War and Peace

Here’s how a preemptive strike on North Korea would go down

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made it official on Friday: The US is considering a preemptive military strike on North Korea. Recent missile tests show that North Korea really is practicing a so-called saturation attack that would seek to fire ballistic missiles with such volume that they defeat missile defenses and slaughter US and allied forces in Japan and South Korea.

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US President Donald Trump has apparently identified North Korea as his most serious external challenge, and he has reportedly declared the country the single greatest threat to the US. On Friday, Trump tweeted: “North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been ‘playing’ the United States for years.” He also blamed China, the North’s biggest ally, for not doing more to help.

In reality, taking out North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, or toppling the Kim regime, would pose serious risks to even the US military’s best platforms.

Business Insider spoke with Stratfor‘s Sim Tack, a senior analyst who is an expert on North Korea, to determine exactly how the US could carry out a crippling strike against the Hermit Kingdom.


First, a decision would need to be made.

 

Military action against North Korea wouldn’t be pretty. Civilians in South Korea, and possibly Japan, and US forces stationed in the Pacific would be likely to die in the undertaking no matter how smoothly things went.

In short, it’s not a decision any US commander in chief would make lightly.

But the US would have to choose between a full-scale destruction of North Korea’s nuclear facilities and ground forces or a quicker attack on only the most important nuclear facilities. The second option would focus more on crippling North Korea’s nuclear program and destroying key threats to the US and its allies.

Since a full-scale attack could lead to “mission creep that could pull the US into a longterm conflict in East Asia,” according to Tack of Stratfor, the US would most likely focus on a quick, surgical strike that would wipe out the bulk of North Korea’s nuclear forces.


Then, the opening salvo: A stealth air blitz and cruise missiles rock North Korea’s nuclear facilities.

 

The best tools the US could use against North Korea would be stealth aircraft like the F-22 and the B-2 bomber, Tack said.

The US would slowly but surely position submarines, Navy ships, and stealth aircraft at bases near North Korea in ways that avoid provoking the Hermit Kingdom’s suspicions.

Then, when the time was right, bombers would rip across the sky and ships would let loose with an awesome volley of firepower. The US already has considerable combat capability amassed in the region.

“Suddenly you’d read on the news that the US has conducted these airstrikes,” Tack said.

While the F-22 and the F-35 would certainly operate over North Korean missile-production sites, it really is a job for the B-2.

As a long-range stealth bomber with a huge ordnance capacity, the B-2 could drop 30,000-pound bombs on deep underground bunkers in North Korea – and they could do it from as far away as Guam or the continental US.


The first targets …

 

Foto: source Flickr/US Air Force

The initial targets would include nuclear reactors, missile-production facilities, and launching pads for intercontinental ballistic missiles, Tack said.

Cruise missiles would pour in from the sea, F-22s would target North Korea’s rudimentary air defenses, and B-2s would pound every known missile site.

Planes like the F-35 and the F-22 would frantically hunt down mobile missile launchers, which can hide all over North Korea’s mountainous terrain. In the event that North Korea does get off a missile, the US and South Korea have layered missile defenses that would attempt to shoot it out of the sky.


Next, the US would try to limit North Korean retaliation.

 

Once the US has committed the initial strike against North Korea, how does Kim Jong Un respond?

Even with its nuclear facilities in ashes and most of its command and control destroyed, “North Korea has a lot of options,” Tack said. “They have their massive, massive conventional artillery options that can start firing at South Korea in a split second.”

But as the graphic below shows, most North Korean artillery can’t reach Seoul, the South Korean capital.

Additionally, Seoul has significant underground bunkers and infrastructure to quickly shield its citizens, though some measure of damage to the city would be unavoidable.

North Korea artillery

Foto:

According to Tack, much of this artillery would instead fire on the demilitarized zone between the two Koreas, detonating mines so North Korean ground forces could push through. Also within range would be US forces near the DMZ.

Some 25,000 American troops are stationed in South Korea, and they would face grave danger from North Korea’s vast artillery installations.

But the North Korean artillery isn’t top of the line. It could focus on slamming US forces, or it could focus on hitting Seoul, but splitting fire between the two targets would limit the impact of its longer-range systems.

Additionally, as the artillery starts to fire, it becomes an exposed target for US aircraft.


The next phase of the battle would be underwater.

