Publications

The World After the War in Ukraine: Who or What Will Stop Putin?

March 6, 2022 - Press ISW

We cannot seem to believe the raw, extreme realism by which Russia’s Vladimir Putin is acting against Ukraine. Raw realism is so abominable to American thinking that we would rather believe he is crazy. Yet raw realism is what we are seeing in Ukraine: Putin has the might, so he is intent on making the right. He is sure that the West will not intervene militarily, which is not hard to conclude since the U.S. position has been stated, publicly, multiple times. He has made Russia resistant to sanctions in the near term and concluded that, by the time sanctions take full effect, Ukraine will be his. Further, he has judged that Europe is too dependent on Moscow to continue sanctions in the long term. Putin also knows that once force is used, only an equal or greater force will stop him. He knows that sanctions alone are not that equal-or-greater force. He has already escalated his use of force in Ukraine — and has very publicly put his nuclear deterrent forces on high alert — until he gets what he wants, because he’s convinced he can.

The West Must Help Ukraine Free its People to Stop Russian Atrocities

April 14, 2022 - Press ISW

Helping Ukraine liberate its people and territories is the only way to stop Russian atrocities and prevent future ones. The West must rush the military support that Ukraine needs to do so.

The Order of Battle of the Ukrainian Armed Forces

December 9, 2016 - Franklin Holcomb

The United States and its partners can improve regional security and stability in Eastern Europe by supporting the modernization and reform of the Armed Forces of Ukraine more aggressively. Ukraine has suffered from consistent Russian military aggression since Russia occupied the Crimean Peninsula and militarily intervened in the eastern Ukrainian Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in 2014. The overall unpreparedness of the Ukrainian military and its inability to match the capabilities of Russian forces allowed Russian and Russian proxy forces to gain a foothold in eastern Ukraine from which they continue to destabilize the entire country. The Ukrainian armed forces have been partially restructured and strengthened in the face of this constant pressure, enough to stabilize the front lines for a time. They require significantly more support of all varieties, however, if they are to stop the advance of Russia and its proxies permanently, to say nothing of reversing the armed occupation of Ukrainian territory.

The Long-Term Risks of a Premature Ceasefire in Ukraine

December 2, 2022 - Press ISW

The wise-seeming counsel of seeking compromise with Russia at a point of high leverage for Ukraine is a dangerous folly now. It merely puts off and makes even more dangerous the risks we fear today. It might make sense to buy time in this way if time favored us. But it does not—time favors our adversaries. Accepting risk now to reduce the risk of worse disaster in the future is the wisest and most prudent course of action for the US, NATO, and Ukraine.

The Kremlin’s Irregular Army: Ukrainian Separatist Order of Battle

September 7, 2017 - Franklin Holcomb

Russian President Vladimir Putin's political-military campaign in Ukraine undermines Ukraine's sovereignty and threatens Europe more than three years after Russia's invasion. Russian leaders will continue to extend and exploit the war to destabilize Ukraine and prevent its further integration with the West until the costs of their campaign change their calculus.

The Kremlin Leverages Cyber Cooperation Deals

August 13, 2020 - Press ISW

The Kremlin is successfully expanding its global cyber footprint to contest the West by signing cooperation deals in the field of international information and communications technologies (ICTs). The Kremlin prioritizes these deals to set conditions to expand its access to global technical networks and infrastructure, as well as to develop its human networks and institutional links around the world. The Kremlin launched this campaign in 2014, shortly before releasing an updated information security doctrine in 2016, which continues to guide Russian cyber policy. This campaign supports the Kremlin’s strategic goal of subverting Western global influence via nontraditional means. The Kremlin will likely use these deals to increase its cyber-attack capabilities and expand influence in key regions. The Kremlin may additionally use these deals to garner support for a Kremlin-friendly resolution on ICTs in the UN to shape international norms in cyberspace.

