Current assessment of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine – What Germany Can and Must Do Now
Military expert Gustav C. Gressel on the war in Ukraine: The outcome will depend in part on whether the West supplies Ukraine with the weapons it needs. It is also essential that the Russian economy be quickly crippled to eliminate Putin’s ability to mobilize reserves for the war. A strict oil and gas embargo could be gradually eased after a Russian withdrawal.
- The Russian leadership’s aim is the destruction of Ukraine as a state and as a nation. Moscow intends to achieve this aim by eliminating the political, cultural and intellectual elites and the long-term occupation of the country.
- In the event of a Russian victory, it is not an ice-bound Cold War that awaits Europe, but a volatile, unstable situation on its eastern flank, with Putin engaging in continual provocation and military intimidation to deter the West from interfering in the “internal affairs” of Russia or its occupation regimes in Belarus and Ukraine.
- Military threats against NATO – both conventional and nuclear – will remain solely in the realm of the psychological as long as Ukraine continues to put up organized military resistance. Should this resistance collapse, an expansion of Russian aggression beyond Ukraine is conceivable – to some extent even probable.
- Ukraine has a chance of forcing Russia into peace through attrition (Ermattungsfrieden), as Finland managed to do in the Winter War, 1939/40. It urgently needs support from the West in order to do so, though.
- It will take more than infantry anti-tank weapons and guided anti-aircraft missiles to sustain Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. In order to mount a mobile defence, Ukrainian forces must also have reserves with armoured fighting vehicles. Unless resupplied with this kind of heavy equipment from the West, the existing reserves will melt away over the coming weeks.
- Obtaining weapons systems capable of bringing down aircraft flying at high altitudes is also of vital importance for Ukraine’s air defence.
- 1 April 2022 is a critical date from the Russian perspective: this is the date of the next intake of Russian military conscripts and is key to generating additional forces for the war. Russia will only be willing to engage in serious negotiations if Ukraine proves able to withstand the fresh wave of assaults that will follow that date.
- A wide-reaching collapse of the Russian economy that occurs before 1 April 2022 appears to offer the only chance for the West to decisively influence this war through the use of sanctions.
- Ukraine could continue to maintain organized military resistance in its western provinces for quite some time. If a set of heavily protected core zones were set up in western Ukraine, it would be possible to build up Ukraine’s forces and equip them with more sophisticated weapons systems.
- However, doing this would require NATO to go beyond symbolic gestures of solidarity and establish a robust military presence on its eastern flank. Only such a presence would create the possibility of further military and political, diplomatic steps.
2. Russian war aims
The Russian war of aggression against Ukraine aims at the subjugation and occupation of the entire territory of the Ukrainian state. The primary intent is to eradicate the national and cultural identity of Ukraine. This includes the physical destruction of Ukraine’s army and of its political, intellectual, journalistic, cultural and administrative elites, to the extent that they put up any resistance. The aims of “demilitarization and denazification”, openly touted early on, amount to a barely disguised declaration of these objectives. Numerous arrests in Kherson of representatives of the Ukrainian government and civil society, none of whom have returned or been seen since, are clear indications of Russia’s imperial and colonial aims, as are the campaigns encouraging people in occupied territories to apply for Russian passports.
The Kremlin will not be able to achieve its long-term goal of entirely eliminating Ukraine’s intellectual elite without setting up concentration camps. Decision-makers in the West, particularly in Germany, should clearly understand just what kind of threat Ukrainian society will face if it loses this war.
Russia wants to persuade Ukrainian society to stop supporting the resistance and to impose acceptance of Russian rule, and terror is the tool it is using to do so. This is evident in the targeting bombing of civilian institutions – childcare centres, schools, hospitals, care homes – as well as detentions, killings and degrading treatment, including rape, in the territories occupied by Russian troops. The targeting of particularly weak and vulnerable groups in society (women, children, the ill and the elderly) reflects a deliberate choice: these assaults are intended to demonstrate that the Ukrainian army cannot protect its citizens. No one should succumb to the delusion that the bombings of maternity clinics and schools are “due to an error”.