 

North Korea has a submarine that can launch nuclear ballistic missiles, which would represent a big risk to US forces as it can sail outside the range of established missile defenses.

Fortunately for the US, the best submarine hunters in the world sail with the US Navy.

Helicopters would drop special listening buoys, destroyers would use their advanced radars, and US subs would listen for anything unusual in the deep. North Korea’s antique submarine would hardly be a match for the combined efforts of the US, South Korea, and Japan.

While the submarine would greatly complicate the operation, it would most likely find itself at the bottom of the ocean before it could do any meaningful damage.


What happens if Kim Jong Un is killed?

 

“Decapitation,” or the removal of the Kim regime, would be a huge blow to the fiercely autocratic Hermit Kingdom.

Kim Jong Un has reportedly engaged in a vicious campaign to execute senior officials with packs of dogs, mortar fire, and antiaircraft guns for a simple reason, according to Tack: They have ties to China.

Kim’s removal of anyone senior with ties to China means he has consolidated power within his country to a degree that makes him necessary to the country’s functioning.

Without a leader, North Korean forces would face a severe blow to their morale as well as their command structure, but it wouldn’t end the fight.

“Technically North Korea is under the rule of their ‘forever leader’ Kim Il Sung,” Tack said, adding that “a decapitation strike wouldn’t guarantee that the structures below him wouldn’t fall apart, but it would be a damn tricky problem for those that remain after him.”

North Koreans aren’t shy about putting their leader first, however, and at the first indication of an attack, Kim would most likely be tucked away in a bunker deep underground during the attack.


Then the US defends.

 

“If North Korea doesn’t retaliate, they’ve lost capability and look weak,” Tack said.

Indeed, few would expect North Korea to go quietly after suffering even a crippling attack.

Through massive tunnels bored under the DMZ, North Korea would try to pour ground troops into the South.

“The ground-warfare element is a big part of this,” Tack said. “I think that the most likely way that would play out would be the fight in the DMZ area,” where the US would not try to invade North Korea but rather would defend its position in the South.

Though North Korea’s air force is small and outdated, it jets would need to be a target of the US and allied forces.


Meanwhile …

 

US special operations forces, after North Korea’s air defenses have been destroyed, would parachute in with the goal of destroying or deactivating mobile launchers and other offensive equipment.

The US would face a big challenge in trying to hunt down some 200 missile launchers throughout North Korea, some of which have treads to enter very difficult terrain where US recon planes would struggle to spot them.

It would be the work of US special forces to establish themselves at key logistical junctures, observe the North Koreans’ movements, and then relay that to US air assets.


So how does this all end?

 

North Korea is neither a house of cards nor an impenetrable fortress.

Additionally, the resolve of the North Koreans remains a mystery. North Korea successfully estimated that the international community would be unwilling to intervene as it quietly became a nuclear power, but that calculation could become its undoing.

North Korea would most likely launch cyberattacks, possibly shutting down parts of the US or allies’ power grids, but US Cyber Command would prepare for that.

North Korea would most likely destroy some US military installations, lay waste to some small portion of Seoul, and get a handful of missiles fired – but again, US and allied planners would stand ready for that.

In the end, it would be a brutal, bloody conflict, but Tack said even the propaganda-saturated North Koreans must be aware of their disadvantages.

Even after a devastating missile attack, some of North Korea’s nuclear stockpile would most likely remain hidden. Some element of the remaining North Korean forces could stage a retaliation, but what would be the point?

“If they chose to go the route of conducting a large-scale retaliation, they’re inviting a continuation of the conflict that eventually they cannot win … Nobody in this whole game is going to believe that North Korea can win a war against the US, South Korea, and Japan,” Tack concluded.

If A Nuclear Bomb Is Dropped On Your City, Here’s Where You Should Run And Hide

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  • People who survive a nuclear blast may be exposed to radioactive ash and dust called fallout.
  • Finding a good shelter as soon as possible and going inside is critical to surviving fallout.
  • A scientist has come up with a strategy for when and whether to move to a better fallout shelter.

President Trump has egged on a new arms race. Russia violated weapons treaties to upgrade its nuclear arsenal. North Korea is developing long-range missiles and practicing for nuclear war — and the US military is considering preemptive attacks on the isolated nation’s military facilities.

Meanwhile, nuclear terrorism and dirty bombs remain a sobering threat.

Though these events are unlikely to trigger the last-ditch option of nuclear war, let alone a blast in your neighborhood, they are very concerning.

