Ukraine worst (really bad) case scenario

Putin has allegedly made remarks about being able to conquer Kiev in two weeks, and Western news jumped on it.

This highlights one worst case scenario for the Ukraine conflict; the West might decide to not allow the Ukrainians to lose, but without kicking out the Russians itself.

This wouldn't be a new pattern:
It happened already in the Yugoslavian Civil War, when the Muslim Bosnians and Sarajevo in general were not allowed to lose. They lacked the means to win with what little support they received from the West, so the war grew old and ugly.
The same was repeated in Libya, when the rebels were not allowed to lose, even with a UN mandate. The West had to be involved directly to keep them from losing, so it grew impatient and ultimately through mission creep it turned the endeavour into decisive anti-regime support.
The Western powers again did not like the idea of rebels losing in Syria, but this time it didn't need to be involved so much, and remained patient.

The same pattern of not allowing the preferred civil war faction to lose was already attempted in 1991 when no-fly zones were established over Southern and Northern Iraq, but the meddling was still too inexperienced and the amount of effort required to keep the Shiite rebels from losing was greater than anticipated. Eventually, they lost - but the American right wing never forgave this and reversed the fortunes a decade later.

Now how could the West keep the Ukraine from losing, thereby keeping that stupid civil war going for years and creating an huge, decades-lasting rift between Ukrainians and Russians?
The intro pointed at it; don't allow Putin to capture Kiev. A single brigade of Western troops protecting Kiev in addition to supplying weapons, vehicles, tools and ammunitions of war could keep the nonsense going for years.

I fear this may happen, for it would fit into Western great power gaming patterns of behaviour very well.


Edit due to comments: I'm an opponent of tripwire forces myself (2009, 2013). But the deployment of a brigade- to division-sized tripwire force to signal that the fall of Kiev would not be permitted would fit the Western patterns of behaviour well.
It might even work in this example because Russia is known to tolerate crisis in limbo; Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia have all been in limbo for many years, so Russia would likely accept a Donetzk Republic without international recognition as well - if the alternative is to attack Kiev and NATO ground forces there. Also keep in mind how much a pain in the ass the Srebrenica story was for the Netherlands; the British, French and Americans do not want a Srebrenica story of their own and would actually make a stand even with a small force (with air support).
Besides, I wrote the uncertain "could keep the nonsense going for years", not a certain "would (...)".


  1. What makes you think Putin would be wary of a trip wire force?
    He's marched across every red line so far.
    He might be wary, he might not even want Kiev. Occupying a Russian speaking region is very different to occupying a hostile and foreign capital.

    Ukraine's current push in to Donetsk is doomed, it doesn't have the finances to mount another, a few truck loads of rifles aren't going to change that.

    *I've said all along that Russia wanted Crimea and the Russian speaking east.
    So have been right so far

    1. There was a tripwire force in the middle of East Germany. The garrison in West Berlin.

      Russia cannot risk an all-out war. NATO's economy is thirty trillion dollars, in comparison to Russia's one trillion economy. In two years Russia will be punched through like a wet tissue.

      But, the West doesn't want to spend twenty trillion dollars on invading and occupying Russia.

  2. It might be considered a good scenario, it errects frontlines, where there had previously been connections and thus sets apart the hinterland of an empire from a small kingdom.

  3. Are you implying that for political or economic reasons, Putin will try to capture Kiev with a limited war, but will hesitate from deploying a force able to overcome "a single Western brigade?"

  4. J: The article you linked says that 1 Coy of 76 ABN was destroyed by a "massive artillery strike" and this is attributed by one of the interviewees to the actions of an EW cell that is part of an American BDE in Ukraine. It says of eighty men in the village of Georgievka from that company (no indication of which regiment or battalion the coy is from), ten survived a "massive artillery strike." The rest of the article is about the Russian gov't being shitheads to the dependents and families of the soldiers KIA in Eastern Ukraine.

  5. Putin does a very sound policy. He took Crimea and started so much trouble in the rest of Ukraine, that retaking Crimea is simply out of question now. Ukraine is content if they contain the other trouble. Now, Putin threatens Kyiv and Ukraine will be quite happy if they are able to defend that city and would be more willing to cede the currently troubled regions. It's an escalation ladder, in which Putin always shows that he is willing to gain more and his adversary can yield to him now, what he already seems to hold or make bigger loses if he continues to struggle.

    My choice would be to prolong the conflict, train and equip Ukrainian forces to retake everything, but Crimea, and end it after reaching that demarcation line. A tripwire force in Kyiv and intelligence collection support sound reasonable to me. Yielding without a push back, would encourage future such steps. Crimea for Russia can be made a case in point of recognizing Russian grievances and history. After ending this very stupid conflict with Ukrainian integrity, except for Crimea, we should be able to restart with Russia on building a basis of mutual communication and understanding. The current crisis is an utter OSCE and media reporting information failure and a resolution of this conflict is necessary in order to not create a tripwire story that helps to ignite East Asia in the future.