Should Russia emerge as the military victor in this war, Ukraine can expect to face a reign of terror of a kind not seen since the Wehrmacht advance into this territory. But there will be other consequences as well: A wave of refugees, potentially in numbers far exceeding 10 million (based on projections from the numbers for Donbas) will be the least of Europe’s problems. Russia will set up a military structure in Ukraine directed against NATO. Putin already blames the US and NATO for any and all resistance to his rule – whether in the form of efforts towards independence in Chechnya or public protests in major Russian cities. It is safe to assume that Russia will also blame the West for any continuing armed resistance in Ukraine – and given the degree of Russian brutality, it seems clear that there will be resistance. Putin will then use military pressure, including threats of nuclear retaliation, in an attempt to intimidate and deter the West from interfering “in Russia’s internal affairs”.
If Russia achieves a military victory, it will have to retain a significant Russian army, national guard and FSB presence in Ukraine to keep the conquered territories under control. This personnel will be systematically involved in war crimes and crimes against humanity. This will bind them to the regime, as the prosecution would be the alternative. The troops returning to Russia from Ukraine will have been brutalized. This, in turn, will trigger a further intensification of internal repression in Russia and militarization of its foreign policy. Whirlwind Europe reaps will not be a “stable” Cold War of the kind we remember from the 1970s and 1980s, but something more along the lines of the unstable 1940s and 1950s, when Stalin was forcing the newly conquered territories into the Soviet empire, crushing all manner of resistance and testing the limits of his power with the blockade of Berlin. It is by no means certain that peaceful means will be found to settle or defuse all of the resulting crises.
3. Nuclear escalation?
Moscow’s announcement that it had put its nuclear forces into a higher state of alert caused considerable uncertainty in the West. Yet the announcement was nothing other than an instance of psychological warfare. There is no indication of any kind that Russian nuclear forces have taken actions beyond the scope of normal exercises (the “Grom 2022” nuclear forces exercises were held in recent weeks). The use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine or against the West is extremely improbable at this time.
The Russian military can use thermobaric weapons to achieve a similar degree of destruction and intimidation without incurring the international stigma that would come with the use of nuclear weapons. Under sanctions from the West, Russia needs the states in the rest of the world (India, Vietnam, Israel, etc.) to maintain their neutral stance. Using nuclear weapons would jeopardize this neutrality without providing any additional military benefit. The problem of radioactive “repercussions” for Russia would arise.
Russian use of nuclear weapons against NATO is improbable as well. Such an act would trigger the immediate entry of the alliance into the war. Russia, with its army now tied down in Ukraine, cannot afford that militarily. Large portions of Russia are militarily exposed, particularly the Eastern Military District in the Far East. To ensure that its own territory could not be conquered, Russia would have to escalate immediately to the level of strategic nuclear war, which would be the equivalent of suicide.
Putin and Russia’s military intelligence service (GU, formerly GRU) are afraid of the strategic and nuclear superiority of the USA. The operational readiness of American strategic nuclear missile launchers is far higher in practice than that of their Russian counterparts. Moreover, American missile defence capabilities are overestimated in Russia. The war in Ukraine has provided impressive testimony regarding the extent to which the American intelligence services can obtain information concerning Russian operational plans. Thus, it would be difficult for Russia to surprise the USA with a nuclear attack. In Russian thinking, was it to see indications that preparations for such an assault were underway, the USA could order a preventive nuclear strike that would wipe out most of Russia’s existing capabilities. The US missile defence system would then be able to bring down individual Russian intercontinental missiles.
That this scenario is based on an overestimate of both American resolve and American technical capabilities is of little relevance here: scenarios like this one are already built into the belief system at the Kremlin, as is the belief that Ukrainians and Russians are one and the same people. This makes it very improbable that Russia would reach for its nuclear arsenal.
