The Russian-Ukrainian crisis: the impact of the Kremlin's formidable missile and defense systems

(To David Rossi)

"We welcome Russia to its rightful place among the greatest nations in the world. We are happy to see its flag on the seas ... Above all, we are pleased that frequent and increasingly intense contacts are taking place between the Russian people and our peoples ... I do not think Russia desires war. What they want are the fruits of the war… However, it is my duty to bring to you certain realities of the current situation in Europe... From the Baltic to the Caucasus, passing through the former East Prussia, the Crimea and the Black Sea, a curtain of missiles has descended across the continent ”. It is ours theadaptation of the famous speech of the "Iron Curtain" by Wiston Churchill delivered in Fulton on 11 May 1945 during the Trieste crisis.

The "missiles" in question are a family of hypersonic short-range tactical ballistic missile systems, the Iskander, whose design, according to the head of the "military world" area of ​​Online Defense Tiziano Ciocchetti, dates back to the last decade of Soviet power, but came into use for the Russian armed forces, and then for some allies, starting from 2006 .

At the moment the US has nothing comparable.

Here, then, is the scenario of Europe at the beginning of the third decade of the twenty-first century: with the deployment of missile systems Iskander in Armenia, Crimea and elsewhere, an exclusion zone from the Middle East to Finland was created, supported by defensive systems multi-target such as S-300V4, S-300PM-1 and PM-2, S-400, and other anti-ship missiles (such as the P-800 Turkish Onyx and Kalibr-NK). The objective seems to be to prevent the West from accessing the Caucasus and the Black Sea coast, where it also has strategic interests to defend, as we will see shortly.

Through the deployment of missiles and the conduct of campaigns cyber, Russia is trying to create a new equilibrium throughout its periphery, pushing the West to accept a new security order in the region of Eastern Europe, the Black Sea and the Caucasus, where there are also countries, albeit not members NATO, who do not want to align themselves with Moscow.

The eastern front of NATO (and also Italy) under Russian fire

There are some aspects that need to be highlighted: in less than five minutes, the Russian Federation is able to strike with short-range ballistic missiles - capable of reaching a thrust of almost Mach 6 in the last stretch - the capitals of Poland. , Lithuania and Germany, but also - if Armenia had not told the truth about having full control over the offensive systems present on its territory - the capitals of Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as the South Caucasus pipeline, the main competitor of gas in the European market.

As Italians, we cannot ignore the fact that without the abundant influx of gas from the Azerbaijani Caucasus we will continue to buy it at the enormous price imposed by Moscow, which Putin also called "in favor", without many understanding that the interpretation of the incident was: if you are good, we will not increase it so as to strangle you ... If Belarus and Ukraine enter the sphere of influence of Moscow, the capitals of Austria, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia and Hungary will also be in the same situation as those Caucasians.

Also to us Italians, more than 500 km (perhaps even 700 km) away from the range of a 9M728 / R-500 cruise missile, what does it matter if the former socialist countries feel (or will be) threatened in the future?

According to many experts on Iskander K 9M729 ballistic missiles [probably a land-based version of the 3M14 missile can also be easily mounted Kalibr embarked, SS- (N) -30 according to the NATO name], whose range - certainly greater than 1.500 km - from Kaliningrad can already now keep under fire all the compatriots who live in the North East and in most of Lombardy and the Emilia-Romagna, that is to say the economic and demographic heart of the Italian-system, but if moved, for example, to the Ukrainian Transcarpathia they could reach - with conventional warheads, but also nuclear ones - Florence, Rome and Naples. Now, you are justified if you don't sleep well from worries ...

Kaliningrad: the soft underbelly of the Russian threat

Even now, the ancient capital of East Prussia is a thorn in the side. But is it really so decisive for the geopolitical fate of Europe? According to Jörgen Elfving, a retired Swedish general and leading Scandinavian expert on the Soviet and post-Soviet threat, “The Iskander system is a… nuclear and conventional threat to the Western military and Western civilians. However… the Iskander system has two fundamental limitations. First, there is only a finite number of missiles that can be produced and used, and the Russian missile brigades are limited by practical storage constraints. Second, Kaliningrad itself is just as vulnerable (if not more so) than the Baltic members of NATO. Even if we admit that Russia might try to gain dominion over regional air and sea space, it will certainly not be able to do so easily; on closer inspection, it could be impossible for Russia to supply Kaliningrad in times of crisis ".

This limit, mind you, concerns the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad in the European Union, but not Belarus and, least of all, Ukraine, being able to control which Moscow would have no logistical problems whatsoever. Still, there are politicians and opinion leaders ready to minimize the risk of a return of Kiev to Russian hegemony and of the deployment of Moscow troops and armaments in Belarus.

So, should Moscow take Ukraine?

That said, it is clear that the Russians would be damned comfortable with control of all or a large part of Ukraine. But are we really sure that the Russians are looking for the "invasive" war in Ukraine that the Anglo-Americans consider certain?

Let's go by exclusion: a limited-scale operation - starting from the recognition and military occupation / protection of the self-proclaimed republics of Donesk and Luhansk - would not bring benefits that Russia does not already have: moving its armed forces to those territories, provoking Ukraine relentlessly, keeping Kiev in perennial uncertainty, etc. Indeed, in hindsight, such a rash move would offer Kiev the possibility of setting a red line and perhaps building a Maginot line or even one sky dome anti-aircraft and anti-missile around the lost portions of the two oblasts, as well as the Crimea.

On the other hand, any attempt to seize and hold the whole or a large part of Ukrainian territory is, for any sane person, considered beyond the reach of the force at Moscow's disposal, let alone with the use of only 120 -130 thousand men, however well trained and supported by first-rate strategic planning.

