Can Russia Invade Europe?

In 2017, Russia conducted a series of military
exercises known as Zapad, or “exercise West”. With their roots in the Soviet Union, Zapad
military exercises have traditionally been shows of force, meant to let NATO know that
Russia was willing and ready to fight. Despite assurances that Russia’s 2017 Zapad
exercises were nothing more than preparations for counter-terror operations, an exercise
that was supposed to feature only 10,000 personnel turned into a 100,000 strong mock-invasion
of eastern Europe with one clear message: Russia’s military might is back. Today, we look into a very scary scenario,
in this episode of The Infographics Show, Can Russia really invade Europe? After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia’s
military severely atrophied, and despite remaining a sizable force its readiness and capabilities
were all but defunct. The next two decades saw little improvement,
culminating in the 2008 Georgian-Russian war where Russia, whom dwarfed Georgian forces,
found itself struggling to achieve its strategic objectives. After such an embarrassing performance, Vladimir
Putin vowed to improve the readiness and capabilities of the Russian military, culminating in a
ten-year modernization push that has yielded huge results. While still mostly a conscript army, Russia’s
military is seeing a huge expansion in the size of its volunteer forces- an important
development given the drastically better performance and morale of an all-volunteer military force
such as the US’ versus a conscripted force. New battle tanks and fighter aircraft have
also dramatically improved its capabilities both on the air and on the ground, and while
its fleets remain a glaring weakness, they would ultimately have limited use in a European
war. Russia has also dramatically improved its
logistical capabilities, something that it has historically struggled with even under
the former Soviet Union. Heavy road transport units for ferrying armor
to the front lines via road networks has reduced Russia’s reliance on rail transport to get
its tanks to the front lines, with rail lines being a natural first target for NATO bombardment. Russia has also doubled down on the one area
it has traditionally outperformed NATO in, ground-based anti-air platforms. The introduction of the S-400 and the future
deployment of the S-500 anti-air defense system has given NATO war planners serious concerns,
and with a range of up to 250 miles (400 kilometers), a single battery of S-400 units can threaten
large swathes of a European battlefield. Russia has also invested heavily into modernizing
its non-strategic nuclear forces, outpacing even the US in this arena. Russia’s investments in improved logistics,
deadly air defense units, and an upgraded nuclear missile force have clearly signaled
its intentions to Russia observers, and the Zapad 2017 military exercises only confirmed
their worst fears: Russia is preparing for and quite possibly fully ready for a military
invasion of eastern Europe. So, could it actually do so? NATO maintains an active-duty force of about
2,000,000 personnel versus Russia’s 1,000,000. NATO also maintains an air force of 13,000
fighter, strike and bomber aircraft, versus Russia’s 3,914. It is on the ground however where Russia has
the biggest advantage, with over 20,000 tanks versus NATO’s 10,000. Yet Russia’s official figure has to be taken
with a huge grain of salt, as Russia still counts many thousands of decommissioned Soviet-era
tanks in its official figures. Not only would these tanks take weeks to re-commission
and get ready for combat, but they would be wholly outclassed and outgunned by NATO’s
overwhelmingly modern tank forces. Despite NATO’s technologically superior and
more numerous forces though, the military alliance has two glaring Achilles heels that
Russia is poised to exploit. The first is that the bulk of NATO’s capabilities
rest with the United States, which does maintain a readiness doctrine of being able to fight
and win two high-intensity wars at the same time- yet who’s forces are geographically
distant from Europe, with the bulk of American firepower stationed across the Atlantic. In case of war against Russia, the US’ forces
in Europe would fight in a defensive posture, awaiting the arrival of supplemental forces
from the American homeland which could take weeks. NATO’s second Achilles heel is the lackluster
commitment from its European member states to the military portion of the alliance. Out of the 29 member states, only 8 have hit
the 2% of GDP investment in their militaries, creating an imbalance of commitment across
the alliance. While various factors contribute to this lackluster
commitment to their own defense, many watchdogs argue that NATO members have become too comfortable
living under a global American security blanket- a position that has become very popular with
American president Donald Trump. Not only is the lack of appropriate funding
weakening NATO as a whole, but the political schisms it has created have only been compounded
by President Trump’s actions and statements, throwing into serious question American commitment
to NATO’s Article 5- an attack on one is an attack on the whole. While the American people overwhelmingly support