According to Russian principles of nuclear deterrence and based on the analysis of observations of Russian military exercises, specialist publications and discussions, the option of nuclear escalation is reserved for the case of a direct military confrontation between Russia and NATO. Arms deliveries, sanctions and other forms of support for Ukraine fall well below the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. The use of these weapons would only become a realistic possibility if NATO were to intervene in the war with military forces in closed formations – multiple tank divisions, for example – and even then, only if the resulting military situation developed into one posing a serious threat to Russia’s interior.
However, Russia realizes that the fear of nuclear war offers the best tool it has to deter the Western public from supporting Ukraine, now that all the other tools to wage the information war and influence opinions have failed. Thirty years after the end of the Cold War, sheer ignorance concerning all aspects of nuclear deterrence is the rule, including in the ranks of political decision-makers in the West. Russia’s threats and attempts to sow uncertainty are aimed right at that gap – but at this stage, they serve purely as a way to exert psychological pressure and are without substance.
The only use of weapons of mass destruction that appears realistic at this time would be the use of primitive chemical warfare agents (chlorine gas, etc.) or radioactive substances (radiological dispersal devices), with the intention of placing responsibility on Ukraine, i.e. claiming that Ukraine had used such substances in an assault or had an accident at storage for them. The aim would be to discredit the Ukrainian leadership in the eyes of the Ukrainian populace and in the West.
4. Assessment of the offensive
Russia started the war with a “special military operation” aimed at swiftly seizing control of Kyiv, the capital, and other major cities and thereby forcing Ukraine to surrender. This phase of the campaign failed miserably within the first few days. The Russians had entirely underestimated the scale of Ukrainian resistance. The consequences of this mistake are still playing out militarily today.
Russia deployed around 120 battalion tactical groups (BTGs) against Ukraine at the beginning of the war. A BTG comprises the first battalion of a motor rifle or tank regiment, reinforced by the first company of each of the combat support battalions from the same brigade or division: a tube artillery battery, a rocket artillery battery, an antitank company, an anti-aircraft battery, a combat-engineer company, and a number of logistic support units (transport, equipment and materiel, medical assistance). The reason for the detachment of the first (and sometimes also the second) battalions/companies from the rest of their regiment/brigade is that these forces are made up of professional and what are called “contract” soldiers. The means used to “persuade” conscripts to enlist for another 12-month stint of service are not always very gentle, but once they do so they are contract soldiers. Then they are, on paper at least, volunteers and can be sent to war.
This system enables Russia to form up and mobilize forces quickly, and to do so without using conscripts and reservists, which is politically controversial in Russia. A lack of the necessary will and financial resources meant that the system was not implemented until after the war in Georgia, but it is based on experiences in the Chechen wars. And therein lies the problem: the BTG system is well suited for “show of force” operations and for generating troops for colonial conflicts like those in Chechnya or Georgia, but it is less well suited for a large-scale higher-intensity war, like the one being fought in Ukraine.
Groups of 12 to 20 BTGs form a corps (operational manoeuvre group), each of which is led directly by an army commander. These corps are too unwieldy in terms of tactical leadership and coordination. The army commanders have too many units to deal with; they are quasi serving as corps commanders and brigade commanders at the same time. Important position information is being missed, orders are issued too late. The problem is exacerbated by poor radio equipment. This means that the commanding generals have to go forward to get a picture of the situation for themselves, making them an easy target for enemy attacks. The false pretexts offered up for the war (many soldiers had not been told that they were marching into a real war) had already dealt a heavy blow to troops’ morale and confidence in their commanders, and the organisational chaos did not improve matters.
