“Little Green Men”: Russia’s Ukrainian deployments

Military base at Perevalne during the 2014 Crimean crisis. (Photo by Антон Голобородько)

The 21st century has seen the rise of an authoritarian successor state to the Soviet Union, Putin’s Russia. Using a mixture of military force and intensive political scheming, Putin has managed to secure a chokehold on worldwide democracy, undermining elections as important as the U.S. presidency. Putin has a lot going for him; his agents around the world influence many of the West’s political movements, and he holds the keys to Germany’s short-term energy source with the Nordstream 2 pipeline.

Yet of all the West’s issues with Russia, none is more volatile than that of Ukraine. Despite being ill-prepared for Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and the Donbas, the U.S. and its NATO allies have shown a strong commitment to sanction Russia and even defend Ukraine’s territories in the wake of a new invasion.

But what exactly is NATO up against? No doubt Russia has plenty of modern hardware at its disposal, but the Russian military is notoriously overestimated. With demoralized soldiers and archaic armaments, Russia’s army would be hard-pressed to invade Ukraine under economic sanction alone.

Russia’s Military and Mercenary Assets

Hence, the Russian Federation employs BTGs (battalion tactical group), a quasi-mercenary force of paramilitary troops, dubbed Putin’s ‘little green men’ for their lack of insignia. Known to have operated in 2014, Putin has amassed BTGs on Ukraine’s border.

BTGs consist of about 700-900 men and are typically drawn from a mixture of contracted volunteers and regular conscripts. BTGs, though armed with modern equipment, tend to suffer from manpower. Due to being a paramilitary, allegedly ‘unaffiliated’ force, the Russian military cannot readily supply a deployed BTG.

Additionally, Russia has moved several armored and naval assets into place, particularly in Crimea. Earlier in 2021, the Russian fleet blocked U.S. warships from entering the Black Sea after a diplomatic confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Ballistic assets have increasingly become part of Russia’s foreign policy, both conventional and nuclear. Several “Iskander” ballistic missile systems have been moved near Ukrainian borders. And while Russia has made no signs of deploying significant nuclear assets in the region (not that it needs to, given its strike range), it has focused on developing hypersonic nuclear missiles as early as 2018, with recent testfires in 2021 confirming its capabilities.

Ultimately, Putin has anywhere from 100,000 to 150,000 troops on the border, with experts warning he will be fully capable of significant escalation by the end of January. These forces are supported by the separatist forces already fighting Ukraine and their pseudo-secretive special forces fighting alongside them.

NATO’s Options

On the opposing side, NATO has several military bases and installations bordering Ukraine and Russia. U.S. assets in Germany, though significantly reduced from previous deployments, nonetheless stand alongside European armies as a significant deterrent to a Russian invasion. Russian’s historical rival, Britain, also wields a capable fleet, which has and continues to challenge Putin’s warmongering in the Black Sea.

But perhaps the most potent arsenal in the U.S. and E.U.’s playbook is heavy, hard-hitting sanctions. Though Russia has quite a bit of leverage on the E.U., a collective show of strength on the West’s part would not only shake Germany from Russia’s grip but deal significant damage to Russia’s military-industrial complex. As it stands, many Russians are sick of Putin due to ineffective leadership regarding the pandemic, hollow economic promises, and the corruption of the state, army, and mafia. Recently, citizens of Russia rallied behind Alexei Navalny, whose blatant poisoning only emboldened his support. Though he has since been imprisoned and was briefly in grave condition at a hospital for convicts, his health has since improved, as worldwide organizations closely monitor his health.

Depending on the decisive nature of the U.S. and E.U.’s politicians, who are becoming increasingly so, Russia will find an invasion of Ukraine to be a fruitless, fatal error. Though met with momentary success, the Russian government’s attempt to overthrow democracy abroad has not succeeded enough to guarantee economic and military impunity. A failed invasion of Ukraine will almost certainly be the last straw for Putin’s government, the fall of which may sound the death knell for authoritarianism abroad.

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2 responses to ““Little Green Men”: Russia’s Ukrainian deployments”

  1. […] Kazakhstan’s government will be a deep thorn in Putin’s side, as he was forced to move troops on the Ukrainian border into Kazahkstan. Though the opportunity to secure Russian interests in the region would usually be […]

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  2. […] as it stands, cannot survive a war with Ukraine. This is primarily due to international pressure; Russia will face extreme economic collapse if the […]

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