In the last few weeks, I have become increasingly convinced that Kremlin has unfortunately made a decision to invade Ukraine later this winter. While it is still possible for Putin to deescalate, I believe the likelihood is now quite low. Allow me to explain why 🧵
There are numerous signals that Russia has sent recently that make me believe invasion is almost certain, as well as a substantial number of reasons for why this is the preferred route for Putin
Signal:
The obvious one. The military build-up on Ukraine’s borders (in the north, east and south in Crimea). This mobilization is qualitatively and quantitatively different from the past
75% of Russia’s total battalion tactical groups have been moved. Artillery, air defense units, tanks, APCs, bridge-laying equipment, mine clearers, armored excavators, engineering equipment, refueling, huge amount of logistics, etc. Follow @RALee85 for details
This is a massive mobilization and a clear preparation for an extensive invasion, not a bluff. You also can’t keep all this equipment, troops and logistics there forever. @RALee85 thinks they would have to pull back by summer at the latest
Like a rifle in a Chekhov play, you don’t put it there if you are not expecting to use it...
Signal:
Cyber prep. Since early December, there has been a dramatic increase in cyber intrusions on Ukraine government and civilian networks from Russia
As I told @SangerNYT and @julianbarnes yesterday, the targets are precisely the ones that you’d expect to be targeted for intel collection and battlefield preparation ahead of an invasion
nytimes.com/2021/12/20/us/…
Signal:
Diplomatic ultimatums. The list of demands that Russia issued last week was a non-starter for the US and NATO allies. It is simply not a serious proposal for the start of the negotiations
In fact, it would likely be rejected by Russia itself if it comes to reciprocal steps to not deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad and cruise-missiles in Russian western territory
Signal:
Making the list of demands public - and making it difficult to climb down from them without losing face - is an unprecedented diplomatic step that further signals they are not serious about having actual talks and want a propaganda pretext for invasion
Signal:
Rejection of multilateral negotiations and demanding 1:1 US-RU talks. This is designed to either provoke a rejection from the US (yet another pretext for war) or drive a rift between US and its allies in Europe. Either way, a win-win
Signal:
Demand for urgency. A real negotiation on the points Russia is raising would take years. Expecting it to be resolved quickly is unrealistic and Russia knows it. Yet another pretext for invasion by claiming the US is not serious about their concerns
Signal:
Rhetorically, things are reaching a boiling point. Diplomatic language is being thrown out the window and with each day comes a new escalation
Signal:
The information battlefield is now being prepared for a provocation that can be pinned on Ukraine, US or NATO (or all 3). They will be used as part of an excuse to justify an invasion
Let’s talk now about the reasons to invade - from Putin’s perspective, which are also numerous
Reason:
Fear of shifting military power balance between Kiev and Donbas separatists. Putin observed the Karabakh War last year and has a good appreciation for what a military armed with modern NATO weapons, such as Turkish TB2 drones, can do to retake territory
He has lost faith that Zelensky has any interest in resolving the issue of Donbas diplomatically and believes he needs to forestall a change in the status quo there militarily - sooner or later
Incidentally, Saakashvili’s push to rearm and take over Georgian separatist territories and change the status quo is what triggered the Georgia War in 2008. Similarities to today are eerie
Reason:
Real concerns about NATO expansion. We can debate all we want about whether NATO truly presents a threat to Russia, but what’s important is that the Kremlin elites believe that it does
Over the last three hundred years, there had been numerous devastating invasions of Russia (Hitler, Napoleon, Swedes, Poles, etc) which had been launched either through from what is now Belarus or Ukraine
The prospect of either country joining NATO (an implicit anti-Russia military alliance) has been and would be unacceptable to any Russian leader - Putin, Yeltsin, Gorbachev or even someone like Navalny and is viewed as an existential threat.
Reason:
Pro-western government in Ukraine, protests against Lukashenko, color revolution in Georgia, protests in Moscow, etc have all been viewed by Putin through the same lens - covert Western attempts to undermine Russia and build coalitions of enemy states in the near abroad
Reason:
Even without Ukraine joining NATO, Putin has become convinced that a pro-western Ukraine poses a serious threat given the deployment of NATO weapons and advisors there even without formal membership
His talk of 4-5min missile flight time to Moscow or threat to Crimea may sound like paranoia to us, but he believes it - which is all that matters right now
Reason:
He knows that an invasion of Ukraine, would put a permanent end to all talk of Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus or any Central Asian states of ever joining NATO or deployment of NATO weapons and troops on their territories without Russia’s agreement
It would instantly reinstate Russia’s sphere of influence in that part of the world. No former Soviet Union state (aside from the Baltics) would dare to flirt with NATO or EU again
Reason:
From a timing perspective, this might be the best time he will ever have to invade. US is distracted by domestic politics and new geopolitical confrontation with China
Energy prices are skyrocketing. Europe is wholly dependent on Russia’s gas and even the US is currently importing Russia’s crude oil. There is little chance there will be economic sanctions on fossil fuels as a result
Reason:
Sanctions are not an effective deterrent. Russia has learned to live with them, even if it dislikes them. Its economy is much more resilient today to them - including in part due to help from China. Moreover, it has learned to expect sanctions no matter what it does
Sanctions instituted this year for activity traditionally considered acceptable espionage - such as the SolarWinds/HolidayBear hacks - have undermined their use for deterrence as they send a signal that we will sanction Russia for everything it does
And while sanctions on oil and gas industry could be devastating to Russia economically but there is no prospect of them happening now - not with Europe freezing in the midst of a cold winter and inflation skyrocketing in US
Reason:
Putin believes that his objectives are achievable with military force. The Russian military has overwhelming advantage in long range fires to easily overwhelm the Ukrainian forces within days and then push them back to the Dnieper river with infantry and armor
He is unlikely to invade Western Ukraine but can relatively easily split the country in half along the Dnieper and establish a permanent buffer zone between Europe and Russia, as well as a land bridge to Crimea
Reason:
He likely believes the military cost will be low - either in initial invasion or its aftermath. Russia has decades of experience suppressing insurgencies - in Chechnya, Syria, Donbas and even Crimea
Western Ukraine would be a different story but that’s why he is not likely to cross the Dnieper. And, of course, Russia has successfully fought insurgencies in Ukraine multiple times throughout its history - 1640s, 1700s and 1920-1950s. Lots of experience there
Reason:
Putin is almost 70. He knows he has about another decade in power at most. He views himself as a historical leader who has revitalized Russia economically and militarily after the devastating and humiliating 1990s
Recapturing Crimea in 2014 with relatively little cost likely emboldened him to solve other long-festering problems like reestablishing Russia’s sphere of influence in the near abroad before he leaves/dies in office. And now is as good of a time as any to do so
This is a very pessimistic but unfortunately also realistic outlook on why the invasion is highly likely. And there is likely little the West can do to stop it.