The coordination problems are even greater when it comes to the combat support troops, particularly the anti-aircraft troops. Four batteries thrown together do not a battalion make. The absence of battalion and regiment command and control is particularly problematic here, as they are normally the ones coordinating sectors of fire with air forces. In their absence, the Russian anti-aircraft forces do not know whether aircraft movements are enemy or friendly, which causes them to hesitate (whereupon they are attacked by Ukraine’s Bayraktar drones). The Russian air force, for its part, can hardly provide effective close air support when it has to worry about being shot down by its own anti-aircraft systems. Moreover, Russia and Ukraine now use the same medium-range systems, which means that Russian air support has to exercise caution when striking radar and fire control systems lest it takes out its own anti-aircraft systems by mistake. All of these weaknesses are advantages to be exploited by Ukrainian defenders, who have shown a good deal of tactical finesse in adapting to meet their enemy.
One final point worth noting is that in-theatre maintenance facilities (mechanic shops, etc.) have not been deployed in the conflict zone. These are brigade- and division-level facilities manned by conscripts. Some of the Russian forces had been out on exercises since October, and there is routine maintenance work that did not get done. Some of their equipment (wheels, chains, lubricant in engines and gearboxes, etc) is in correspondingly poor condition, and this has resulted in high levels of equipment failure.
In addition, a number (probably a large number) of “volunteers” who signed up under duress deserted after crossing the border.
The Russian army has said that it has 168 BTGs at its disposal. On 24 February, somewhere in the area of 110–120 of these were deployed against Ukraine. On that day, at least 34 BTGs approached Kyiv and 24 approached Kharkiv, another 13 BTGs joined with the forces of the DNR and the LNR from Donbas, at least 20 BTGs from Crimea moved against Kherson and towards Mariupol. The Russians held back around 20- 30 BTGs as reserves; these were not deployed until the second week of the war. At least another 10 other BTGs (probably more) have already been transferred to Ukraine or are currently en route there.
Even with this massive force deployment, the Russian army was not able to achieve any of the goals it had defined going in. It cannot deploy more than another 38 BTGs without bringing in conscripts or reservists. Given that the army has lost forces from about 30 BTGs through combat activity, desertion and surrender, 38 additional BTGs is not a lot. Enough to continue the war with, yes, but not enough to be strategically decisive in the short term.
5. New forces?
This makes mobilising new forces of particular importance to Moscow. The arrival of Wagner mercenaries (some 4000 of them) and the troops recruited from the Middle East and Africa will not suffice to close the gaps in the disposition of Russian forces, either because they are too small in number (Wagner) or because they are not up to the job in terms of combat strength, training and morale (cannon fodder from Syria). Partial mobilisations are underway in rural regions (Dagestan) with the aim of compensating for losses by detaching additional professional and contract soldiers from training and peacetime operations. But there are limits to what can be achieved this way as well.
The war propaganda machine is running at full speed, along with other efforts to stir up enthusiasm for the war. The regime is still wary about deploying conscripts though: there are significant political risks associated with confronting broader swathes of society with the reality of the war in Ukraine. Whether the current propaganda will succeed in generating the appropriate level of resolve in the populace is unclear at this time. A full Russian mobilization would decide the war, but it might do so at the expense of the stability of the regime in Moscow. Putin and the Kremlin entourage are weighing potential risks and rewards now: the outcome is uncertain.
The first of April 2022 is the key to the question of whether Russia is going to be able to continue the war in its current scope. Hundreds of thousands of military conscripts will be inducted into the armed forces on that date – and just as many conscripts are due to be discharged on that date. The latter (particularly those of the serving in critical elements that the BTGs have lacked up to now, naturally) will be “recruited” as contract soldiers so that they can be deployed in the war. At that point, the army could send the mechanics facilities and other equipment along with the fully trained personnel into Ukraine. Thus, the Russian situation can be expected to improve in both qualitative and quantitative terms after 1 April 2022.
Therefore, the aim of the West should be to use the time remaining before that date to support the Ukrainian army to an extent enabling it to withstand this new assault and to cripple the Russian economy before that date by means of swift, severe and broad sanctions.