In Moscow they know very well that one of the most famous known prophecies of the oracle of the sanctuary of Delphi is the one made to Croesus, king of Lydia, who asked if he could wage the war against the nascent Persian Achaemenid empire. The answer was that if he attacked Persia, he would destroy a great empire. The king of the Lydians did not even suspect that the "great empire" to which the oracle referred was not the Persian one, but his ...

The Russian Federation, in order not to collapse on the home front, should hope for an invasion war lasting a maximum of fifty days (less than two months) and leading to a new stable and secure equilibrium.

According to Ivan Krastev, international politics expert at the Vienna Institute for Human Sciences, “Europeans and Ukrainians are skeptical of a major Russian invasion of Ukraine not because they have a more benevolent view of Mr. Putin than their American counterparts. On the contrary, it is because they see him as more evil. War, they reason, would not be in the game of the Kremlin, which instead has an interest in deploying a wide range of tactics designed to destabilize the West. For Europe, the threat of war could prove more destructive than war itself ". After all, what Putin has managed to do is convince us that his target is precisely the threatened Ukraine, while they are rather the cornerstones of the defense of NATO's eastern front, in addition to the cohesion of the alliance itself. After all, as written by Wolfgang Münchau in the Corriere della Sera, what Moscow is trying to understand is, in the hypothesis that “Russia should occupy a NATO member country, Germany - but also other member countries, I add - will vote to activate Article 5 of NATO on mutual aid ".

The world has changed since 2021 ...

The fact is that today for the first time, again in the words of Krastev, “Geopolitical strength is not determined by how much economic power you can exert, but how much pain you can endure. Your enemy, unlike the Cold War, is not someone behind an Iron Curtain, but someone you trade with, get gasoline from, and export high-tech goods to. Soft power has given way to resilience. This is a problem for Europe. If Putin's success is determined by the ability of Western societies to prepare for the pressure of high energy prices, disinformation and political instability over an extended period, then he will have good reason to hope. At present, Europe is definitely unprepared for these challenges ".

Some countries, outside of NATO, have proven to be very hard mouthfuls even for Moscow: according to Keit Giles, an expert on Russia and Eurasia at Chatham House, “Finland is a difficult target. Sweden has shown its readiness. And Ireland, recently the object of unwelcome Russian attention in the vicinity of sea routes, flight paths and submarine cables, reacted immediately ", proving to Moscow that they are not weak points.

A different response came from Germany and other NATO members. We follow Münchau's reasoning "Germany - but we could mention other NATO members - it is not at all willing to sacrifice its energy security ... The Germans are unsurpassed masters when it comes to changing the cards ". And on the other hand, “What will become of Article 5 of NATO, the mutual aid clause? ... I am convinced, in fact, that the German parliament would never approve the activation of Article 5 ... Depending on who is at the helm of the country at that time, Germany may even ban an Article 5 resolution in the North Atlantic Council. NATO would do better to promptly confront its allies on the point in question. What the world has not yet fully understood is to what extent Germany has become an ally of Russia ". And the current crisis, let me pass the term, offered Moscow the "proof of love" of Berlin it was looking for.

Moscow wants to push NATO's defenses west

We were saying that Moscow has no immediate interest in using force in Ukraine: this does not mean that it wants to hide it! After no one had worried about the massive movements of Russian troops along the eastern Ukrainian border for nine months between March and November 2021, Moscow began to go to great lengths to make sure they were visible to all, moving forces from the sea. Baltic to the Black Sea, organizing spectacular maneuvers in Belarus, intervening in Kazakhstan and continuously testing neutral countries, such as Finland, Sweden and Ireland. And, meanwhile, it continues to move troops west to keep the pressure on Western leaders and media high.

Thus, without firing a shot at a Ukrainian soldier yet, this very concentration of Russian troops has brought the United States to the table to talk about what Russia wants, that is, to question Western defense and control systems in Poland and Romania.

Thus, after issues such as the Russian occupation of Crimea and continued ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine were ignored for months, Russia forced the West to debate how much of its effective security - systems of defense and control in Eastern countries - can be traded for a change of attitude by a country, Russia, which in addition to excellent defense and control systems, has also deployed an impressive line of fire, none of which speak out.

The possibility that NATO will do the same - with i Tomahawk - at this point it is more an effect than a cause of the Russian threat, politically it would have the value of an escalation and, in any case, it would end up impacting the shield of formidable defense systems developed by the Russians.

Moscow's line of fire is the one we put in the mouth of Winston Churchill at the beginning, who cut Europe in two and which, if Ukraine is ceded to the "Slavic brothers" of Moscow in a peaceful way, could be pushed even further west, dangerously close to our Italy and with the possible complicity of NATO member countries whose loyalty to Moscow it is no longer legitimate to doubt.

The conclusions ...

It will be said that Russia is under siege by NATO. Yet it is the Russian missiles that are aimed at Europe, not the other way around, as we have shown. If Putin and the Russian leadership feel suffocated in their sphere of influence - and now we quote Giles - it is undeniable that "It is still a cage of their own creation", useful to support senescent and unpopular autocracies on its periphery and to block internal dissent.

In conclusion, let's leave the floor to Giles himself: “For now, Kiev officials stress that responding to Russian threats with panic only serves Moscow's interests. Early concerns that Russia would use a hostile showdown to force the pace of negotiations have not been confirmed. Instead of delivering Putin's promised military-technical response, the process dragged on, with its economic cost steadily rising. Russia may soon feel the need to make its move, but we shouldn't expect that move to be the one everyone has been waiting for".

Photo: MoD Russian Federation / web / Kremlin