Bonjour mes amies! (My French was always a bit suspect (E or F at GCSE level) so I hope that's right). Apologies for the delay, but such is sometimes the fate of someone who has to blog on the side. Today I just want to briefly touch on the situation in Ukraine. Not the politics or the operational level situation however, but something that amuses me greatly.
Because for many, many years Russia (or rather the Soviet Union) was very skillful in its handling of the Cold War against the United States and its allies. They played the long game for the most part and placed a high value on the return for investment of their decisions. This is exemplified by their support for North Vietnam in the 60's and 70's, which in return for financial, material and training support was able to bog down the US for around 8 years of conventional operations, at the cost of over 58,000 American dead and 153,000 plus wounded, and around $140 billion in financial costs, which equates to about a trillion dollars in today's money.
From the Russian perspective it was a (relatively) low input, high output arrangement, one which they used the world over. Some subsidised equipment and a bit of training could go a long way in terms of securing allies and resources, while at the same time serving as a thorn in the side of the US. But what's interesting about the situation in Ukraine, and why it amuses me so much, is the fact that the tables have been turned on their head to some degree. This of course is subject to accepting the allegations made against Russia that it has been sending soldiers across the border to help the Rebels fight, which still hasn't been proven by the standards that would be required in a UK court ("beyond reasonable doubt").
If the allegation is indeed true though then the situation represents a remarkable shift from what was typical of the cold war days (Afghanistan excepted), as Russia now finds itself having to pour manpower into the cauldron to try and shore up the situation while the west finds itself in the enviable position of observing from the sidelines, only having to pass on the odd shipment of non-lethal aid (and probably a few sneaky lethal shipments) to keep things ticking over, as Russia loses more and more diplomatic support by the day and its economy continues to suffer under the triple whammy of sanctions, depressed oil prices and the need to fund its broad day to day military activities.
What doesn't make me chuckle is the idea that western leaders seem so keen to just roll over and give the rebels very generous peace terms. For all the bluster, hysteria, huffing and puffing that's going around, the battle lines remain resolutely quite static and pose very little danger to Ukraine as a whole. There is no real light at the end of the proverbial tunnel for the rebels, at least not through a military solution. Western aid to the Ukrainian government, if stepped up, would at the worst probably just trigger a greater surge by the Russians that would extend the stalemate, and at best allow the Ukrainian forces to make the sort of progress that might just convince Putin to pull out and write the situation off as a lost cause altogether.
One has to think (for one art in posh mode) that if the roles were reversed then the Russians would jump at the chance to bog the old enemy down in a fight which they have very little to gain from. But it also raises an interesting question in this pre-SDSR silly season. With this crisis taking place in Eastern Europe, with ISIS at large in both Syria and Iraq, and now apparently Libya, with the government in Yemen falling to rebel elements, and with Boko Haram causing the Nigerian government no end of problems, is this the right time to expand the UK's capacity for unconventional warfare?
These sorts of situations are after all precisely the sort of thing that the SAS was resurrected to deal with, and a lot of the US Special Forces community owes its existence to the need for unconventional forces during the cold war. In an era of biting cutbacks is there perhaps some more money to be found down the back of the sofa to expand the military's unseen and unadvertised fighting/training ability? And if so, with cuts already having taken place and with more likely on the horizon, where will the military get the manpower for this? As it can't increase the size of the suitable recruitment pool that really only leaves the option of lowering the standards for entry.
Some interesting things to mull over I think.