6. Ukrainian Defence
The Ukrainian defenders have proven to be not only extremely courageous but also tactically and operationally savvy and flexible. Even the most optimistic did not expect them to still be operational combat aircraft and functioning medium-range anti-aircraft systems on day 15. However the Ukrainian Army has also suffered losses, and depleting ammunition stocks are becoming a problem as the war continues.
Before the war, the Ukrainian army had about 70 battalions of combat troops (tank forces, mechanized infantry, infantry). These still build the hardcore of the defence on all sections of the fronts. Added to that are another 50,000 activated reservists and 100,000 Territorial Defence Force personnel, plus volunteers from Ukraine and abroad. Thus Ukrainian forces grew dramatically in number in recent days. However, the newly added forces are comprised of light infantry: they can only hold out against Russia’s mechanized forces on terrain that favours defenders – in this case, cities. They cannot do so outside of the cities, particularly in the flat farmland in southern Ukraine.
Another problem for Ukrainian defenders is that they do not have the forces necessary to cover the space that they have to defend. Russian troops keep finding gaps between the Ukrainian defenders allowing them to push past and penetrate deep into the Ukrainian’s rear. The defenders are then forced to deploy reserves with armoured fighting vehicles to cut them off from reinforcements and destroy them. They have been quite successful at this, particularly around Kyiv and Chernihiv. But it takes a toll on power and materiel, particularly those of Ukraine’s mechanized reserves.
No matter how many anti-tank weapons Ukraine obtains, it will not be able to maintain a defence with infantry alone, if for no other reason than the terrain. In order to continue defending itself, Ukraine urgently needs to be resupplied with heavy equipment as well – tanks, artillery, infantry fighting vehicles and the ammunition for them.
The same applies to air defence. Last week, Ukraine managed to inflict more losses on the Russian air force than the latter had suffered since World War II. It must be said, though, that the bad weather and thick cloud cover helped: Russian pilots had to fly below the clouds to identify and attack targets, thus exposing themselves to fire from Ukrainian anti-aircraft units, which had plenty of shoulder-fired missiles (Stinger, Igla and Polish Grom). A high-pressure zone has now settled in over Ukraine, however, and Russian aircraft can use higher altitudes for their assaults.
Ukraine still has medium- and long-range surface-to-air missile systems that are operational, particularly Buk-M1 and S‑300 systems. And its air force is still flying intercept missions. As long as these weapons systems continue to pose a threat to high-flying Russian aircraft, the Russian air force will hold back those systems that it does not want to expose to high risks. In particular, this means its bombers (Tu-22M3, Tu-95/142, Tu-160). These form the backbone of Russian air-based nuclear deterrence, and they are also used for the area bombardment of cities under low-risk conditions (as in Syria). The continuing availability of weapons systems of this kind has a decisive, direct influence on the humanitarian situation.
7. What kind of military assistance
The Ukrainian army needs our immediate support, i.e. extensive, unbureaucratic and direct assistance.
Forms of assistance that can be implemented in the short term consist primarily of the transfer of equipment and ammunition that can be put into use immediately without requiring any logistical preparation or training beforehand. The armed forces of our partners to the east possess a lot of equipment of the kind that Ukraine needs and has the ability to operate, ranging from Kalashnikov assault rifles to RPG-7s (plus ammunition), to battle tanks (T‑72, PT-91), infantry fighting vehicles (BMP‑1/2) and armoured personnel carriers (MT-LB, BTR). It also includes MiG-29 fighter aircraft, as well as Finnish Buk-M1, Slovakian and Greek S‑300 and Polish and Greek 9K33 Osa surface-to-air missiles.
