As the world dissects the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, we need to prepare for what’s next. What’s the potential regional and international impact over the downing of Flight 17? Utilizing an approach taught me while in uniform, I’ll outline what I believe are the “most dangerous” and “most likely” courses of action.
Most Dangerous: Russia Invades
The most dangerous course of action is if Russia, believing that the world will punish it significantly for its role in the downing of Flight 17, decides to do something “really worth” punishment and invades Ukraine. There is little doubt Russia has the capability to defeat Ukraine militarily. NATO has little real capability to stop a Russian invasion. The US, who once had four heavily mechanized divisions, doesn’t even have one battalion on the ground today (though we do have equipment to outfit a battalion or two stored in a German warehouse). The Russians, on the other hand, have demonstrated, with numerous snap count alerts, an ability to be able to mass a hundred thousand troops on the Ukraine border in less than a week.
Taking such a bold action will only further endear Putin to Russia, where he already enjoys record popularity. The West will not go to war over Ukraine, and while Russia may suffer an insurgency in western Ukraine, it will win. Russia could mitigate an insurgency by taking Ukraine in “bites,” first taking eastern Ukraine, where it’s popular, in an effort to protect Russian speakers and even protect the world form airliners being shot down. The western Ukraine could be dealt with later. Meanwhile, a West that isn’t willing to go to war over Ukraine isn’t going to supply Ukrainian rebels and give Putin a reason to serve as cover to continue his aggression.
Some will reject this course of action as unlikely. I agree, but it is the most dangerous in the near-term, and there is plenty of precedent to demonstrate that Putin has little issue with using aggression to get what he wants. Crimea wasn’t that long ago. For those who have forgotten, Putin invaded a sovereign nation, said he didn’t and then annexed it while the world said it would not stand by. The implications of Crimea’s annexation and a potential invasion of Ukraine in this course of action undoubtedly bodes poorly for Europe and international relations in general.