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Russia Headed For Afghanistan 2.0 In Ukraine Invasion – Analysis

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Russian President Putin’s ‘War of Choice’ in invading Ukraine reflective of an erstwhile Superpower imposing its will on a peripheral neighbour with limited military capabilities has unleashed host of imponderables, chief of which being that Russia may be headed once again for an inglorious Afghanistan 2.0  military exit from Ukraine. Available indicators point in that direction.

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Before one ponders on the Afghanistan debacle of Former USSR comparisons and its applicability to Ukraine situation, a few observations need to be made on Russian President Putin’s motives on embarking on this military adventurism. 

Russian President Putin seems to have over-gambled on many counts. Geopolitically, President Putin underestimated United States and European countries resolve, emboldened by US military exit from Afghanistan 2021, and earlier US feeble responses to China’s military adventurism in establishing dominance in South China Sea. In case of Russian invasion of Ukraine, short of war, US and NATO have reacted strongly to economically squeeze Russia. Should President not de-escalate military operations in Ukraine dangers exist of NATO military responses?

Russian military adventurism in Ukraine falls in a different category. It impacts critically on European security and has resulted in a much needed and closer security convergences of European Union/NATO and the United States. Hence, the sharp responses to Russian President’s military adventurism. Russian President now faces United States with a ‘United Europe’ wherein traditionally pacifist nations like Germany have rushed in arms and military hardware to assist Ukraine.

Geopolitically, it was an inopportune time for Russian President to indulge in military adventurism. Following similar behaviour of China’s predatory moves in South China Sea and the Russia-China Axis coalescing, Major Powers of the world are ranged against the Russia-China Axis.

The ‘Abstentions’ in United Nations voting on UN Resolutions against Russia, especially of countries like India cannot be construed as implicit support for Russian Occupation of Ukraine.

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Russia also gambled that like in China’s case over South China Sea, economic sanctions by United States and the West would only be notional. President Putin and his advisers seem to have miscalculated the severity of economic sanctions that would follow along with other comprehensive exclusions of Russia from global participation.

Economic and financial sanctions that have ensued within one week have crippled Russian economy. Russian rouble stands devalued by more than 50%. Rising oil prices favouring Russian oil revenues will hardly offset Russian economic losses due to global sanctions.

 Russian invasion of Ukraine with preponderant massed Russian military power should have been a blitzkrieg offensive in effortlessly taking over whole of Ukraine in 48-72 hours. On the tenth day of invasion, Russian military forces are nowhere near in subjugation of Ukraine.

Strikingly, two major observations come to the fore, again reminiscent of Russia’s inglorious military exit from Afghanistan after 10 years of Soviet Occupation f Afghanistan n 1979.

Reminiscent of military lessons of Russian Afghanistan 1.0, in that then USSR had under-estimated the heroic people of Afghanistan would resist Soviet occupation of their country by asymmetric means of insurgent warfare. Secondly, that Pakistan as Afghanistan’s neighbour was more than willing to be a conduit for United States military hardware and other aid to sustain Afghan insurgency against Soviet Occupation.

Russian President Putin’s military adventurism to cow down Ukraine in 2022 and ensure a regime change friendly to Russia, perceptionaly faces the same challenges. 

The Ukrainian people in March 2022 are heroically stemming and battling Russian military forces advancing to Ukrainian capital Kyiv and other key cities supported by air strikes, artillery bombardments and use of airborne troops. Media visuals emanating from all over Ukraine seem to testify this reality.

The Ukrainian ‘National Will’ to resist Russian President Putin’s military invasion is visually reflected by TV reports showing the Ukrainian President and MPs, and down to the last man on the street, donning military gear to battle the Russians. The nationalistic fervour is also reflected in Ukrainian women and children being evacuated to neighbouring European countries indicating that Ukrainian men are determined to fight to the last man and last round.