Supplying armoured fighting vehicles is particularly important for the maintenance of mechanized reserves. Supplies of guided anti-aircraft weapons will make it possible to maintain the threat these pose to Russian bombers. These would have to come primarily from Germany’s eastern allies, although there is a lot of old NVA equipment for which German export licence could be issued. Germany should provide direct help to those of its NATO partners who transfer resources away from their own armies and deplete their ammunition stocks to supply this assistance, both in terms of procuring replacement equipment and materiel and by stationing troops to maintain security locally.
Other types of equipment that could be of immediate use include winter uniforms, protective vests, helmets, night-vision and thermal imaging devices, anti-tank weapons of all kinds, portable surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), small drones with thermal imaging cameras, drone jamming devices, anti-tank mines, engineering and construction equipment.
The value of passing on reconnaissance information should not be underestimated, particularly the sharing of information from intelligence sources, situational-picture information derived from satellite imagery or electronic surveillance of Russian communications and radar signals, and airspace data, particularly any giving early warning concerning impending airstrikes. Urgent action should be taken towards the intensification of NATO reconnaissance activities in this area on the part of the Bundeswehr and Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND).
The supply of armed drones and the ammunition for them, as well as loitering munition (weapons that wait to attack until they have identified a target), would be an effective way to increase the reach of the Ukrainian artillery and enable Ukraine to attack high-value targets in the enemy’s rear (reserves, command posts, ordnance, siege and missile artillery). However, Germany has wasted the past 20 years in fruitless debate over a ban on such weapons. A ban was never realistic in the first place but based solely on wishful thinking perpetuated by “peace researchers”, the disarmament lobby and politicians with no military expertise whatsoever. Germany, therefore, has nothing useful to offer in this respect. At best it could provide funding for their acquisition from other sources.
Swedish Strix mortar rounds for anti-tank weapons would be an effective support for Ukrainian infantry engaged in combat in urban areas. Only Sweden and Switzerland have this ammunition though.
More will be required in the medium term, however. The war in Ukraine is going to continue for considerably longer than was originally assumed, and Russian military occupation of the western oblasts appears to be nearly impossible at this time. Thus, there will be both the time and opportunity to train Ukrainian personnel in the operation of more technically complex weapon systems and to deliver them to the country. The infrastructure necessary to maintain these systems could be built up in western Ukraine. If Germany would jettison the red-tape for once and remember that the Ukrainians would not be working only 40 hours a week on this, it could be achieved even more quickly than in peacetime – depending on the systems.
Systems of medium complexity existing in European stores include, for instance, various iterations of the Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, the M‑109 tank howitzer, various iterations of the M‑113 and similar vehicles and other armoured personnel carriers. Among the munitions still in German arsenals, the LARSs (light artillery rocket systems) and Scorpion mine launchers, both of which are capable of firing AT‑2 anti-tank mines, would be worth considering. Air defence is the most problematic area, as modern Western systems are characterized by considerable complexity, and many are still in the testing and pilot-production phase. However, Washington has already started thinking about what could be done, consultations with other allies able to deliver supplies will be necessary. Appropriate preparations should be set in motion now though so that they can be put into effect in a few months’ time.
The Patriot systems, a frequent subject in public debate, are not well suited for Ukraine. The various iterations of the Patriot system are overly complex and operating them involves a good deal of logistical work and requires lengthy training (especially the older systems). Moreover, the system is too static for the type of mobile war being fought by the Ukrainians (who constantly have to evade Russian missile attacks). The French VL-MICA and SAMP/T (Aster) systems are considerably easier to operate and more mobile, but for their use to be feasible, France would have to provide direct logistical follow-on support in Poland. Decisions on these matters would have to be made now though because if such systems are going to be supplied, there is a considerable amount of training and logistical preparations that have to be done beforehand.
8. NATO force posture
The war in Ukraine and the deployment of forces in Belarus and Crimea represents a direct threat to the security of Germany’s eastern neighbours. Russia has already threatened to attack aid supplies or weapons transports, even refugees, and not just those at the border but even in NATO territory.
