Dmitri Alperovitch

Dmitri Alperovitch



In the last few weeks, I have become increasingly convinced that Kremlin has unfortunately made a decision to invade Ukraine later this winter. While it is still possible for Putin to deescalate, I believe the likelihood is now quite low. Allow me to explain why 🧵

There are numerous signals that Russia has sent recently that make me believe invasion is almost certain, as well as a substantial number of reasons for why this is the preferred route for Putin

Signal: The obvious one. The military build-up on Ukraine’s borders (in the north, east and south in Crimea). This mobilization is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the past

75% of Russia’s total battalion tactical groups have been moved. Artillery, air defense units, tanks, APCs, bridge-laying equipment, mine clearers, armored excavators, engineering equipment, refueling, huge amount of logistics, etc. Follow @RALee85 for details

This is a massive mobilization and a clear preparation for an extensive invasion, not a bluff. You also can’t keep all this equipment, troops and logistics there forever. @RALee85 thinks they would have to pull back by summer at the latest

Like a rifle in a Chekhov play, you don’t put it there if you are not expecting to use it...

Signal: Cyber prep. Since early December, there has been a dramatic increase in cyber intrusions on Ukraine government and civilian networks from Russia

As I told @SangerNYT and @julianbarnes yesterday, the targets are precisely the ones that you’d expect to be targeted for intel collection and battlefield preparation ahead of an invasion

Signal: Diplomatic ultimatums. The list of demands that Russia issued last week was a non-starter for the US and NATO allies. It is simply not a serious proposal for the start of the negotiations

In fact, it would likely be rejected by Russia itself if it comes to reciprocal steps to not deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and cruise-missiles in Russian western territory

Signal: Making the list of demands public - and making it difficult to climb down from them without losing face - is an unprecedented diplomatic step that further signals they are not serious about having actual talks and want a propaganda pretext for invasion

Signal: Rejection of multilateral negotiations and demanding 1:1 US-RU talks. This is designed to either provoke a rejection from the US (yet another pretext for war) or drive a rift between US and its allies in Europe. Either way, a win-win

Signal: Demand for urgency. A real negotiation on the points Russia is raising would take years. Expecting it to be resolved quickly is unrealistic and Russia knows it. Yet another pretext for invasion by claiming the US is not serious about their concerns

Signal: Rhetorically, things are reaching a boiling point. Diplomatic language is being thrown out the window and with each day comes a new escalation

Signal: The information battlefield is now being prepared for a provocation that can be pinned on Ukraine, US or NATO (or all 3). They will be used as part of an excuse to justify an invasion

Let’s talk now about the reasons to invade - from Putin’s perspective, which are also numerous

Reason: Fear of shifting military power balance between Kiev and Donbas separatists. Putin observed the Karabakh War last year and has a good appreciation for what a military armed with modern NATO weapons, such as Turkish TB2 drones, can do to retake territory

He has lost faith that Zelensky has any interest in resolving the issue of Donbas diplomatically and believes he needs to forestall a change in the status quo there militarily - sooner or later

Incidentally, Saakashvili’s push to rearm and take over Georgian separatist territories and change the status quo is what triggered the Georgia War in 2008. Similarities to today are eerie

Reason: Real concerns about NATO expansion. We can debate all we want about whether NATO truly presents a threat to Russia, but what’s important is that the Kremlin elites believe that it does

Over the last three hundred years, there had been numerous devastating invasions of Russia (Hitler, Napoleon, Swedes, Poles, etc) which had been launched either through from what is now Belarus or Ukraine

The prospect of either country joining NATO (an implicit anti-Russia military alliance) has been and would be unacceptable to any Russian leader - Putin, Yeltsin, Gorbachev or even someone like Navalny and is viewed as an existential threat.

Reason: Pro-western government in Ukraine, protests against Lukashenko, color revolution in Georgia, protests in Moscow, etc have all been viewed by Putin through the same lens - covert Western attempts to undermine Russia and build coalitions of enemy states in the near abroad

Reason: Even without Ukraine joining NATO, Putin has become convinced that a pro-western Ukraine poses a serious threat given the deployment of NATO weapons and advisors there even without formal membership

His talk of 4-5min missile flight time to Moscow or threat to Crimea may sound like paranoia to us, but he believes it - which is all that matters right now

Reason: He knows that an invasion of Ukraine, would put a permanent end to all talk of Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus or any Central Asian states of ever joining NATO or deployment of NATO weapons and troops on their territories without Russia’s agreement

It would instantly reinstate Russia’s sphere of influence in that part of the world. No former Soviet Union state (aside from the Baltics) would dare to flirt with NATO or EU again

Reason: From a timing perspective, this might be the best time he will ever have to invade. US is distracted by domestic politics and new geopolitical confrontation with China

Energy prices are skyrocketing. Europe is wholly dependent on Russia’s gas and even the US is currently importing Russia’s crude oil. There is little chance there will be economic sanctions on fossil fuels as a result

Reason: Sanctions are not an effective deterrent. Russia has learned to live with them, even if it dislikes them. Its economy is much more resilient today to them - including in part due to help from China. Moreover, it has learned to expect sanctions no matter what it does

Sanctions instituted this year for activity traditionally considered acceptable espionage - such as the SolarWinds/HolidayBear hacks - have undermined their use for deterrence as they send a signal that we will sanction Russia for everything it does

And while sanctions on oil and gas industry could be devastating to Russia economically but there is no prospect of them happening now - not with Europe freezing in the midst of a cold winter and inflation skyrocketing in US

Reason: Putin believes that his objectives are achievable with military force. The Russian military has overwhelming advantage in long range fires to easily overwhelm the Ukrainian forces within days and then push them back to the Dnieper river with infantry and armor

He is unlikely to invade Western Ukraine but can relatively easily split the country in half along the Dnieper and establish a permanent buffer zone between Europe and Russia, as well as a land bridge to Crimea

Reason: He likely believes the military cost will be low - either in initial invasion or its aftermath. Russia has decades of experience suppressing insurgencies - in Chechnya, Syria, Donbas and even Crimea

Western Ukraine would be a different story but that’s why he is not likely to cross the Dnieper. And, of course, Russia has successfully fought insurgencies in Ukraine multiple times throughout its history - 1640s, 1700s and 1920-1950s. Lots of experience there

Reason: Putin is almost 70. He knows he has about another decade in power at most. He views himself as a historical leader who has revitalized Russia economically and militarily after the devastating and humiliating 1990s

Recapturing Crimea in 2014 with relatively little cost likely emboldened him to solve other long-festering problems like reestablishing Russia’s sphere of influence in the near abroad before he leaves/dies in office. And now is as good of a time as any to do so

This is a very pessimistic but unfortunately also realistic outlook on why the invasion is highly likely. And there is likely little the West can do to stop it.

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