Report: What Are Russia's Real War Aims?
Similarities and differences to Georgia 2008, Ukraine 2014
TS Lombard, a globally renowned independent economic and investment strategy company, released a report outlining the firm’s analysis on Russia’s war aims on February 24th. In it they discuss their projected aims of the escalating incursion into Ukraine in context of specific military statements and actions.
One thing is certain, the reasons Putin first stated as his goals: No admission to NATO and no military presence aimed at Russia, are not what his real reasons were.
Since advancing beyond the breakaway regions and attacking Ukraine proper, Putin has made it clear that Russia’s goal is to revise the European security order in place via NATO and US decree since the end of World War 2. Whereas he seemingly made it his goal to just stop Ukraine from becoming NATO, his actions are well beyond that now.
Russia has been trying to get the US to agree to a demilitarized buffer zone (Warsaw pact style) on all EU/Russia shared borders and is not satisfied with just stopping at Ukraine. Russia has also advertised how they plan to accomplish this, according to Lombard’s report.
Diplomatic talks with the US/NATO on Russia’s security demands. If that fails, resort to “military-technical measures”
The report goes on to state the nature of this military-technical response has now become clearer than before, but still only up to a certain point. Initially Lombard, like GoldFix assumed this was only to prevent Ukraine from entering NATO; their line in the sand. But it is now obvious from the rapid military incursion that this may have been pretense.
From there the analysis asks a very important question: “Does the rapid resort to a military attack on Ukraine signify Russia’s war aim is to conquer and subjugate Ukraine” or something else?
This cannot be known with certitude, but the paths to whatever Russia’s end game is have been narrowed substantially. The fog of war certainly makes it difficult to know what is information and what is propaganda now.
Clearly Russia may indeed be interested in conquering all of Ukraine. The chances of that have increased greatly with recent events; But Russia’s actions do not yet make that a certainty. Here is why:
There is a pattern of military action they are following seen in previous Russian operations.
The report explains that, based on Russian Defence Ministry dispatches and social media testimony on the ground in Ukraine, it is clear that “Russia’s immediate operational goal resembles its campaign in Georgia August 2008.”
The key word here for us is immediate. Lombard does not mean to imply that is as far as they will go and neither do we. The report goes on to lay out Georgian similarities starting with Securing the breakaway territories.
Back then, that was Abkhazia and South Ossetia; now this means removing the Ukrainian military from the whole of south-eastern Ukraine (the Donetsk and Luhansk administrative regions, not just the pre-existing ‘Donbas’ conflict zone).
After this, Russia would then move to knock-out Ukraine’s air defenses and central command along with airfields and air power. Once this is done, Russian planes can dominate the sky, missiles would be launched more frequently.
This is where the Georgian comparison would stop. Lombard Notes:
…the confirmed presence of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory outside the Donbas itself may signify a follow-up phase with aims that go beyond the 2008 Georgian operation.
If they did seek to control the whole of the country, that would entail fighting for control of cities. “A war of conquest would require this. There is no sign of such dire action yet, as reported in the social media posts of the mayors of Kharkiv (in north-eastern Ukraine, close to the Russian border, and Borispil near Kiev).”
For us, the choices are path-dependent. Putin seeks to “not occupy Ukraine” as he stated. But if he cannot get Ukraine to surrender to his terms, or if the west further inflames the situation without actually doing anything, then Putin can use his other statement to justify full fragmentation of Ukraine.
But he [Putin] also referred to people in various parts of Ukraine exercising “self-determination”. This opaque formula hints at some combination of federalization or (further) dismemberment. To achieve this goal, Russia would have to conquer Ukraine in the sense of getting control of the Ukrainian state – a task that spells, in turn, fighting for cities, counterinsurgency and, in the end, the kind of quagmire experienced by the great powers’ military adventures in living memory (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam).
If Putin has no designs on a quagmire situation and bloody city-to-city fighting, then he might be waiting or the EU and NATO to cry uncle.
But, if the Georgian approach does not work to Russian satisfaction, then full takeover would be the next option. Russia has not yet proceeded to a (re)conquest operation as seen, for example, in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.
We wonder if the Chechen forces are being mustered for that city warfare eventuality. We fear The 2014-2015 Ukraine conflict was the replay of the 2008 Georgian conflict. This time, Putin is prepared to go much further.
At some point the West has to react or Ukraine will be like Chechnya or worse, possibly split into multiple countries like Yugoslavia and a European DMZ wasteland.