    1. "that helps to ignite East Asia in the future."

      This feels as if you intended to write something 180° different.

    2. I admit, that I see the situation 180° different from you. You are absolutely right about the past cases that were wrong, but Ukraine is a case where I do favour protracted and ugly. To me, it seems that Putin does an escalation of reconquest and Ukraine will not be the final station. Russia fought for centuries to obtain position they lost in the aftermath of the Soviet Union collapse. Any Russian president will try to get these back as long as Russia claims to be a great power on the world stage. The war won't stop in Kyiv, rather with the fall of Riga.
      We missed an opportunity to integrate Russia after the Cold War and now we face the consequences.
      The more costly and senseless the conflict in Ukraine becomes for Russia, the better defended other territories are. My suggestion is to bog down the Russian forces in a costly protracted fight and bleed the Russian economy into recognition of post-Cold War realities.
      My perspective is that Russia does want to annex eastern and southern Ukraine and has an eye on the Baltic states due to a dream of becoming a naval power. An attack on the Baltic states would not happen now, but a quick rush could be carried out any time after things cool down. That's why I favour tripwire forces in the Baltic and in Kyiv to deter. Russia doesn't want an all out slogging match with NATO.
      On the negotiation table, we should recognise Russian naval aspirations in exchange for Russian acceptance of post-Cold War realities.
      For Russia the naval access game is about their capability to export their produce and access to especially developing markets. The old Russian ally India could play a role in settling this conflict that clearly goes out of hand. India is also the nation that can offer Russia some credible naval support for their current ambitions.

    3. East Asia with ist many stupid islands is a barrel of gunpowder and the Ukrainian crisis can serve as a manual on how to ignite it.
      The development of this situation will be closely watched.
      Can Russia, as the determined underdog, prevail without triggering an all out NATO response?
      How much gain do they pocket at what cost?
      The cost must be prohibitive or we open Pandora's box.

    4. I am Ukrainian and I can tell you that the only reason why Eastern Ukraine was not occupied by governmental forces is that they are afraid to give guns to citizens. There are 50 000 Ukrainian soldiers are fighting, but the country is 35 million people and most of them is ready to fight without any governmental financial support. Government is afraid that people will come to Kiev and take over the highly corrupted government. But the truth is that people are more unsatisfied because of Russian troops and modern Russian arms on the east than because of corruption.

      There is an opinion that NATO manipulates Ukrainian government to freeze the conflict to bankrupt Russia. They may convince them that it is the only way to take Crimea back.

      The Pandora's box is already opened by Russia. China has a big conflict with Vietnam right now. Moreover, the eastern part of Russia is inhibited by ethnic Chinese (I think it is near 70%) and those territories were Chinese for centuries. The same with Japan. The same with Chechnya, Georgia, Dagestan, Moldova, Belorussia etc. The same with Ukraine, actually. So, Putin afraid to start the full scale war because all of these countries would want to get their lands back. But Russia is very weak at the moment.

  6. Hypothetical questions

    1. Are the European borders, as determined by the Paris Peace Treaties of 1947, sacrosanct, or a new treaty, even between just two states could change the status quo?

    2. The case study of Crimea, Ukraine.
    The memorandum of Budapest of 1994, a not truly biding Treaty, betrayed the soul and the intention of that agreement: protection, safety and territorial integrity of Ukraine for giving up its nuclear weapons. Could reparations paid by Russia to Ukraine and willingly accepted by Ukraine within a negotiated Treaty suffice to the world to accept that territorial change of international borders? Could Crimea, through peaceful negotiations, become a ‘Free Territory of Crimea’ and offer a win-win solution for Ukrainians, Russians, Tatars and others minorities?

    3. The case Study of the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the context of current developments. Can international borders be peacefully changed, at will, in negotiated treaties?

    4. The case of the Free Territory of Trieste.
    The territories ceded by Italy to Yugoslavia were definitely closed only after the Memorandum of London of 1954 and the Treaty of Osimo of 1977 (1). The boundaries of the six Yugoslav republics were created during three AVNOJ sessions (1941, 1943 and 1944-45) (2). Those internal borders were not sacrosanct since Bosnia-Herzegovina and Montenegro peacefully negotiated territorial changes in 1953. Serbia and Kosovo also changed their borders in 1959 (3). Should have those territories been regarded as the only true Yugoslav territories (non ethnic) and become a 7th independent Republic after the collapse of Yugoslavia? Or should have those territories returned to their pre-1977 status of Free Territory of Trieste, or simply returned to Italy; as Italy argued after 1991?
    The fact is that the third session of AVNOJ of 1944-45 could have not attributed the Italian territories to Slovenia and Croatia only before the Treaty of Osimo of 1977. The people of the other Yugoslav republics lost, overnight, the right to work and live in that part of their former country. Silence and secret Treaties can also be biding Treaties.