Unlike Afghanistan 1.0, Russia faces the bleak prospects of dogged Ukrainian resistance in urban guerrilla warfare where Russian troops may have to fight for each building by building or their ruins. In urban insurgency, the insurgents will prevail disproportionately over Russian massed tanks and mechanised columns

Unlike Russia’s Afghanistan 1.0 where global media coverage was virtually non-existent, the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 is in full glare of global TV media and creating a global revulsion of Russian President Putin for inflicting havoc and damage on Ukraine. This adds up to a ‘force multiplier’ effect in favour of Ukraine peoples National Resistance to Russian military invasion.

Perceptionaly, not only Russian President Putin image stands tarnished as a megalomaniac Dictator but also Russia’s credibility as a responsible Major Power stands destroyed. 

In case of Russia’s Afghanistan 1.0 military occupation of Afghanistan, where external aid to Afghan insurgent groups could flow-in from a single country, namely Pakistan, in 2022 multiple options are available to funnel-in external military and material aid to the Ukrainian National Resistance battling Russian Forces.

Ukraine has geographical contiguity with a host of East European NATO Alliance nations affording multiple conduit points to funnel-in military aid to Ukraine and stiffening the Ukrainian military resistance against Russian invasion. Such NATO nations on Ukraine’s peripheries will additionally afford ‘safe havens’ from where Ukrainian insurgency can operate even if Russia succeeds in full military occupation of Ukraine.

 Two scenarios  could emanate on Russian Occupation of Ukraine on directions of President Putin, these are (1) Russians successfully occupy whole of Ukraine , and (2) Russians not being able to subjugate Ukraine wholly, but opt for a partition of Ukraine with Eastern Ukraine being ceded to Russia.

In the first scenario, Russia is highly likely to face the prospects of an inglorious Afghanistan 2.0 inglorious military exit as Ukrainian Resistance could coalesce into a unified National Resistance more potent than the Afghan insurgent groups with active and credible support of US and NATO.

One is already witnessing a much amplified repeat of Afghanistan 1.0 where now European countries are sending voluminous supplies of Stinger shoulder-fired missiles and Anti-tank guided missiles to blunt Russian air offensives and armoured tank columns. The Stingers made a disproportionate impact on Russian staying power in Afghanistan.

The second scenario of Russian partition of Ukraine, there is no guarantee that in the ensuing situation that an Eastern Ukraine Russian satellite state would have inviolable borders against NATO and Ukrainian asymmetric warfare. 

Since lack of Russian military success in Ukraine enters a prolonged time-span, Russian frustrations could manifest in more violent and vicious military onslaughts against Ukraine. Correspondingly, Ukraine National Resistance could also become more potent in deadly urban insurgency increasingly aided by US and NATO.

The final question then arises is that does Russia under President Putin has the will and capacity to withstand and sustain a prolonged ‘War of Attrition’ in Ukraine? Relating to growing domestic political discontent within Russia surfacing and coupled with growing economic squeeze of Russia due to stringent global economic sanctions, the answer that presently surfaces is that Russian President’s military adventurism in Ukraine increasingly being viewed as ‘Putin’s War” and not a ‘War by Russia’, any Russian Military Occupation of Ukraine is “Unsustainable”.

In conclusion, one can safely assert, with the contextual backdrop outlined above, that Russia is headed towards an inglorious military exit from Ukraine — Afghanistan 2.0 for Russia. Concurrent ripples could bring about downfall of President Putin and maybe also of Russia-China Axis.

Dr. Subhash Kapila

Dr Subhash Kapila combines a rich and varied professional experience of Indian Army Brigadier ( Veteran), diplomatic assignments in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Bhutan. Served in India's Cabinet Secretariat also. He is a Graduate of Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley, UK, Msc Defence Studies from Madras University and a Doctorate in Strategic Studies from Allahabad University. Papers have been presented by him in International Seminars in Japan,Turkey, Russia and Vietnam. Credited to him are over 1,500 Papers on geopolitical & strategic topical issues and foreign policies of USA, Japan, India, China and Indo Pacific Asia. He has authored two Books : "India's Defence Policies & Strategic Thought: A Comparative Analysis" and "China-India Military Confrontation: 21st Century Perspectives"

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