Dmitri Alperovitch Profile picture
Dec 21, 2021 39 tweets 8 min read Read on X
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
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...
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…
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
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
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
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
Rhetorically, things are reaching a boiling point. Diplomatic language is being thrown out the window and with each day comes a new escalation
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 18
Opening up Black Sea exports was clearly Ukraine’s greatest strategic success since the liberation of Kherson in fall of 2022

It is now clear how this was achieved - via development of credible threats against Russian Black Sea shipping
With the concerted effort by the SBU with the participation of the Ukrainian Navy (and later GUR) since mid 2022, Ukraine was able to develop more and more capable maritime drones that showed their capabilities against Russian military ships and land infrastructure
It is interesting to see how strategically they are thinking about the development of capabilities of these drones:

"We want to decompose a large warship into its functions - air defense, weapons, protection - and put these weapons on several drones," Hunter (SBU) explains.
Read 12 tweets
Dec 28, 2023
The more important question to ask is what would bring about that improved position for an eventual negotiation with Moscow
The only one that’s being discussed as at all plausible is having Ukraine get to the Sea of Azov, destroy the Kerch Bridge and put fire pressure on Crimea🧵
Putting aside the feasibility and likelihood of success of each of those elements of the strategy, I think it’s worth questioning the assumption that Putin would be driven to the negotiation table even if all of the above conditions come to pass
A big assumption in this strategy is that without the Kerch bridge and under constant fires from the Azov coast, Crimea would be difficult to resupply

But the Kerch bridge didn’t exist until 2018 and the rail part until 2019, yet occupied Crimea was just fine since 2014
Read 10 tweets
Dec 5, 2023
Good article on the challenges seen in the early days of the Ukrainian counteroffensive back in June. Some key points:…
“The goal for the first 24 hours was to advance nearly nine miles, reaching the village of Robotyne — an initial thrust south toward the larger objective of reclaiming Melitopol, a city near the Sea of Azov, and severing Russian supply lines”
“Rather than making a nine-mile breakthrough on their first day, the Ukrainians in the nearly six months since June have advanced about 12 miles and liberated a handful of villages. Melitopol is still far out of reach”
Read 32 tweets
Aug 25, 2023
Great WSJ story on Prigozhin’s last days

Something that’s been bothering me since yesterday—why kill Prigozhin now. Putin doesn’t rush into things and often waits years to kill ‘traitors’

The answer— it was not about the mutiny. It was about business, as it always is in Russia
Putin/Defense Ministry/GRU were muscling in to take over Prigozhin’s Africa business and he dared to resist. He did not get the message after the June mutiny—that it was time to apologize and disappear, go to Belarus or wherever. Not fight for control of business in Africa
That is what doomed him

If he had just gone away to sip margaritas in the Maldives and turned over all his businesses to Putin and Co. as penance instead of fighting to preserve them, he would probably still be alive today

Of course, we will never know..
Read 6 tweets
Aug 25, 2023
Putin had personally told Touadera, the Central African Republic president, that the time had come to distance himself from Prigozhin. When Touadera visited St. Petersburg last month, he abstained from taking a selfie with the Russian warlord…
Since June, the Kremlin had been trying to assert control over that shadowy web of murky arrangements. The Defense Ministry had been dispatching delegations to inform foreign governments that they would henceforth do business directly with the Russian state
Prigozhin’s mutiny had left Haftar, the Libyan warlord who had paid Wagner for securing its oil wells and territory, and his close circle nervous about Wagner’s presence in Libya
“They felt that if they do it in Russia, they can do it in Benghazi”
Read 5 tweets
Jun 25, 2023
My thoughts on the implications of Prigozhin's mutiny this weekend: 🧵

First, what have we learned from this?
1. That a hostile armed column of about 5,000 troops can just drive across Russia for hours to within 200km of Moscow and no one in the MoD, Rosgvardia, MVD or FSB seems capable or willing to stop them.

(Ukraine take note)
2. That another armed column of a few thousand troops (some of them former convicts!) can just drive into a major Russian city of a million people and take it over without firing a shot, including a major military command center and an airbase
Read 18 tweets

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