Had NATO begun to respond to Russian troop deployments with its own force transfers back in October, Russian fears of Western intervention would have provided a means of exerting pressure and thus of complicating Russian operation planning, and possibly even of deterring it from launching its attack. This opportunity was missed, however.
Now, NATO’s task is to play catch-up: it must initiate a credible build-up of NATO forces on its eastern flank that is capable of acting as a deterrent. It is essential to prevent the emergence of a grey area in which Russia can get away with launching a provocation without triggering a reaction from NATO. In addition, the direct stationing of troops is necessary to ensure the security of the states that are supplying weapons to Ukraine (see above) and uncovering themselves in order to do so. This must go well beyond the symbolic stationing of personnel we have seen in the past. Forward deployment of the entire NRF is now imperative. A unified command under NATO’s command structure for the northeast and southeast theatres should take over command of the allied forces in the region. Additional reinforcements should be brought in, above all in anti-aircraft and missile defence. The German defence ministry has long promised that it would be able to make even division-strength forces available if a crisis arose. The crisis arose: it has been here for a while.
France transferred a squadron of combat aircraft to Poland yesterday. The German Air Force could do the same, though an entire wing would be better, of course.
Only once the border is absolutely and credibly taboo when it comes to a Russian attack (and this cannot be underscored with words, but only through military action) will it be possible to extend the “taboo” zone out to border crossings and refugee convoys on the other side of the border. At that point, one can begin, step by step and situation by situation, to restrict the Russian air force’s freedom of action through the provision of equipment and intelligence support to Ukraine.
There is no point in debating a no-fly zone at this time. NATO lacks the forces to enforce such a zone. Nor is the political situation such that one could expect NATO to approve such a decision. Even if it did, Russia would have plenty of opportunities to attack NATO aircraft from the ground or the air and thus force NATO, once again, to choose between military escalation or backing down. For the reasons stated above – no one is eager to slip into nuclear war – Russia would probably opt for conventional escalation. However, if NATO were, for once, to establish a force posture on the eastern front that Russia had to take seriously, then it would be possible at least to raise, diplomatically, the issue of the public pressure for a no-fly zone and/or intervention in order to rattle the Russian leadership and bring it to the table for serious talks. Just by having a strong force presence in place, NATO can expand its own room for diplomatic manoeuvring.
At present, the Russian calculus is based solely on military logic. This means that coercive economic measures have to be tailored to the military timeline, in terms of both timing and intensity. The notion that sanctions have to be long-term and have enduring effects does not apply in this situation. Putin does not care what is going to happen to the Russian economy five years from now: his decision-making horizon barely extends past the first of April.
In this situation, the primary purpose of sanctions must be to hit the Russian economy as hard, as fast and as extensively as possible, with the aim of bringing it to a standstill. A collapse of the Russian economy and state finances that sets in before the first of April would make it difficult to impossible for Russia to expand the war in the manner described above. The domestic consequences of doing so would be too great. All other measures should be secondary to this aim.
This goal does not require sanctions that can be kept in place over the long term. A complete embargo on Russian oil and gas could be imposed “for the duration of the fighting”. Oil and gas exports are the most important sources of revenue and foreign currency for the Russian state. Though Russia could diversify its energy exports, it would not be able to do so quickly enough. Collective gas and oil purchases by the Commission (similar instruments already exist for nuclear fuel rods) would make gas procurement affordable for states with less purchasing power.
All of the sanctions and restrictions already imposed must be extended to the entire Union State (of Russia and Belarus) to prevent the circumvention of sanctions by way of the Belarusian colony
Swift action should be taken to extend the banking sanctions in both breadth and depth: e.g. by banning trading in euros with Russian financial institutions and by prohibiting banks from either side from maintaining branches in the other’s territory. Extraterritorial sanctions should also be expanded, particularly with a view to pressuring Chinese and Indian banks to pull out of the Russian market.
If we do not do all we can to support Ukraine’s defence today, we will be fighting on our own behalf tomorrow.
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