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More from @DAlperovitch

Jan 23
New @SilveradoPolicy 40+ page research report is out where we dive into detailed data on Russian trade imports to determine how Russia is working around Western sanctions and export controls

Key findings: 🧵

silverado.org/news/report-ru…
1. Russian imports of key goods (e.g. chips) increased substantially in 2021 *before* the invasion of Ukraine. As a result, it likely meant that they entered the 'sanctions war' with strong inventory levels that allowed them to withstand the initial shock of the export controls
2. After initial Russian imports decline in March-April '22, they started to rebound sharply and were back exceeding prewar median levels by September '22
Read 12 tweets
Jan 21
A story of a Wagner convict recruit, who had killed a judge with a poker, served 10 out of 23 years of his sentence, joined Wagner to fight in Ukraine, lost a leg but is now living the life of freedom and 'fantasy and fairy tale' in Russian southern city of Anapa on the Black Sea
Correction: He says he only tortured the judge with a poker. But killed him by dropping dumbbells on his head... 3 times
Wagner trained him for a week (he had never served before, or even shot from a rifle). At the front in Luhansk oblast, his job consisted of "sleep well, get up and move forward"
He lasted 8 days before getting hit by a tank shell and losing his leg
Read 5 tweets
Jan 19
My thoughts on nuclear escalation risk with Russia🧵
I don’t disagree with @james_acton32 that the risk of nuclear use by Russia hasn’t gone away

Although I do believe it has diminished significantly, in part because US has been remarkably successful in getting China to signal to the Kremlin that nuclear escalation is unacceptable
There is a lot of focus in the escalation debate about where Putin’s redlines might lie. And certainly that’s very important to try to ascertain, albeit very difficult since he has every incentive to exaggerate and obfuscate them to discourage our assistance to Ukraine
Read 14 tweets
Jan 13
New @GeopolDecanted episode is out!

Ukr Reserve Colonel Grabskyi makes the unexpected case for why Ukraine may attempt to retake Crimea soon, long before it is able to liberate all of the territory lost since Feb 24!

podcast.silverado.org/episodes/why-u…

1/
Other topics covered:
- Why Ukraine is fighting so hard for Bakhmut despite taking devastating losses there
- Why Kreminna and Svatove are even more important than Bakhmut
- The vital importance of the barely noticed fight at Vulhledar in the South
- Is a possible for Ukrainian forces to cross the Dnipro river
- Why the latest supplies of western IFV and tanks may not help as much as many think
- How Ukraine is maintaining the Noah's Ark of western weapons donations
Read 5 tweets
Jan 10
“Putin is crazy,” says one Chinese official, who declined to be identified. “The invasion decision was made by a very small group of people. China shouldn’t simply follow Russia.” ft.com/content/e59203…
China now perceives a likelihood that Russia will fail to prevail against Ukraine and emerge from the conflict a “minor power”, much diminished economically and diplomatically on the world stage, according to Chinese officials.
Five senior Chinese officials with knowledge of the issue have told the FT at different times over the past nine months that Moscow did not inform Beijing of its intention to launch a full invasion of Ukraine before Putin ordered the attack.

Of course he wouldn’t…
Read 8 tweets
Dec 29, 2022
Great reporting from @washingtonpost on Ukr counteroffensives, rapid RU collapse in Kharkiv but also fierce fighting they put up in Kherson and Luhansk

Another revelation: Ukrainians considered flooding the Dnieper river by destroying the dam to prevent RU retreat from Kherson
There were some who thought at the time that the Russians would destroy the Nova Kakhovka dam and flood the river.

As @KofmanMichael and I had discussed then on @GeopolDecanted, that never made any sense - it would have just hurt the Russians much more than the Ukrainians
The reporting also makes it clear that the minefields the Russians had laid all over Kherson oblast had a real impact on slowing down the Ukrainian advance and impeded their ability to get close enough for artillery to inflict major losses on the retreating Russian forces
Read 11 tweets

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