So you might be wondering, “If I survive a nuclear-bomb attack, what should I do?”

Michael Dillon, a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researcher, crunched the numbers and helped figure out just that in a 2014 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

Likewise, government agencies and other organizations have also explored the harrowing question and came up with detailed recommendations and response plans.

The scenario

New York

TTstudio/Shutterstock

You are in a large city that has just been subjected to a single, low-yield nuclear detonation, between 0.1 and 10 kilotons.

This is much less powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima — about 15 kilotons. However, it’s not unlikely when looking at weapons like the new B61-12 gravity bomb, which is built by the US, maxes out at 50 kilotons, and can be dialed down to 0.3 kilotons. (Russia and Pakistan are working on similar so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons.)

Studieshave shown that you and up to 100,000 of your fellow citizens can be saved — that is, if you keep your wits about and radiation exposure low enough.

One of your biggest and most immediate goals is to avoid nuclear fallout.

How to avoid fallout radiation

Fallout is a mess of bomb material, soil, and debris that is vaporized, made radioactive, and sprinkled as dust and ash across the landscape by prevailing winds. (In New York City, for example, a fallout zone would spread eastward.)

radioactive fallout zones

FEMA

The best thing to do is to find a good place to hide — the more dense material between you and the outside world, the better — then wait until the rescuers can make their way to help you.

The US government recommends hiding in a nearby building, but not all of them provide much shelter from nuclear fallout.

Poor shelters, which include about 20% of houses, are constructed of lightweight materials and lack basements. The best shelters are thick brick or concrete and lack windows. Like a bomb shelter.

This infographic from a government guide to the aftermath of nuclear attacks gives a rough idea on what makes a building a good or bad place to hide from fallout:

nuclear fallout shelter protection

Levels of protection from radiation that various buildings and locations offer. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/FEMA

Hiding in the sub-basement of a brick five-story apartment building, for example, should expose you to just 1/200 of the amount of fallout radiation outside.

Meanwhile, hanging out in the living room of your one-story, wood-frame house will only cut down the radiation by half, which — if you are next to a nuclear explosion — will not do much to help you.

So, what do you do if there isn’t a good shelter right near you? Should you stay in a “poor” shelter, or risk exposure to find a better one? And how long should you wait?

Should you stay or should you go?

nuclear fallout escape dillon prsa

M.B. Dillon/Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences

In his 2014 study, Dillon developed models to determine your best options. While the answer depends on how far away you are from the blast, since that will determine when the fallout arrives, there are some general rules to follow.

If you are immediately next to or in a solid shelter when the bomb goes off, stay there until the rescuers come to evacuate you to less radioactive vistas.

If you aren’t already in a bomb shelter, but know a good shelter is about five minutes away — maybe a large apartment building with a basement that you can see a few blocks away — his calculations suggest hoofing it over there quickly and staying in place.

But if the nice, thick-walled building would take about 15 minutes travel time, it’s better to hole up in the flimsy shelter for awhile — but you should probably leave for a better shelter after roughly an hour (and maybe pick up some beers and sodas on the way: A study in the ’50s found they taste fine after a blast).

This is because some of the most intense fallout radiation has subsided by then, though you still want to reduce your exposure.

Other fallout advice

Below are some other guidelines that Dillon compiled from other studies and are based on how decent your first and second shelters are:ideal shelter nuclear fallout moving times dillon prsa

M.B. Dillon/Proceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical and Physical Sciences

One of the big advantages of the approach that this paper uses is that, to decide on a strategy, evacuation officials need to consider only the radiation levels near shelters and along evacuation routes — the overall pattern of the radioactive death-cloud does not factor into the models. This means decisions can be made quickly and without much communication or central organization (which may be spare in the minutes and hours after a blast).

 

Iraq Starts Offensive to Retake Western Mosul From ISIS

Iraqi forces advanced toward western Mosul on Sunday. CreditKhalid Al-Mousily/Reuters

 

 

ERBIL, Iraq — Iraq opened the next chapter in its offensive to drive the Islamic State out of Mosul on Sunday, preparing an assault on the western half of the city. Overnight, planes carpeted the ground with leaflets, directly appealing to the group’s fighters to surrender.

