That’s the thesis Christopher Hartwell has in his Friday Wall Street Journal op-ed. And he made a good case: Russia failed in a similar situation in Afghanistan; the “brother Slav” argument that Putin makes for Ukrainians coming into the Russian fold isn’t all that; the Ukrainians would mount a strong guerrilla war after losing the invasion war, making the total cost too high for a fragile Russian economy to survive. He concludes with this:
Russia can’t be an empire without Ukraine. But Russia will cease to be a great power if it tries to acquire the rest of Ukraine.
Hartwell, however, ignored a couple of key points, along with made a false comparison.
The false comparison is that of Ukraine and Afghanistan. There was far more enmity, especially fueled by culture and fundamentalist religion, between Afghans and Russians than exists between Ukrainians and Russians, for all the current “brother Slav” split.
Afghan geography lent itself far more effectively to guerrilla resistance than does Ukrainian territory.
The matter of experience: the Red Army, now Russian Ground Forces, gained quite a lot of experience at fighting against a guerrilla foe in Afghanistan, and those forces now are real-time combat experienced at prosecuting a guerrilla war in Ukraine’s Donbas region, the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts. They’re conversant with both sides of the guerrilla question. They’re also gaining currency as an occupation force in Crimea.
The key points are these: regardless of how easy or hard it might be for Putin to conquer Ukraine (which conquering will be the easier for Biden-Harris’ refusal to arm Ukraine even with defensive weapons, much less offensive ones), Putin in the end will have Ukraine under his at least more-or-less control, and in the process, he will have completely denied Ukraine to the rest of Europe.
The other key point will be his success at humiliating Biden-Harris, adding to the Biden-Harris administration’s own destructive effects on American credibility. That alone is worth a pretty kopek in Putin’s geopolitical calculation.
Maybe an invasion wouldn’t be such a trap.