Has the Cold War returned with a vengeance? Some expert commentators seem to think so. Russia’s mobilization of over 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders this winter has led the United States and some allied NATO countries to threaten economic and political sanctions, including those specifically against the Kremlin’s leadership. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and destabilization of eastern Ukraine since then has created uncertainty as to how far President Vladimir Putin might be willing to go, either in the way of scaled-up political pressure backed by military power, or in the worst extreme, an actual large-scale invasion with ambitious objectives, including possible regime change in Kiev. Several prognosticators and some Russian officials also assume that, should Russia decide to initiate a major military operation against Ukraine, the result would be a veritable walkover, with Ukrainian forces unable to offer more than a feeble and temporary resistance against overwhelming Russian combined ground, air, and naval forces.
However, if Russia should decide upon a major invasion of Ukraine, instead of spoiling operations limited to the Donbas, it will likely find that its own expectations for a quick and decisive victory at an acceptable cost will be disappointed. Some commentators have failed to consider all the factors that might go wrong for Russian planners. The irony is that NATO’s insistence on pretending that the door must remain open for Ukrainian membership, and Russia’s equally stubborn insistence that NATO must preemptively and publicly renounce any attempt to offer Ukraine membership in the alliance, are both in denial of the military and strategic reality. NATO is neither prepared nor inclined to defend Ukraine with military force, nor invite Ukraine to join the alliance. However, the massing of Russian troops on Ukraine’s borders has ironically provided a new stimulus for NATO’s political unity and increased military preparedness, and more willingness to consider Ukraine’s admission to NATO.
The above excerpt was originally published in The National Interest.
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