“To those of you who were intrigued by the ISIS ideology,” one of the leaflets said, “this is your last opportunity to quit your work with ISIS and to leave those foreigners who are in your homeland. Stay at home, raising the white flags as the forces approach.”

On state-run television, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi of Iraq announced the beginning of the offensive, describing it as “a new dawn” and calling on his troops “to move bravely forward to liberate what is left of the city.”

The assault is taking place amid new concerns about the condition of hundreds of thousands of civilians still trapped in the western part of the city. Food, water and cooking fuel have all been reported to be in short supply, and residents have described increased harassment from Islamic State fighters preparing for the attack.

Continue reading the main story

The overall push to free Mosul, once Iraq’s second-largest city, began in October, with local troops pushing from the east into the city’s geographically larger but more sparsely populated eastern half. In late January, they reached the banks of the Tigris River, which bisects Mosul, and declared the city’s eastern section liberated.

The operation took longer than expected and took a high toll on civilians and the Iraqi forces, but much of the city’s infrastructure was preserved and a sense of daily life has returned. That is in contrast to the operations to take back other cities from the Islamic State, including Ramadi and Sinjar, which were laid waste by airstrikes. More than a year since Sinjar was freed, even its mayor has not been able to return.

The fight for Mosul’s western half could be even more protracted than for its east. The west is home to neighborhoods of narrow streets, some so small that it will not be possible for Iraqi troops to enter in their fortified Humvees. That may make the Islamic State’s signature suicide bomb attacks even more effective.

Because all five of the bridges spanning the Tigris have been bombed, Iraqi troops will trace a circuitous path to western Mosul, initially approaching it from the city’s south.

Officials said the first objective would be Mosul International Airport, just south of the city. By midday on Sunday, Iraqi forces had captured a string of nearby villages, advancing within six miles of the airfield, officers from the troops said.

American forces are supporting the operation. “The U.S. forces continue in the same role as they did in East Mosul,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters traveling with him on Sunday, adding that the rules of engagement for American troops in Iraq had not changed: “We are very close to, if not already engaged in, that fight.”

He said that the American-backed coalition fighting the Islamic State would “continue with the accelerated effort to destroy” the group.

Anticipating the offensive, the Islamic State damaged the Mosul airport, carving wide trenches onto the runways and adjacent taxiways and aprons, leaving no paved portion of the airport usable by aircraft, according to an analysis of satellite imagery by Stratfor, a global intelligence company.

While the airport may be unusable, taking it would be a milestone for the offensive, as would taking the adjacent hilltop village of Abu Saif, which sits at a higher elevation than Mosul. Because of the Islamic State’s heavy use of snipers, securing high ground is crucial, and Iraqi forces were nearing the base of the hill by Sunday afternoon.

The troops’ push into western Mosul will be further complicated by the Islamic State’s vast network of tunnels throughout the city, allowing fighters to hide from overhead surveillance. And the group is also increasingly using armed drones, allowing them to spot and remotely bomb advancing Iraqi troops.

Yahya Salah, whose neighborhood in eastern Mosul was liberated in November, described how Iraqi troops were just streets away when Islamic State fighters forced their way into his home, armed with a jackhammer. They herded Mr. Salah’s family into one of the bedrooms. From behind the closed door, Mr. Salah said, he then heard a deafening sound and realized the fighters were drilling a hole.

“They worked without stopping — when one got tired, another took over, and they dug a hole that was 1.5 meters wide,” said Mr. Salah, who said his family was locked in the bedroom for three days. “When we said we were thirsty, they threw water bottles at us,” he said.

He said the fighters had left at noon on the final day. The Iraqi Army arrived at sunset, unlocking the door. When the family stepped into the rest of their house, they found ceiling-high piles of dirt in three of their four bedrooms and a hole in the living room floor. The tunnel the fighters had dug stretched for dozens of yards, allowing the terrorist group’s foot soldiers to slip away.

Residents have shown reporters similar tunnels throughout the eastern part of the city, and officials expect the same in western Mosul. A photo essay published this weekend by the Islamic State titled “Life of Fighters South of Mosul” shows their soldiers cooking a meal on a kerosene stove, reading the Quran and praying inside a tunnel wide enough for five men to stand side by side.

At the same time, the Islamic State has become better at the use of small drones, which are available off-the-shelf in malls across the region, including in Erbil, the nearest major city to Mosul. They use the drones to pinpoint army positions and to target them, and recently recovered Islamic State documents show how the group has cobbled together its own drone program. Iraqi forces describe how they frequently see the twoto-four-foot-long aircraft overhead, whining like a lawn mower. Then 30 minutes later, they will take incoming fire at that location.

