in part determine Russia’s immediate actions against the cities, especially Kiev. Putin’s long-term intent is even more important, and his recent extraordinary rhetoric can help in this regard in two ways.

The first is that his choice of words, including “demilitarizing” and “denazifying” Ukraine, can only be achieved through a process of regime removal and the installation of a stable and secure client regime. It is therefore essential, in Putin’s mind, that Russia act quickly and eliminate Ukraine’s leadership before beginning its occupation. If he fails to remove the leadership, the occupying Russian troops will be more vulnerable to organized local resistance from Ukrainians, especially in urban areas.

Moreover, if the Russian defense system is even half-competent, he will know that American analysts will have already planned to make life as difficult as possible for Russian forces from the start. This will include providing real-time intelligence on Russian military deployments to all Ukrainian resistance centers across the country.

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The second aspect is Putin’s very stern warning against direct military intervention by NATO, in particular his warning against an answer “unheard of in history”. It means nuclear weapons. Putin is well aware that NATO’s overall military forces are significantly more powerful than his own in a conventional war, hence the threat of nuclear retaliation.

It also helps explain recent joint Russia/Belarus nuclear exercises, including the test firing of nuclear-capable missiles, timed just before the current assault as a further reminder to NATO not to interfere.

Michael A. Bynum