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Conversation: A Strategic Imbalance; Weighing Russian and Ukrainian Forces

5 MINS READMar 19, 2014 | 22:15 GMT

Lauren Goodrich: Hello, my name is Lauren Goodrich and I'm Stratfor's senior Eurasian analyst. I'm joined today by Paul Floyd, Stratfor's military analyst. Paul, we're one day past Crimea formerly joining Russia. But the big concern out of the Ukrainian government now is; is Russia now going to take eastern Ukraine? They already won Crimea, are they now going to take it a step further and militarily invade eastern Ukraine. But this is, militarily, a nightmare for Russia isn't it?

Paul Floyd: In many ways yes. So, the Ukrainian military is very weak compared to the Russian military. In fact, anecdotally, from a lot of the pictures we've seen, a lot of the Ukrainian forces are badly equipped. A lot of their equipment's mothballed — they're using very old Soviet-era stuff. But, that being said, Russia also in itself has been reforming its military, and is definitely a regional powerhouse. But, embarking on an invasion into another country is a huge, costly affair, and Ukraine's large—

Lauren: It's not Georgia!

Paul: It's not Georgia! And specifically, it's not a small region within Georgia. So, the farther they want to make this incursion into Ukraine, it would take exponentially more resources to do so. And while the Ukrainian military might not necessarily be a pure competitor to the Russia military, they can make it very painful for them. Especially if the population starts to become anti-Russian or less pro-Russian. Basically, it starts to become an insurgency.

Lauren: The population in eastern Ukraine may be pro-Russian at this moment, may be talking about annexation themselves, but once you have Russian tanks roll down your street, you're not so pro-Russian anymore. Especially if there is economic disruption to the eastern part of Ukraine. That would devastate Ukraine altogether, seeing how the majority of industry in Ukraine is in the east. So, if you wipe that out economically with a military invasion, the population's not going to be so friendly towards you. And to be honest with you, the Russian population in western Russia, that borders that eastern section of Ukraine, they're so economically integrated that any disruption out of Ukraine will ripple across the Russian economy as well.

Paul: Absolutely, and Russia has to take that into its calculation. You can't do a clean invasion; you should never assume that you can. You have to assume that, either through sabotage by the Ukrainians themselves, or through offensive action, that much of this infrastructure will be destroyed. It could be self-defeating in the sense of trying to keep what it wants of Ukraine.

Lauren: Now that Crimea's a part of Russia, there's many former Soviet states that are also really concerned about, is Russia going to invade us next? It's not just about eastern Ukraine, but the other former Soviet Union states. Georgia was an easy one for Russia, because South Ossetia and Abkhazia border Russia, Crimea was easy because their [Russia's] military was already there. But the Baltic states are the ones who are being very vocal at this moment, as far as a concern for invasion.

Paul: And that's understandable, and there's a historical precedent for it, but I would say the big, single difference that I can point to more than anything else is the fact that the Baltic states are in NATO. And while, arguably, NATO has weakened compared what it used to be, and has lost some strategic focus. Russian tanks rolling into NATO territory is exactly why NATO was built — as a defensive union, in this sense. And this is something that could sharply snap it back into focus and have severe consequences for Russia in the long run. So, geographically and militarily, Russia could roll through the Baltics, or seriously have this overt kind of military action in the Baltics in theory, but in many ways the backlash could galvanize NATO, and Russia would be outmatched my NATO as a whole, that's galvanized and working together, by far.

Lauren: And I would say the one wild card region that we still need to keep an eye on is Transnistria, Moldova's secessionist region. The Russian military's already there, but the problem is that Moldova is still pretty far away from Russia, compared to Ukraine.

Paul: Right! I would say that the biggest problem for Russia, from the military point of view there, in that military equation, is the fact it doesn't have an ally in Ukraine, so it's having to project force over some kind of gap. So, trying to have some kind of serious engagement that is, again, on the doorstep of NATO, hopping over territory, is going to be a lot more difficult for them. So I would not see them trying to overtly take that. Everything [the Russians] have been doing has been easy, as you said, or in place for them already, or has been bordering them, or geographically makes sense for them.

Lauren: Very important information, thank you Paul. For more information go to Stratfor.com.

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