Tim Marshall

Ukraine’s resistance will slowly bleed Putin dry

Russia has technology and a huge army but the Ukrainians have resisted occupation before


TOPSHOT - Members of an Ukrainian civil defense unit pass new assault rifles to the opposite side of a blown up bridge on Kyivs northern front on March 1, 2022. - Satellite photos showed on March 1, 2022, a Russian convoy stretching for dozens of kilometers and advancing slowly toward the Ukrainian capital : according to the Ukrainian general staff, Moscow is gathering its forces for an assault on Kiev and other major cities while international retaliatory measures against Russia continued to accumulate. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP) (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images)

March 04, 2022 15:59

Resistance is not futile. If Putin succeeds in taking Kyiv and other major cities, we will see where Ukraine will be able to host its government and organise resistance in the occupied regions.  The situation is fluid, but as I write, Lviv in the far west of Ukraine, near the Polish border, remains an option. The resistance strategy would not be to retake cities and strategic key points but to bleed Russia’s will to maintain the forces required to prop up the puppet government it hopes to install.

Ukraine easily has enough people with military training to continue fighting. There are 200,000 active-duty personnel and they are bolstered by tens of thousands of men and women in the Territorial Defence Forces. 

In addition, there are the many thousands of people who have volunteered to join local militia and all those who will simply pick up whatever is at hand to help kill Russian troops.

The resistance movement will receive all the weapons, training and money it needs as an insurgency strategy is worked out and enacted. Ukraine is bordered by four NATO states — Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania — which means that supplying military hardware should be relatively straightforward, although it will have to done secretly. The thousands of American and British anti-tank weapons which have been delivered to Ukraine over the past few months have had a devastating effect on Russian armour. More are on their way from a variety of countries as the Europeans have finally woken up to the reality that war in the 21st century is, sadly, not an anachronism.

The organisation of a resistance movement will take time. The Kremlin will have drawn up lists of Ukrainians it expects will lead regional resistance movements and will try to arrest or kill them. Russian intelligence will attempt to get inside the resistance as early as possible, while simultaneously organising its own counter-insurgency operation.  Its special forces units would mount attacks inside government-held territory. 

Moscow can also utilise its control of the breakaway Transnistria region of Moldova to operate inside Ukraine from the west.

Russia will hold the technological advantage. Insurgency groups either crossing into occupied territory or operating from inside the occupied zone will have to contend with Russian satellites, drone surveillance and thermal imagery trying to track their movements.

However, the Ukrainians have advantages the Russians cannot match. First among these is a reason to fight. They are on home territory, and most will be volunteers. The Russians are far from home and relying too often on conscripts. The Ukrainians will have thousands of safe houses in which to leave equipment, while conspicuous Russian bases will serve as targets. 

The Ukrainians have the numbers, and as the Americans found in Iraq, and the Russians in Afghanistan, to pacify a country and population as big as Ukraine, you need hundreds of thousands of occupying troops.

Occupation is a costly business and the outside world will ensure Russia struggles to pay for it.  If the economic warfare now falling on Russia is sustained, its economy will haemorrhage money to the extent that even its oil and gas trade will not stem the flow. Inward investment has already collapsed and soon enough Russia will be drawing on whatever parts of its $640 billion currency reserves it can access. 

It’s likely the Kremlin will end up printing roubles, but that will ignite inflation and although roubles may be able to pay pensions, they won’t be able to be used to buy anything from abroad.

“Containment” is back in fashion as a new Iron Curtain is drawn across Europe, stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. But there’s a massive difference between this and the Cold War of the 20th century. Then, the USSR looked as if it was a match for NATO. Now Russia is almost alone. Its economy is smaller than that of Italy and we have seen how unprofessional and poorly-led its military can be. 

The countries formerly in the Warsaw Pact are now embedded inside NATO and Putin’s actions are having the opposite effect of that which he desired. NATO’s borders in the east are being re-enforced.

Unless there is a ceasefire, or by some miracle the Ukrainian cities hold out, the resistance movement will take months to organise, and putting the pieces into place for the new containment will take years. It will be long and bloody, but the Americans are masters at supporting insurgencies, if less successful at combatting them. They will draw on their experience in Afghanistan when they helped the Afghans throw the Russians out.

Equally importantly, the Ukrainians have their own experience of resisting an occupying power. In World War II, they fought the Germans and then the Soviets. 

Everything we have seen in the past week shows us they will again take on Moscow.

March 04, 2022 15:59

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