Current assess­ment of the Russian Inva­sion of Ukraine – What Germany Can and Must Do Now

Foto: Alexey Kudenko /​ Imago Images

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.

1. Summary

  • 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.

9. Sanc­tions

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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