    5. The case study of the creation of Israel.
    Israel has only partially internationally recognized borders, since, up until now, there is no peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority and no peace agreement with Syria. Can a people, after several millenniums (and because of historical exodus, unfair deportations and pogroms throughout the history of mankind), legally claim ‘a Repossession Act’ and ‘the Right of Return to a geographical territory that it considers its ancestral land’? No people on the planet have the monopole of human sufferance. Moreover, nothing in History can assure of a people willingness to stay in a specific geographical place until the end of time (e.g. the current refugee crisis in the EU). Natural disasters, famine, epidemics, wars, economical crisis or simply the willingness to immigrate to another geographical territory, can constitute factors that prompt an exodus.

    6. The case study of the exodus of German and Polish populations after WWII.
    Historians recognize that the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 was unfair to Germany and that it contributed vastly to the events leading to WWII. But justice was never restored after the unjust Treaty of Versailles. Actually, the defeat of Nazi Germany crystallized even more the injustice with ‘Versailles Treaty Number 2’ (4), through the mass murders, mass deportations, slavery of German populations (5), the territorial amputations of Germany (6), the dismantlement of industries and intellectual property… (7)
    Can those populations legally claim ‘a Repossession Act’ and ‘the Right of Return to a geographical territory that they consider their ancestral lands’, on the basis that the Yalta Conference of 1945, the Potsdam Conference of 1945 and the Peace Treaties of Paris of 1947 were, in part, contrary to Law, Justice, Peace and Humanism?

    7. Are these questions opening a Pandora Box?

    1. Voluntary agreements to change borders happened a lot, and are fine.
      It's only the forced change of borders through armed aggression that's the problem.

  7. Hypothetical questions (part 2)

    1. Warmongering and fearmongering is counter productive and does not serve Justice, Law and Humanism of modern societies that are built on peacefully negotiated Treaties.

    2. Case study Crimea is The Main Object of ‘hypothetical questions’, the other case studies are randomly chosen from the news (Sykes-Picot and Israel) or history books (Trieste and Potsdam) for illustration purposes.

    3. Case study of Trieste is an illustration of how Yugoslavs remembered it, as a free and prosperous territory where one could go on a weekend break, ‘just fill up the car tank with gasoline and go buy blue jeans in Trieste’, and happiness was that close at that time.
    It is like in a case of a divorce: neither the father nor the mother can claim the full and exclusive rights over the children and properties. A liveable solution must be found for the future of peaceful coexistence. The children and properties remains the creation of the parents, no matter what the divorce paper says. Border changes do not have to be violent like case study Yugoslavia, it can also be peaceful as case study Czechoslovakia.

    4. The European Union functions much like the Austro-Hungarian Empire multiethnic, culturally and religiously diverse, secular, free and democratic society. It is just enough to look at the Austro-Hungarian ethnic map (a vibrant and beautiful mosaic of peoples, languages and cultures coexisting together) or seat in the Vienna Parliament to hear the richness of languages and translators at work; to realize that humanism existed.
    Similarly, the European Union is not perfect but good enough (‘the perfect is the enemy of good’), to create the general framework for situations like Crimea, Brexit, Kosovo, Scotland, Catalonia, Cyprus, Basque Country, Corsica… and avoid any Baltic disagreement.

    5. Where some might see a bloody conflict (Ukraine never launched its military operations on Crimea, as one could have expected, because such a move would have been interpreted as a war declaration by Russia, which would have triggered unimaginable consequences. Instead Ukraine focused at containing the Russian aggression and invasion in the eastern part of the country, and it is still working at sending what they call ‘NKVD agents’ back to Russia [Ukrainians remembers the Holodomor as a Staline’s Genocide]), other see a tremendous opportunities for peace and prosperity. It is not about promising new heavens to populations. It is about trying to extract the nucleus that could lead to a happy win-win solution for everybody. And that nucleus is trade, commerce, business relations that can impulse development, economic, scientific, cultural, educational… growth and respect the environment, a process well know since the ancient Babylon. With hard work we can reach economic prosperity, happiness, humanism and sharing
    Crimea and the Black Sea in general are a well known summer vacation destination (KaZantip).

    Could trade, instead of military coercion, help find a solution?
    Should we consider the demilitarization of Sevastopol, the Black Sea and Kaliningrad?
    Should the Black Sea as well as the Baltic be viewed as places for trade and prosperity instead of potential conflict zones?
    Could the development of a trade framework (communications, trans-European highways and high-speed trains, infrastructures…) stimulate economic growth?
    Could, the creation of a ‘Territory of Crimea’ help solve the current situation?

