Putin: Afghanistan Redux, by Dick Krickus

In the main, I use this blog for my own ruminations, but from time to time I am delighted to be able to use it as a platform for interesting and authoritative guest posts, such as this one from Dick Krickus, Professor Emeritus at the University of Mary Washington.

While Western officials have condemned Vladimir Putin for his invasion of Ukraine, they have cautioned the new government in Kiev not to fall into the trap that Georgian President Mikhail Sakashvilli did in 2008 and respond to Moscow’s provocation with force. Given the advantages that the Russian Army enjoys over its Ukrainian counterparts in terms of soldiers, air craft, tanks, artillery and other instruments of war, any violent showdown with Russia would end badly for the Ukrainians. No objective military analyst would challenge that assessment. But it rests on the judgment that the war will be fought along conventional lines and if this is Putin’s assumption, he is badly mistaken.

Recent events in Kiev have demonstrated that there are significant numbers of young Ukrainians who are prepared to give their lives for a free independent country. Many of them have chosen membership in small militia units rather than enlisting in the regular Army. They would not wage a conventional war against the Russian military but resort instead to guerrilla tactics. Think, in this connection, the kind of wars that jihadists have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan; one marked by speed, stealth, and limited strikes against superior conventional forces. The Ukrainian fighters would use IEDs, mines and targeted assassinations to impose casualties upon their opponents and would rely upon popular support to sustain their resistance movement. They would have access to weapons that insurgents elsewhere do not have—at least not in significant numbers– such as ground to air weapons that would place Russian fixed wing aircraft and helicopters at grave risk just like the Red Army encountered in Afghanistan.  And when confronting a superior adversary, they would break contact and fade into the forest or safe harbors in large cities—in places where foreign invaders would surrender the terrain to them at night.

At the same time Russian military planners would face the daunting task of pacifying a country the size of France with a population of 46 million. The Ukrainian freedom fighters would have sanctuaries in neighboring countries where they could rest, train and receive medical attention. They would have little trouble securing funding, weapons or supplies for their units. As Putin contemplates invading the Eastern Ukraine under the bogus claim that ethnic Russians are being subject to brutal treatment at the hand of “fascists”, he should keep this in mind. What is more, press reports indicate that many ethnic Russians would join their fellow Ukrainian citizens in resisting a foreign invasion of their country.

Of course, the prospect of a Ukrainian insurgency, represents a nightmare for those in the West who do extensive business with Russia. But German industrialists and British bankers who balk at the notion that Putin’s illegal and reckless Putsch justify punishing economic retaliation, should consider the following: the pipelines, pumping stations and other installations that traverse Russian hydro-carbons through Ukraine to Western Europe would be easy and fat targets for the freedom fighters.  Under these circumstances, Putin’s campaign to court foreign investors will suffer devastating reversals.

It is imperative that those of us who have supported the “reset” campaign, now speak out: our silence will only encourage Putin to interpret a tepid Western response to his aggression as evidence that his insane invasion of Ukraine serves the interest of his people. Many Russians understand this and while they do not have the heft to achieve regime change in Moscow, Putin and his associates should remember that past reckless intervention– think the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—ultimately upended the Kremlin’s overlords.

Dick Krickus is Professor Emeritus at the University of Mary Washington and has held the H. L. Oppenheimer Chair for Warfighting Strategy at the U.S. Marine Corps University. His forthcoming monograph, Russia After Putin, will be published by the U.S. Army War College. Rvkrickus@aol.com

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  1. Reblogged this on rovitothis201 and commented:
    “They [Ukrainian militias] would not wage a conventional war against the Russian military but resort instead to guerrilla tactics.” – Like Chechnya?

  2. It’s the Tartars, the Khanate of Crimea existed from 1441 to 1783 which is when the Russians annexed the region. They will likely respond first, without waiting for Russia to push into the west using “ghost army” sidestepping & diplomatic obfuscation. An outright invasion of the western half of the Ukraine is unlikely at this juncture.

    The Tartars have a grudge with Stalin, and thence, to Russians; many are still scattered over the footprint of the former USSR, and will watch what ufnolds with growing interest.

  3. There are two big reasons why such a scenario will be nothing like Afghanistan.

    (1) A successful guerilla campaign requires the complicit approval of a majority, preferably a dominant majority, of the surrounding population. As such, it is ruled out entirely in the east and south.

    (2) Afghanistan has extended traditional families with a total fertility rate of 6-7 children per woman. Ukraine has nuclear families with a total fertility rate of 1.5 children per woman.

    Kill an insurgent in Afghanistan, and his brothers and cousins will come howling for your blood to exact revenge. Kill an insurgent in Ukraine, and his brothers… oh wait, he doesn’t have any. Modern countries suck at maintaining serious insurgencies, they don’t have the demographics for it.

  4. I am not your Professor but I was pushing this line in Comments on Press Articles from when this started.
    It will become guerilla warfare and that may spread.
    The main worry for me is Putin spreading this to other countries such as the Baltic States, ex Communist States and that if Putin gets away with this and his dream of rebuilding the USSR then the West will have to start to fight somewhere.
    Personally I would like to see him try Afghanistan again.

  5. Reblogged this on Dave Page and commented:
    Good Article and I agree with it.

  6. A few years ago Dmitro Korchinsky and Alex Arestovich gave a press conference on possible scenario of Russia invading Crimea. Vary similar views were expressed: asymmetrical tactics, targeted assassinations.

  7. Professor should remind the history and the experience of the Russian troops` resistance in Poland,West Ukraine,Germany,Chzechoslovakia,Hungary,Checnya.Forget,please about stingers.

  8. kapiszon1500

     /  December 19, 2014

    Oh perhaps I found this blog too late but actually I was not looking for blog like that, just found it unexpectedly. Yeah, there are many facts to hate Russia as a country, to hate Russian government and people that are so passive and coward that can’t fight for their rights but just keep tolerance. We don’t even have an official opposition party because when few people start protesting and organize meetings, they are simply beaten by a police. Corruption, Unemployment, No Human’s rights, Crime, Prostitution, Worst ecology, Terrorism… – is the country I live in.


  1. Putin: Afghanistan Redux
  2. Ukraine on the brink | Vox Europa

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