The Case Against Negotiations with Russia

November 17, 2022 - Press ISW

Negotiations cannot end the Russian war against Ukraine; they can only pause it. The renewed Russian invasion in February 2022 after eight years of deadly “ceasefire” following the first Russian invasions of 2014 demonstrates that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not rest until he has conquered Kyiv. Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion this year shows that Ukrainians will not easily surrender. The conflict is unresolvable as long as Putinism rules the Kremlin. Negotiations won’t change that reality. They can only create the conditions from which Putin or a Putinist successor will contemplate renewing the attack on Ukraine’s independence. Before pressing Ukraine to ask Russia for talks we must examine the terms Ukraine might offer Russia, the dangers of offering those terms, and, more importantly, the likelihood that Putin would accept them.

Target Russia’s Capability, Not Its Intent

December 20, 2022 - Press ISW

US policy should recognize that the Kremlin’s intent regarding Ukraine is maximalist, inflexible, and will not change in the foreseeable future. The West should stop expending resources trying to change a reality it does not control and focus on what it can shape plenty: denying Russia’s ability to wage a war against Ukraine. Negotiations, ceasefires, and peace deals are not off-ramps but rather on-ramps for the Kremlin to renew its attack on Ukraine in the future under conditions that advantage Russia. They are means to the same ends—full control of Ukraine and eradication of Ukraine’s statehood and identity. The vital US interest in preventing future Russian attacks on Ukraine can be best achieved by denying Russia the capability to carry out those attacks. The immediate requirement is preserving Ukraine’s momentum on the battlefield—accounting for a possible renewed offensive from Russia this winter—to ensure that Ukraine secures the most advantageous position possible. The West should also eliminate Russia’s ability to attack Ukraine in the future, including by denying Russia a military foothold in Ukraine from which to launch attacks, resisting "peace" deals that the Kremlin will use to buy time to reconstitute its forces, not empowering the Russian defense industrial complex with access to Western markets, and committing to building Ukraine's defensive capabilities over the long term.

Special Report: Assessing Putin’s Implicit Nuclear Threats After Annexation

September 30, 2022 - Press ISW

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not threaten an immediate nuclear attack to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensives into Russian-occupied Ukraine during his speech announcing Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory. Putin announced Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhia oblasts on September 30 even as Ukrainian forces encircled Russian troops in the key city of Lyman, Luhansk Oblast, immediately demonstrating that Russia will struggle to hold the territory it claims to have annexed. Putin likely intends annexation to freeze the war along the current frontlines and allow time for Russian mobilization to reconstitute Russian forces. The annexation of parts of four Ukrainian oblasts does not signify that Putin has abandoned his stated objective of destroying the Ukrainian state for a lesser goal. As ISW assessed in May, if Putin’s annexation of occupied Ukraine stabilizes the conflict along new front lines, “the Kremlin could reconstitute its forces and renew its invasion of Ukraine in the coming years, this time from a position of greater strength and territorial advantage.”

Russia’s Unprecedentedly Expansive Military Exercises in Fall 2020 Seek to Recreate Soviet-Style Multinational Army

October 20, 2020 - Press ISW

The Kremlin has conducted military exercises in fall 2020 on an unprecedented scale, much deeper than usual integration of Russian and foreign military units, and a pattern of modifying pre-announced activities significantly but presenting them as normal and unchanged. These exercises mark significant developments in the Kremlin’s campaigns to integrate the security forces of Former Soviet Union (FSU) states into Russian-dominated structures. Russian forces conducted simultaneous exercises on a scale nearly equivalent to that of two normal annual capstone exercises, suggesting that Russian forces may be able to mobilize and control more combat units and at higher echelons than had previously been assessed. The Kremlin covered new deployments to Belarus by branding them as “preplanned exercises” to create a false sense of normality. The Kremlin will likely exploit this kind of rebranding as an instrument of its hybrid warfare toolkit to cover actual combat deployments abroad. Moscow also announced that it would intensify efforts to gain United Nations recognition of the revivified multinational military it is trying to create in the FSU as a legitimate peacekeeping force. There are several concrete steps the United States and NATO should take to mitigate these new threats.

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