    1. Well, an entrepreneur who founds and grows a company in Russia and gets rich that way will sooner or later either pay much protection money or get an 'irresistible purchase offer' for the company by a member of the clique around Putin. This offer will be accompanied by threats of a rigged tax audit, sudden enforcement of usually not enforced regulations and even criminal prosecution of the entrepreneur.

      There is no rule of law in Russia that would offer sufficient protection, and thus the Russian economy stays too dependent on raw materials exports and grows little in manufacturing.

      There's thus little reason to believe that much economic prosperity is really a top priority of the Russian government.
      Instead, Putin seems to be in Russian Empire nostalgia (and restoration) mode, trying to secure a history books entry as a successful re-uniter.

      Turkey looks increasingly similar, Erdogan shows severe Ottoman Empire nostalgia symptoms. National economic interests aren't a top priority there any more.

      It makes little sense to bet on peace and cooperation driven by economic interests in face of such governments. You need a tailored strategy. A non-aggressive strategy could be to squeeze their freedom of action = to arrest their restoration efforts.

  8. Thank you for your time and answer, I appreciate.
    If we consider that Putin’s ambitions are the restoration of the Russian Empire and even the expansion of its sphere of influence to the Adriatic Sea, through Serbia, then why would some EU members (Greece, Hungary, Bulgaria in the case of the suspended ‘South Stream’ pipeline, and even Germany) consider softening the sanctions imposed on Russia?

    1. Confrontational policies are out of fashion inside Europe, unless your country is already in a direct (political) conflict with another one or feels very threatened.

      And of course there's little reason to believe that my opinion about Putin is being shared by most or all European governments.
      Besides, Hungary is having a 'strongman' government (such politicians feel attracted by their peers) and Greece in its perpetual brokenness (in more than one sense) isn't exactly putting European geostrategy on priority status. They'd probably ask Putin for money if the oil price was still high.

  9. Thank you again for the time you take to read and reply, I appreciate. I finish with this one more comment on ‘hypothetical question: case study Crimea (Ukraine)’ and I won’t bother anymore, promised.

    An awkward point of view
    Europe has no geostrategy at all. And how could it have one?
    Putin (like others) knows that weakness and he (like others) exploits it perfectly. At times, he is not scared of confrontational policy disguised with victimization rhetoric.
    Let’s make it clear, it’s our mutual interest to have good relations with Russia (Europe importing raw materials from Russia and exporting manufactured goods to Russia, among other things).

    Europe stopped tolerating Hitler’s Lebensraum, but tolerated Stalin’s expansion part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Milosevic’s ‘Greater Serbia’, the Russian backed Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan, the Russian occupation of Transnistria, , the Russian occupation of Georgia, the Russian occupation of Ukraine, the Russian intervention in Syria, the Russian monopolization of the Black Sea...
    By just looking at the cannibalized countries (Germany, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Georgia, Ukraine, Syria…), one could understand who the main territorial conqueror is in the last century: Russia and its allies. The biggest country on earth needs a Lebensraum?
    Moreover, Russia is influencing some members of the EU (Greece, Hungary, the Visegrad Group…), but the EU can influence nobody in Russia.
    It would be a mistake to consider that Minsk II would hold better than the Minsk Protocol.
    That document is not worth better than the Munich Agreement of 1938 or the Memorandum of Budapest of 1994. It is only enough to look at the signatories of the document. The OSCE is as impotent as the UN. France and Germany did not stop Russian aggression on Ukraine. Only Ukrainians stopped the Russians. Putin had hard time recruiting young professional volunteers to fight in Ukraine, it took mass media propaganda, a lot of money and Strelkov lobbying across Russia. Ukraine effectively defended against Russian aggression (Mariupol) and effectively pushed back (Slavyansk) and contained (Donetsk) the Russian forces. Crimea was another story, it was a premeditated plan.

    The Sevastopol navy is just a policing navy force in the Black Sea, with potentially zero navigation capability outside the Black Sea if it becomes a hostile force. The Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits of 1936 allows Turkey to close the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles during wartime. And it was Stalin’s attitude during the Turkish Strait crisis of 1946 that pushed Turkey into NATO.

    Europe, NATO and UN are not serious about Ukraine as they were not serious about many other conflicts. That is very well known to Putin, the Russian oligarchs and others around the world.
    So if tomorrow, we wake up and hear on the morning news that Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius were taken by Russian forces overnight; chances are that we will not spill our coffee/tea.
    Who is willing to die for the Baltic States? Nobody. And we know very well why.
    Because ‘Confrontational policies are out of fashion inside Europe, unless your country is already in a direct (political) conflict with another one or feels very threatened.’ = salami tactics.