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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