There has been much talk about how there are plenty of buyers for Russian oil – especially heavily discounted Russian oil – in absence of American and European buyers. The would-be buyers at the top of the list, India and China, certainly have been aggressive as of late in not only sending tankers to load up on Russian crude at #Novorossiysk but in broadcasting to Western/NATO powers that they feel no shame in doing so.
And if we’re being entirely honest, it’s not like Brussels or Washington nor their respective allies have had much interest in pursuing an Iran-sanctions style punitive regime for Asian buyers of Russian crude. At least, not until now.
In light of the current and ongoing Russian bombardment of the critical Ukrainian port city of #Odessa and the first major salvo of alleged Russian war crimes evidence coming out of Ukraine, public support for harsher sanctions measures against Moscow isn’t going to abate anytime soon. If for some reason you had been betting/planning/hoping on Asian buyers to help keep the Russian energy industry (and buy extension, the Russian economy afloat), you might want to seriously rethink your position.
First big change: Ukrainian politics and identity.
Back in the 2000s, Ukraine could be very charitably called “messy.” It was an oligarch playground, sharply divided into three competing regions. The biggest region in the east was populated by either Ukrainians who spoke Russian as their first language, or actual Russians who due to the quirks of history happened to live on the Ukrainian side of the dotted line on the map. Ukraine has always been home to the greatest concentration and number of ethnic Russians outside of Russia’s borders. And these groups — both the ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking Ukrainians — were unapologetically pro-Moscow.
It was the mix of this pro-Russian sentiment with the Kremlin’s view that large-scale political violence is often useful, that set us onto the path to where we are today. In early 2014 then-Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych — one of those pro-Russian Ukrainians — dealt with pro-Western “Euromaidan” protesters by using Ukrainian special forces to shoot up a couple thousand people. He was driven out of office and ultimately out of country and now he is living in exile in, you guessed it, Russia.
comparison? Phbbbbt. Wracked by corruption, enervated by a lack of motivation, armed with nothing more than the pre-1992 equipment that the Russians chose to leave behind when the Soviet Union fell? There’s a reason Yanukovych used the special forces to suppress the Euromaidan protestors. The military wasn’t even up to that job. Fighting a hundred thousand or so Russian troops? That’s funny.
Since 2014, some things have gotten better. Western assistance has helped professionalize the forces. The Russian invasion has charged Ukrainian commanders some high tuition at the school of Real-Life War. Strengthening national identity has improved force cohesion. But the biggest shift is in weaponry.
Arming a country the size of Ukraine with sufficient military equipment to fight the Russians solider-to-solider would be a Heraclean effort. So that’s not what the United States has done. The Americans have provided the Ukrainians with Javelin anti-tank missiles. Javelins are man-portable and shoulder-launched, weighing in at under 50 pounds. They shoot high and plunge down, striking tanks on the top where armor is weakest. And above all, they are sooooo eeeasy to operate. If you can make it to level 3 on Candy Crush, you can use a Javelin.
Considering any drive to Kiev will be a tank operation, giving Javelins to the Ukrainians is like giving water to firefighters. It’s the perfect tool for the job. The Javelins made their wartime debut on the front lines in Donbas only in November 2021…about when the Kremlin started getting all screechy and demanding wholesale changes to European security alignments. Coincidence? I think not.
Now don’t get carried away. I’ve little doubt that Javelins would be enough should the Russians get truly serious. Any Russian invasion force would massively outnumber and outgun the defenders. But that’s not the point. Unlike in the 2000s or in the Donbas War, the Ukrainians can now slip a knife through the chinks in the Russians’ armor and make them bleed. A lot. And unlike in the 2000s, the Ukrainians now have a national identity to rally around and fight for. The Ukrainians now have the means and motive. It’s up to the Russians to decide if they’d like to provide the opportunity.
If war comes, the Russians could still reach Kiev. But it would likely take three months instead of one. The Russians could still conquer all of Ukraine. But it would likely take over year rather than less than three months. The toll on the invaders would be high and most of all the war would only be the beginning. After “victory” the Russians would have to occupy a country of 45 million people.