Ian Traynor writes: In his 14 years in power grieving the loss of the Soviet empire, Vladimir Putin has launched three wars against Russia’s neighbours and territories formerly under the Kremlin’s domination. As a newly appointed prime minister in 1999, before becoming president on New Year’s Day 2000, he began with a war in Chechnya, brutally suppressing an armed insurrection against Moscow’s rule in the north Caucasus and razing the provincial capital, Grozny.
In 2008, the former KGB officer ordered a blitzkrieg against Georgia, partitioning the country in five days. He remains in control of 20% of Russia’s Black Sea neighbour: the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russian military also controls a slice of Moldova known as Transnistria in a frozen conflict dating from the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the Crimea and Ukraine, however, in the event of full-scale war, Putin has opted for a game-changer with the potential to be Europe’s worst security nightmare since the revolutions of 1989 and the bloodiest since Slobodan Milosevic’s attempts to wrest control of former Yugoslavia resulted in four lost wars, more than 100,000 dead, and spawned seven new countries in the Balkans. Ukraine is a pivotal country on the EU’s eastern and Russia’s south-western borders. Territorially it is bigger than France. Its population is greater than those of Poland or Spain at 46 million. It has a proper military and is well armed. Ukraine was the Soviet Union’s arms manufacturing base; it remains in the top league of global arms exporters.
Ukraine’s military machine is no match for Russia’s. It has around 130,000 troops compared to around 850,000 in Russia. Its forces in Crimea are no match for the 15,000-plus men serving with the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol. Russia has more men in its western military division than there are in the entire Ukrainian armed forces. Ratios of fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, special forces units and Black Sea warships are similarly one-sided.
But Ukraine’s forces could inflict a lot of damage if forced to defend their country. With this in mind, three broad scenarios suggest themselves: [Continue reading…]