It is easy to dismiss Vladimir Putin’s effort to retake Ukraine as an abstract effort to reconstitute the Soviet Union. But on a more concrete level, Ukrainian industries hold the key to Russia’s future military relevance. The successful Russian annexation of the Ukrainian defense industrial base allows Putin to fulfill his dream of building a large “blue water” navy.
A resounding victory on the battlefield gives Russia the opportunity to back up Putin’s dangerous “nihilistic deterrent” tools with a heavy buildup of conventional force. But it won’t just be about rearming at home. An invasion will weigh on Russian military exports. A brutal Ukrainian land grab boosts the reputation of Russian military equipment, generating interest in overseas sales and potentially supplementing Russia’s technological loot with an additional economic boost.
In clear terms, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine aims to recover lost military prowess. It is, indeed, one of the last and best bets Putin can make to win back Russia’s lost military glory.
The Russian Navy uses Ukrainian engines:
Since 2014, the Ukrainian arms embargo has crippled the Russian military. At sea, the Russian Navy struggled, unable to deploy surface units without Ukrainian engines. Without foreign aid, Russia’s surface navy – already weakened by decades of underfunding – would completely collapse by the 2020s.
Deprived of Ukrainian gas turbine engines, Putin’s longstanding efforts to be seen as a second father of the Russian navy – on par with Peter the Great – have crumbled. After the annexation of Crimea, Russia could have suffered from the refusal of France to continue the construction of four Mistral class amphibious assault ships for Russia, but the lack of Ukrainian engines has been catastrophic for the Russian Navy and for Russia’s reputation as a major maritime arms dealer. The costs have been pretty clear – after Putin’s first foray into Ukraine, big naval deals with India, Vietnam and others were either delayed or collapsed.
Since Russia started gobbling up Ukraine, Russia has only been able to build small surface units. The lack of engines has been fatal to virtually everyone. Efforts to build the modified 2,200 ton Steregushchiy class (Project 20385) and the 4,000 ton class Admiral Grigorovich class frigates (Project 11356) have been delayed, while a Russian plan to commission between twenty and thirty of the 5,400-ton Admiral Gorshkov the class guided missile frigates (project 22350) were frozen in place. As new domestically-built engines are slow to arrive (and efforts to acquire foreign know-how fail), Russia’s inability to build smaller naval units then trickled down to infrastructure. of Russian shipbuilding, delaying even larger and more ambitious projects. .
To get the navy Putin wants, Russia needs Putin’s Ukrainian invasion to succeed.
Evacuate major Ukrainian industries
It may be too late to save Ukraine, but India, Turkey, Poland and other emerging industrialized players can still make every effort to move key Ukrainian engineers and other hard-to-reach elements. replacing the Ukrainian military industrial base outside the threatened areas. Just as Russia during World War II moved key factories east of the Ural Mountains, interested parties could still act to put key industrial components beyond the reach of Putin’s armies. In other words, Putin need not be the only country to benefit from the likely loss of Ukraine.
A successful invasion of Ukraine undoes one of Putin’s biggest miscalculations. The West’s failure to articulate the true defense consequences of Putin’s adventurism in Crimea in 2014 was a mistake. The West has been far too cautious in advocating directly with Russia’s military and economic power centers.
Polished, sotto voce observations of Russia’s ongoing naval and aerospace problems, coupled with silent rollbacks of Russian naval-inspired economic espionage in Norway, the United States and elsewhere have done nothing. Instead, these events could have been thrown in Russia’s face as further evidence of Putin’s problems, helping to shrink Putin’s power base while confirming the value of a Western sanctions-based strategy. But, rather than pointing out Putin’s real failures, the West seized every opportunity to cower in the face of Putin’s provocations and in doing so allowed Putin to cultivate the perception of concrete military progress while ceding all possible geopolitical advantages.
If Russia’s planned invasion of Ukraine is allowed, dismissed by weary European and Western democracies as a non-vital interest, Russia will quickly put Ukraine’s military-industrial capabilities to work, complicating European security and American for years to come. And it won’t stop there; even China, eagerly anticipating future opportunities to assimilate “ethnic Asians” from Russia’s sparsely populated east, will have to recalibrate.
NATO shipbuilders could also feel the effects. With China, the UK, Spain, the Netherlands and others replaced missing Russian naval offerings, providing ships or engine solutions that Russia was unable to provide. With Russia back in the business of selling surface ships, the Europeans will face much more unwelcome low-cost competition from state-backed Russian shipbuilders.
We are all worse for Vladimir Putin’s presence on the world stage. Rather than becoming a modern-day version of Peter the Great, Vladimir Putin follows Leonid Brezhnev’s tired playbook, focused on building up Russian military forces for another round of wasteful, energy-consuming confrontations. Like Brezhnev, Putin seems primed to wield power through his teenage years and likely to hold power in the grave. For the rest of the world, a Russia ruled – again – by a brooding, power-hungry old man offers a sobering prospect. An increasingly embittered Russia, emboldened by nihilistic deterrence and backed, in a few years, by a modernized, planetary Russian navy, running on Ukrainian-made engines, should concern everyone.