“Mosul would be a tough fight for any army in the world, and the Iraqi forces have risen to the challenge,” Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, the commander of the American-led effort against the Islamic State, said in a news release from United States Central Command announcing the beginning of the operation. Some of the 450 American advisers on the ground in Iraq are helping Iraqi officers plan and execute the offensive.

Reached by telephone, residents in western Mosul described the elation they felt at the approach of government troops. “All we have left to eat is tomato paste. We are eating it with salt,” said Umm Anwar, 41, who asked to be identified only by her nickname. “We are ready to kill ISIS ourselves with knives, or by biting them, because we are in so much pain.”

TORUN, Poland (AP) — About 2,000 NATO troops from the U.S., Britain and Poland conducted an airborne training operation on Tuesday as part of the biggest exercise performed in Poland since the 1989 end of communism and amid concerns over Russia.

This should make Russia look, oh ya they talk about nukes, but even if they used a tactical nuke, it would kill there troops as well, and make a dead zone not only in Poland, but Russia too.

This is the way to make Putin look and be scared, we need to Box them in, so that if they try and use Tactical nukes, they too will be affected, i am getting sick and tiered with all this “WE HAVE NUKES ” shit coming from Moscow. They need to start looking at what the real price will be if they try to make a Crimea attack again! Their little green men without Russian badges, that only makes them look like cowards, a real military, would show who they were, not try and hide from us.

 

Scores of U.S. troops and then military vehicles parachuted into a spacious, grassy training area on the outskirts of the central city of Torun. The force’s mission was to secure a bridge on the Vistula River as part of the Polish-led Anakonda-16 exercise that involves about 31,000 troops and runs through mid-June.

Nineteen NATO member nations and five partner nations are contributing troops to the exercise that will train and test their swift joint reaction to threats on land, sea and in the air.

Airborne forces from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland conduct a a multi-national jump on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 201...

Airborne forces from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland conduct a a multi-national jump on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The exercise, Swift Response-16, sets the stage in Poland for the multi-national land force training event Anakonda-16. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

In a complex operation that was precisely planned and timed, troops of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division flew directly from their U.S. base in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Their Boeing C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft were refueled in midair. The British troops flew from a NATO base in Ramstein, Germany, while the Poles arrived from their base in Krakow, in southern Poland.

The exercise “confirmed that we can count on our friends who are capable of flying over the Atlantic to be here with us in a matter of hours,” said Polish Gen. Miroslaw Rozanski, deputy commander of the exercise. “We can look into the future with calm. We have good allies and good partners.”

Russia considers NATO troops’ presence close to its border as a security threat. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Tuesday in Moscow that the military exercise in Poland “does not contribute to the atmosphere of trust and security on the continent.”

Poland and other nations in the region, as well as NATO leaders, say that any military presence or exercises are purely defensive and deterrent measures.

The drill is being held just weeks before NATO holds a crucial summit in Warsaw expected to decide that significant numbers of NATO troops and equipment will be based in Poland and in the Baltic states.

___

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

A C-130 plane drops paratroopers from the Polish 6th Airborne Division during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain ...

A C-130 plane drops paratroopers from the Polish 6th Airborne Division during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The exercise, Swift Response-16, sets the stage in Poland for the multi-national land force training event Anakonda-16. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division jump during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland on to a design...

U.S. C-17 planes from the 82nd Airborne Division drop paratroopers during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The exercise, Swift Response-16, sets the stage in Poland for the multi-national land force training event Anakonda-16. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division General Richard D. Clarke, left, runs after jumping during a multi-national jump conducted by forces from the U.S., G...

Commander of the 82nd Airborne Division General Richard D. Clarke, left, runs after jumping during a multi-national jump conducted by forces from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The exercise, Swift Response-16, sets the stage in Poland for the multi-national land force training event Anakonda-16. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

A British C-130J plane from the 16th Air Assault Brigade drops paratroopers during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Bri...

A British C-130J plane from the 16th Air Assault Brigade drops paratroopers during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The exercise, Swift Response-16, sets the stage in Poland for the multi-national land force training event Anakonda-16. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

A U.S. C-17 plane from the 82nd Airborne Division drops paratroopers during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain an...

