Warnings of an expanded Russian invasion of Ukraine have a “high noon” feel. A new crisis could prompt the United States and its NATO allies to go beyond, perhaps well beyond, their responses to the Russian assault of 2014. This militarization could lead to a dramatic increase in spending defense of the United States and NATO over the next decade.
This year, Russia has undertaken a major military build-up near the Ukrainian border and in the Crimea. Kremlin leaders have questioned the legitimacy of independent Ukraine, falsely accused it of provocations, and warned the West against crossing ill-defined “red lines”. Moscow has called in “tens of thousands” of reservists on a scale unprecedented in the post-Soviet era.
Last month in Moscow, the director of the CIA and former US ambassador to Russia William burnsWilliam Burns Expect ‘shock and fear’ if Russia invades Ukraine overnight Defense and National Security – Lawmakers strike deal on defense bill Biden administration considers options evacuation for US citizens in Ukraine if Russia invades: PLUS report transmitted a warning. The allies of the United States and NATO fear that Russia is planning an invasion. Washington has proclaimed a “rock-solid commitment” to Ukraine’s security.
Ukraine, with substantial assistance from the United States and NATO, is ready to deter and defend against attacks. Ukrainians can fight. In 2014, in eastern Ukraine, Moscow had to insert regular forces after hastily organized Ukrainians pushed back Russian irregulars. Kiev does not expect the West to fight its battles, but it seeks military support.
The United States provided non-lethal assistance, including counter-artillery radars, assistance with satellite imagery and analysis, and combat medical equipment. Washington is supplying deadly equipment, such as armed Mark VI patrol boats and advanced portable Javelin anti-tank missiles. Since 2014, the United States has provided $ 2.5 billion in military aid.
The aim of increased assistance could be defensive weapons that can be quickly absorbed by the Ukrainian armed forces. They could help deprive Moscow of the ability to wage a large-scale campaign of fire to quickly occupy Ukraine east of the Dnieper River and seize key cities, such as Kiev, Kharkiv and Odessa.
Aid could include hundreds of anti-tank and anti-aircraft launchers and thousands of missiles such as the Javelin and the former TOW. Low cost and easy to use Switchblade portable loitering ammunition could be provided. Coastal defenses can be greatly enhanced by the deployment of truck-mounted Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Stinger’s light anti-aircraft systems could enable Ukrainian forces to inflict heavy casualties in a very first airborne and helicopter-borne air assault, and shoot down drones that send targeting data to Russian artillery. In addition to improving Ukraine’s use of NATO intelligence, its members could accelerate the sale of unmanned combat vehicles and associated precision guided munitions (PGMs).
The US is debating whether to send Ukraine light stingers or other air defense systems, and Iron Dome short-range missile defenses. The United States could provide Mi-17 helicopters, which were prepared for Afghanistan. Ukraine bought Turkish armed drones TB-2, which proved so effective in the Armenia-Azerbaijan war last year. Ukraine could benefit from better command and control, electronic warfare and reconnaissance capabilities. All of this could help him degrade a blitz, although supply or absorption constraints could be obstacles.
If Russia were to invade Ukraine, it would likely use massive cyber and electronic warfare tools and long-range PGMs. The aim would be to create “shock and fear”, causing Ukraine’s defenses or will to fight to collapse. It was wishful thinking at the start of its war in Afghanistan and America’s reckoning at the start of the war in Iraq.
But if Ukraine doesn’t break up, Russia could pay a heavy price. Ukrainian defenders have geographic scope and an army seasoned by seven years of fighting in eastern Ukraine. By avoiding Russian efforts at rapid encirclement, Ukraine could trade space for time. The Stingers could shoot down Russian transport planes and helicopters providing logistical support to forward fighters.
The prospect of formidable Ukrainian resistance could affect the Kremlin’s risk-reward calculation. If ground forces faltered, Russia could raise the stakes, as with carpet bombing, a tactic it has used in Chechnya and Aleppo.
A likely Western response to further Russian aggression could be increased training and equipping of Ukrainian forces as well as the imposition of financial and economic sanctions on Russia more punitive than those imposed in 2014. If the situation in Ukraine becomes worse dramatically, the United States or NATO allies might consider intervening with their own forces. They could use formidable air and naval power to gain air superiority over much of Ukraine, possibly creating a “no-fly zone”.
The United States and its allies could further strengthen NATO’s eastern flank with significant ground and air units. They could increase stocks of PGMs, like the new medium-range precision ballistic missile. Given Russia’s massive use of long-range PGMs, NATO may need to improve its aerospace defenses.
There is no consensus between the United States or NATO to insert their own combat forces in Ukraine. One reason may be fears that direct combat will lead to a larger European war, possibly even risking a Russian nuclear threat. russian president Vladimir PoutineVladimir Vladimirovich PutinOvernight Defense & National Security – Biden: US troops in Ukraine “not on the table” Five things to watch out for at Biden’s “Summit for Democracies” US must return to first principles on Russia and Ukraine MORE declared that in 2014, “we were ready” to put nuclear weapons on high alert. In 2018, he showed a boastful video simulating a nuclear missile attacking Florida.
While the Ukrainians may be unable to defeat a full-scale invasion, they could inflict heavy casualties, a sensitive issue in Russia. The occupying forces could be stretched and vulnerable to the insurgents left behind.
In short, the United States, its NATO allies and Ukraine could impose immediate and painful costs on any Russian invader. And for many years thereafter, Russia could face increased military might from NATO.
William Courtney, deputy principal researcher at the nonprofit and non-partisan RAND Corporation, served as U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Georgia, and in negotiations between the U.S. and the USSR to implement the Treaty of ‘ban on threshold tests. Peter Wilson is International / Defense Adjunct Researcher at RAND.