As the world dissects the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, we need to prepare for what’s next. What’s the potential regional and international impact over the downing of Flight 17? Utilizing an approach taught me while in uniform, I’ll outline what I believe are the “most dangerous” and “most likely” courses of action.
Most Dangerous: Russia Invades
The most dangerous course of action is if Russia, believing that the world will punish it significantly for its role in the downing of Flight 17, decides to do something “really worth” punishment and invades Ukraine. There is little doubt Russia has the capability to defeat Ukraine militarily. NATO has little real capability to stop a Russian invasion. The US, who once had four heavily mechanized divisions, doesn’t even have one battalion on the ground today (though we do have equipment to outfit a battalion or two stored in a German warehouse). The Russians, on the other hand, have demonstrated, with numerous snap count alerts, an ability to be able to mass a hundred thousand troops on the Ukraine border in less than a week.
Taking such a bold action will only further endear Putin to Russia, where he already enjoys record popularity. The West will not go to war over Ukraine, and while Russia may suffer an insurgency in western Ukraine, it will win. Russia could mitigate an insurgency by taking Ukraine in “bites,” first taking eastern Ukraine, where it’s popular, in an effort to protect Russian speakers and even protect the world form airliners being shot down. The western Ukraine could be dealt with later. Meanwhile, a West that isn’t willing to go to war over Ukraine isn’t going to supply Ukrainian rebels and give Putin a reason to serve as cover to continue his aggression.
Some will reject this course of action as unlikely. I agree, but it is the most dangerous in the near-term, and there is plenty of precedent to demonstrate that Putin has little issue with using aggression to get what he wants. Crimea wasn’t that long ago. For those who have forgotten, Putin invaded a sovereign nation, said he didn’t and then annexed it while the world said it would not stand by. The implications of Crimea’s annexation and a potential invasion of Ukraine in this course of action undoubtedly bodes poorly for Europe and international relations in general.
Most Likely: Russia’s New Irregular Warfare Doctrine
The most likely course of action is that nothing of consequence will happen. Oh, there will be some gnashing of teeth, some sanction on Russian Faberge eggs, demands for reparations, maybe even calls for a hearing in the World Court, but little beyond that.
As the manifest is formalized, I’ve noticed two interesting points. Contrary to initial reports that 23 Americans were on board, only one American has been confirmed on the plane, but nine nations lost citizens. Ukraine is not just a Ukraine problem.
Second, Britain and Australia were first to call for a formal diplomatic inquest and describe the incident not as an accident but as a crime, respectively. There was a time when the US would have been first to do this. Some will perceive this as “thoughtful” American action. Maybe, but what it undoubtedly reminds us of is America’s diminishing role as an international leader. This is important because Europe does not have a strong record of leading, and when no one leads, entropy, or the natural tendency to chaos emerges.
After the smoke clears, the nude bodies who lost their clothes over the ferocity of the attack are collected, and the news dims (which will happen all too quickly), Russia will continue its strategy that I outlined back in March on SOFREP and on my blog, May on GRUNTSandCo. “Russia cannot allow for a truly independent Ukraine on its border. Besides the defensive buffer of space Russia requires geographically, Russia also requires an ideological buffer.”
Russia will continue to keep Ukraine destabilized and wait for the right moment to bring it back in the fold.
Russia is rewriting the rules of irregular warfare by incorporating irregulars, paramilitary, rented thugs, while exporting “demonstrators.” armed tourists, media ops and special operations operatives in a constant offensive to undermine Ukraine. It’s brilliant because Russia avoids responsibility and remains extremely dangerous for the same reason.
Few people are aware of the steady and constant events going on in Ukraine since Crimea was annexed. What seems like a constant rumble in the distance camouflages significant and telling incidents, like former Russian officers serving as “rebel leaders” an attempt to secure Donetsk airport using extremely efficient “indigenous” paramilitary forces (Crimea’s airports were a thoroughfare for Russia’s invasion and mimicked the Soviets intervention in Afghanistan), or Russian T-72’s and rocket launchers being driven into Ukraine by “separatists” and the escalation of separatist air defense capability and successes.
This approach has implications for Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the “Stans.” The “most likely” course of action might in fact be the “most dangerous” over time. It’s potentially the newest flavor of warfare.
The invasion everyone but the invaded can deny is happening…
(Featured Image Courtesy: Business Week)