A U.S. C-17 plane from the 82nd Airborne Division drops paratroopers during a multi-national jump with soldiers and equipment from the U.S., Great Britain and Poland on to a designated drop zone near Torun, Poland, Tuesday, June 7, 2016. The exercise, Swift Response-16, sets the stage in Poland for the multi-national land force training event Anakonda-16. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)

Enough Already! It’s Time for the West to Arm Ukraine

UKRAINIAN TANK

MUNICH — It has become something of a mantra among diplomats and other foreign policy analysts that there is no military solution to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The only viable path to peace and stability, observers almost unanimously proclaim, is a diplomatic one. But, despite the recent ceasefire agreement announced in Minsk, ongoing violence — reflected in the violent expulsion of Ukrainian forces from the town of Debaltseve — strongly suggests that it is time to consider what is needed to block any Kremlin-imposed military solution.

Three influential American think tanks have already done so, and arrived at the conclusion that the United States should begin supplying Ukraine not only with more non-lethal aid — such as drones, armored Humvees, and medical equipment — but also with “lethal defensive military assistance,” in the form of light anti-armor missiles. European governments, however, remain unwilling to reconsider their position on supplying defensive equipment to Ukraine, and have instead reiterated that a diplomatic solution is the only option.

Of course, from Ukraine’s perspective, a one-on-one military confrontation with Russia is not a viable option. Last year, when separatist forces in the Donbas region appeared to be crumbling under the weight of Ukraine’s counter-offensive, it seemed possible that Ukraine would be able to reassert its sovereignty over the area. But the Kremlin quickly deployed battalion-size tactical groups from the Russian army to support the rebels. Ukraine’s relatively weak forces did not stand a chance.

The move exemplifies Russia’s commitment to do whatever it takes to prevent a military defeat of the separatist entities that it has incited and forged into fighting units — a determination that has endured, even as the conflict has placed considerable strain on its armed forces. Given this, the prospects for Ukraine to reassert control over the Donbas region militarily are so slim that even trying to do so would be foolish.

If one considers the strategic ambitions of the separatists and their Russian patrons, Ukraine’s prospects are even bleaker. Beyond supplying the separatist groups with heavy and advanced weapons, and deploying special units and forces to support them, Russia now appears to be sending in “volunteers” to train a separatist army that could ultimately go on the offensive.

Such an army, separatist leaders hope, will enable them — at the very least — to secure control over the Donbas region. They would then be positioned to secure a “Novorossiya” statelet extending along the entire Black Sea coast, up to and including Odessa. And, in all likelihood, some would even dream of an eventual march into Kyiv.

To prevent this scenario from unfolding, a robust political dialogue with the Kremlin is clearly vital, as are continued economic sanctions to make clear that Russia will pay a rising price for ongoing aggression. But trusting solely in a diplomatic dialogue and sanctions to bring about a lasting peace may be excessively optimistic.

A more comprehensive approach would focus on strengthening Ukraine in every respect. To this end, political and diplomatic support is essential. But perhaps even more important is backing for reforms aimed at eliminating corruption and promoting growth. The recent agreement with the International Monetary Fund is of immediate importance in this respect, and the agreement with the European Union on a Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Area is crucial to the country’s long-term transformation.

But if separatist groups, with support from Russia, believe that they can control Donbas and the Black Sea coast, efforts to rebuild Ukraine’s society and economy will amount to little. That is why Ukraine’s external partners must also help to strengthen the country’s defensive capabilities.

In such a charged situation, there will always be hotheads, eager to pursue military options. But the greater concern is the behavior of pragmatists, who identify weaknesses that can be exploited. If the Russian-backed separatists view Ukraine’s defensive capacity as a serious weakness, there will be little to compel them not to push forward in pursuit of their ambitions. A political or diplomatic solution would be next to impossible.

Security experts should identify which actions powers like the U.S. and Europe could take to improve Ukraine’s defensive capabilities. The requests for non-lethal equipment made by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at the recent Munich Security Conference could provide some guidance.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and others are clearly right when they say that there is no purely military solution to the conflict in Ukraine. But a year of talks and failed agreements has demonstrated that there is no purely diplomatic solution either. Only by eliminating — or at least seriously diminishing — the potential for the separatists and their Russian backers to continue their military campaign can Ukraine and its partners hope for a lasting political solution.

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