the defense of their European allies in the case of war, should the worst come to pass
it will ultimately be up to the American president how he responds. This uncertainty within the alliance- first
in its history- has been capitalized on by Russia, as evidenced by the true scope of
its Zapad 2017 exercises. Originally stated to be nothing more than
a 10,000 strong counter-terrorism set of fast-response exercises, the affair quickly grew to include
over 100,000 personnel, sea, land and air fire support platforms, and hordes of Russian
armor. To military observers the scope of the exercises
and even their execution were crystal clear: Russia was practicing a full-scale invasion
of the Baltic states. After the Russian invasion of the Ukraine
in 2014, NATO bolstered its forces in its member states of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
and Poland, deploying four multinational battalion-sized battle groups on a permanent rotational basis. As NATO’s most vulnerable states, the four
countries have long feared what they have seen as rising Russian aggression, and know
that in the case of war they will be the first to fight. That is because in the case of war, Russia
will immediately conduct an all out offensive across Belarus into Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,
while cutting off Poland and thus continental Europe from its allies by striking out over
the Suwalki Gap- a 60 mile stretch of NATO territory that connects the Russian military
stronghold of Kaliningrad with Belarus. By putting pressure on Poland and launching
long-range air and missile strikes against NATO facilities in Germany, Russia would delay
any response to its invasions of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Unfortunately for the three, the flat plains
of Eastern Europe would make defensive operations incredibly difficult, especially against large
masses of Russian tanks- it was these same flat plains that saw some of World War II’s
largest tank battles, and will see them again should Russia launch World War III. Cut off from NATO support, the three Baltic
nations would not hold long against Russia. Yet within a matter of weeks US forces would
arrive en masse and NATO would be poised for a devastating counter-attack that Russia could
not hope to stop. This is where Russia would enact the second
part of its European strategy: nuclear brinkmanship. Having already threatened the capitals of
several Baltic states with nuclear attacks in the case of war in the early 2010s, President
Putin has been carefully cultivating the perception of a strong willingness to use nuclear weapons. Whether real or not, any NATO response would
have to take into account the possibility that Putin is not bluffing, and he may in
fact resort to the use of nuclear weapons in case of war. Indeed he very well may have no other choice-
Russia has zero hope of ever defeating a fully mobilized NATO alliance, and though it may
be poised to strike deep into eastern Europe and even hold that territory for a time, it
would never ultimately be able to make these gains permanent- NATO forces and member-state’s
economies are simply far superior to Russia’s own. Launching such a war would prove devastating
for Moscow, and though Putin could make the conflict an extremely bloody one for NATO,
fighting could very realistically reach the very outskirts of Moscow itself as Russia
once more fights a catastrophically defensive war for survival- though this time against
a far superior foe. This would leave Russia with only one option:
use of its nuclear arsenal to avoid all out defeat. Though this would trigger a retaliatory response
from the West, a Russia with its back up against the wall may choose to launch a limited set
of nuclear strikes against purely military targets, hoping to limit the scope of NATO’s
own nuclear response. Even if NATO responded in kind, with a limited
range of nuclear strikes against Russian military forces, such a nuclear exchange would be disastrous
to the world as a whole, with untold ecological and economic fallout. All of these variables are well known to President
Putin, and in fact he may one day be counting on them as he launches a brief but aggressive
war to seize the Baltic States. By then shoring up his position and threatening
the use of nuclear weapons, he may in fact force NATO to sue for peace rather than risk
escalating the scope of the conflict. Not only would Russia win large amounts of
territory for itself in such a war, but it would win a truly game-changing political
victory by completely undermining the fundamental tenets of NATO: that the alliance will fight
to protect all member states. This could potentially lead to a fracturing
of NATO, or at the very least kill the confidence of current and prospective member states,
weakening the West- which has for decades been Russia’s ultimate goal. So, how do you think a war against NATO would
fare for Russia? Should NATO risk nuclear war to defend its
partners? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video
called Is the Chinese Military Ready To Defeat the USA? Thanks for watching, and as always, please
don’t forget to like, share and subscribe. See you next time!


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *