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Saturday, April 5, 2014

Quick Thoughts: Geopolitical Lessons From The Ukrainian Crisis

Image Credit: Politico

Evolution of Russian Forces Since the 2008 Ossetia War

The sophistication of the Russian annexation of Crimea represents a significant advancement for the Russian military. Compared to the 2008 Ossetia War which was marked by a poorly coordinated Russian invasion with hundreds of Russian and Georgian casualties, the Russian approach in Crimea utilized highly refined non-lethal methods of coercion:

"The most distinctive feature of the Russian operation was its emphasis on economy of effort. Unlike previous interventions in Afghanistan in the Soviet era, or Chechnya and Georgia more recently, where Russian commanders relied on mass employment of tanks and artillery, the Crimea intervention featured fewer than 10,000 assault troops lined up against 16,000 Ukrainian military personnel...Once Russian troops had moved to blockade Ukrainian military personnel in their bases, psychological warfare, internet/media propaganda, intimidation, and bribery were their main weapons to undermine their opponents' will to resist". - Tim Ripley, London and Bruce Jones, 2014

The 45th Spetsnaz regiment, operating for the GRU, is credited with orchestrating the Russian take over of Crimea.

US Strategic Priorities 

Image Credit: USN

Despite the bellicose actions of Vladimir Putin, the limited response by the United States was largely appropriate. The United States still requires Russian cooperation with respect to Iran, Syria, and its exit strategy out of Afghanistan (supply routes). Compromising all of the aforementioned interests for the purpose of being perceived as "tough" on Russia is short sighted and ultimately does not serve the long term interest of the United States. Contrary to public opinion, Russia's annexation of Crimea largely shows the limits of Russian power rather than its strength.

Putin's broader ambition for Ukraine and the former Soviet satellite states  is to form the Eurasian Union (in some respects it has been compared to the former Soviet Union). The failure of Russia to secure its original trade pact with Ukraine and the subsequent annexation of Crimea ensures further Russian-Ukrainian integration is unlikely. Several former Soviet satellite states have also voiced concern over Russia's actions in Crimea meaning further expansion of the Eurasian Union is unlikely within the short term.  

The map above is from testimony by Admiral Jonathan Greenert in Congress and it shows the future deployment of US Navy ships by region in 2020. The map essentially provides a glimpse of the strategic value placed upon of each region by the United States: South America, Europe, and Africa are of reduced significance when compared to the Middle East and Asia. US strategic planners are correct to focus on China over Russia: the demographic outlook of Russia is poor and its economy is commodity dependent. By comparison, China is the only nation that could credibly complete with the United States economically and military on a near equal basis over the coming decades. As a caveat, its important to stress than neither the US-China rivalry nor the growing feud with Russia qualifies as a new "Cold War".

Author's Note: Sorry for the long delay in blog posts, as a student my course work often occupies a great deal of my time when I have midterms. I am considering posting a few articles about the naval aspect of the Pivot in order to diversify this blog a little (e.g. DDG-51 Flight III, LCS, DDG-1000, etc.) let me know your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Hi Matt, very nice analysis.
    Could you do one on the future US frigates? The ones that will replace the LCS.

    1. That's something I've actually been doing a lot of research on since my last post in March (the small surface combatant task force is looking into it)

    2. So I can certainly write on that.

    3. Hi Matt, can you also do an analysis on Taiwan's Defense against the PLA Invasion? And how the U.S should respond in terms of arms sales to Taiwan and strategic goals and so on.
      Thank you!

    4. I've did some basic research on that topic a while ago and I'm sure I can put something together. Taiwan's defense predicament really is among the worst you'd have to plan for. Its not only the scale of the threat but the number of constraints imposed upon you (limited foreign relations & weapon sales, limited domestic defense production capability on high-end items like submarines, budgetary constraints, etc.)

      If I was to advise the Taiwanese Defense Ministry, I would emphasize the importance of working with US military contractors such as MPRI: they are a convenient source of expertise and assistance but they allow the US Government some flexibility as they are private entities not directly affiliated with the Government. I also believe Taiwan's greatest current unfulfilled defense need are capable diesel electric attack submarines. The best Taiwan can do is impose high costs on China if it were to invade and delay the invasion long enough for US assistance. Asymmetric opposition to China's military is the only viable option in the long term plus it capitalizes on the relative weakness of PLA sub hunting capabilities. In general, Its probably worthwhile for Taiwan to look closely at Israel's national security strategies as in some sense they are in similar situations.

    5. This video is pretty cool if the US is ever to choose a modified LCS as its future frigate.

    6. A modified National Security Cutter starts at 16:35 that same video

    7. I certainly think Huntington Ingalls' PF 4921 is among the best possible choices for the small surface combatant. My only concern is the ships durability, I haven't been able to find any information on the National Security Cutter's durability raiting e.g. Level II for FFG vs Level I for current LCS.

  2. Russia's annexation of Crimea was entirely predictable and unavoidable once the US-instigated coup d'etat disposed of the Ukraine gov't, and put neo-fascists in power Russia would've lost its only warm-water port, threatening its security, if it had taken no action and had allowed NATO to expand further eastward.

    Regarding the US "pivot" to Asia-Pacific, Admiral Greenert: "we’ll increase our presence out there about 20 percent, from 50 ships at any given time, about 40 there all the time, permanently located, to about 60 ships by 2020."

    I doubt that China was overly impressed.

    1. Only Russia and those inclined to believe the state controlled Russian media have described the events in Ukraine as a coup instigated by neo-fascists. It flies in the face of reality. The US did not even need to instigate a coup, the brash Cold War mentality of Putin did all the work for the US and Europe by driving the Ukrainians away from Russia. However, Russia still is fundamentally weak behind its facade of power. As with the Cold War, the Russian economy was its weakness as it is now. Russia will not be able to ever compete with the United States or China on equal terms over the coming decades unless it gets its economic state of affairs in order.

  3. Russian air power simply annihilated Georgian ground forces during the Russia–Georgian War of 2008, and operated under impossible IFF (identification friend or foe) conditions - as the Georgians operated the same aircraft types, helicopters types, and vehicle/armor types as Russia. This fact was totally (totally) missed by both Western and Russian defense analysts.