Analysis: A Western-supported anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is unlikely

Ukraine RussiaAS THE FULL-SCALE invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Armed Forces continues to unfold, some Western commentators have begun to speculate about the possible launch of an anti-Russian insurgency by the Ukrainian population. This kind of speculation is not unreasonable. Indeed, given their enormous disparity in size and might, a symmetric confrontation between the two belligerents seems unthinkable. One simply cannot imagine that a direct military confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian military forces could result in anything other than a resounding victory for Moscow. However, although the rise of an armed anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is possible, it is unlikely to be large in scale, and even more unlikely to succeed.

On first glance, Ukraine seems like a textbook case for a possible insurgency. Russia aside, it is Europe’s largest country by landmass, with a population of nearly 50 million. Even under the most favorable conditions, the Russians would find it difficult to occupy and control it without the consent of the local populace. Moreover, Ukraine shares borders with seven countries, including Russia, four of which—Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland—are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The geographic proximity of a host of NATO bases would easily allow Western intelligence agencies to provide the local population with war materiel, including advanced military hardware and other supplies. Lastly, due to the protracted war in Donetsk and Luhansk, the Ukrainian military has amassed significant experience in insurgency over the past decade.

However, as Brown University visiting professor Lyle Goldstein cautions in a recent article, things are never simple in war. Although no fewer than four NATO states border Ukraine, the military alliance and its leading patron, the United States, will need to exercise immense caution. In using these states to arm Ukrainian insurgents, Western powers will need to ensure a maximum degree of plausible deniability. Should Russia determine that Western countries are using these NATO powers as front-line states in a new Cold War, it could be tempted to launch military operations against them—an act that could spiral into an out-of-control multi-state war. It is also likely that these front-line NATO member-states will resist calls to be involved in this conflict, in order to avoid being dragged into a wider regional war.

Moreover, although numerous regions of Ukraine appear to be under fire at the moment, it is doubtful that the Russian military will seek to occupy the entire country. Moscow is thus unlikely to try to extend its control past the largely pro-Russian regions of eastern and east-central Ukraine. Such a strategy would ensure that Russian troops would be able to operate in a largely friendly environment. It would also make it difficult for Ukrainian insurgents to operate effectively anywhere east of Kiev. Lastly, the Russian Armed Forces have amassed substantial counter-insurgency experience in the post-Cold War era, having fought in large numbers in Chechnya and Syria, as well as in various regions of Africa through the Wagner Group.

In short, unless the Russians over-play their hand and try to take over the entire country, Western powers are likely to find it difficult to organize, support and sustain a concerted armed insurgency on Ukrainian soil. This does not mean that the ongoing Russian military campaign in Ukraine will inevitably be successful. War is inherently unpredictable, so anything can happen in the coming weeks and months. However, defeating the Russians in any military context will require many years of extremely brutal, bloody and fierce war.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 24 February 2022 | Permalink

6 Responses to Analysis: A Western-supported anti-Russian insurgency in Ukraine is unlikely

  1. It is paradoxical that in a way NATO fears Article 5, it’s core strength. Also, it is inconceivable no matter what is said to the contrary that the USA would go to war with Russia because of Article 5. Putin will know that. For example, if he attacks Tallinn the USA won’t go to war even assuming the Pentagon knows where Tallinn is.

  2. Chukchi says:

    With all due respect, I absolutely disagree with this forecast and on the contrary I expect major insurgency to take a place in Ukraine.

    This type of setup is bread and butter of most Western powers and we will take a full advantage of this opportunity.

    Ukraine will for years to come be a fruitful ground for testing new tactics, technology, and actions against formidable adversary in real conditions.

    No real military power will ever miss this type of opportunity. That is a historically proven fact.

    Ukrainians are tough people and from what I see the support for insurgency would be extremely high.

    I wish God Speed to all Ukrainians in these tough times.


  3. TFH says:

    Is the State union of Russia doing what has been tried and tested by it’s adversaries? If so said adversaries should know what works best to stop them.

  4. Tony Kaku says:

    It appears, based on today’s activities that Russia intends to control the entirety of the Ukraine, and not merely the Donetsk/Luhanst regions as the author opines. In short, the Russians are invading the Ukraine on three fronts.

    I agree that to control the entire country will be difficult, especially since the western part of the Ukraine is much different than the eastern part in terms of population density, language normally spoken, local economies, and attitudes toward the Russian occupying forces. Whilst the populations of the Donetsk and Luhant regions (as well as Crimea) are >72% native Russian speakers, in western Ukraine the numbers are much lower <40% in most areas.

    I also believe the author has underestimated both the resolve of the Ukrainian people to engage in a guerrilla type insurgency to fight for freedom, and, the ability/willingness of various NATO countries to covertly supply the arms and training necessary to wage such actions.

  5. Jimmy Gilbert says:

    Wow, this is somewhat hard to read, considering what has all ready happened to the Russian military. During both Persian Gulf wars, the Coalition, not just Untied States, lost less hardware and blood… The first Gulf War took 100 hours to take Iraq. A country with more sand, than roads to travel on, a big advantage in Ukraine for the invaders. Russia generals know this, for they would rather play Russian Roulette with six loaded chambers, than to have to go against NATO forces. I have lived long enough to know that arm chair generals are seldom correct… Leadership, real leadership is what is missing in NATO. If NATO had it, Little Putin would had never got the nerve to cross the boarder. NATO had plenty of warning, and the time to have publicly armed Ukraine to the gills. Now, is the time to flood the theater with stingers, Javelins, & TOW. Afghanistan 2.0 on steroids… after a full Russian retreat, reparations need to be made, and any and all war crimes investigated, before sanctions are lifted.

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