US Preparing for Multiple Ukraine Contingencies

Matthew Luxmoore for WSJ (“Russia Says Some Troops Pulling Back From Ukraine Border but Exercises Continue“):

Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had pulled back some troops from near Ukraine while noting that large-scale military maneuvers that have effectively surrounded Moscow’s smaller neighbor were continuing and Western officials warned that combat units were moving into forward positions.

The announced pullback of around 10,000 troops, out of a force estimated to have numbered about 130,000, came amid a new round of shuttle diplomacy aimed at defusing the crisis. Moscow has warned of unspecified consequences if the U.S. and its allies reject its security demands.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the situation regarding Ukraine, a day after Mr. Scholz visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv.

On Monday, U.S. officials said the Russian military presence near Ukraine had grown to 105 battalion tactical groups, up from 83 groups earlier this month. Russia has also moved around 500 combat aircraft within range of Ukraine and has 40 combat ships in the Black Sea, according to U.S. officials.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a video posted to the ministry’s website that, “A series of combat readiness drills, including exercises, have been completed in accordance with the plan.” He said troops and equipment were leaving Russia’s southern and western military districts by rail and road.

But Gen. Konashenkov also said that Russian military forces “are continuing a number of large-scale exercises that involve practically all military districts, fleets and the Airborne Forces.”

POLITICO‘s David Herszenhorn (“On stage at the Kremlin: Putin and Lavrov’s de-escalation dance“) adds:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his trusty foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, on Monday signaled that there would be no imminent military strike on Ukraine and that they were prepared to continue diplomatic dialogue with the West, led by the United States.

Coming after the U.S. warned that a major invasion could begin as soon as Wednesday, the geopolitical dance moves were so exquisitely choreographed that a meeting between Putin and Lavrov might have been better held on stage at the Bolshoi Theater, rather than around a huge rectangular conference table at the Kremlin.  

“Sergey Viktorovich,” Putin formally addressed Lavrov in a publicly released video clip of their encounter. “In your opinion, is there a chance,” he asked, giving a dramatic shrug of his shoulders, “to agree, to reach an agreement with our partners on key issues that cause our concern, or is it just an attempt to drag us into an endless negotiation process that has no logical conclusion?”

“Vladimir Vladimirovich,” Lavrov replied. “You have already said more than once — you, and other representatives of the Russian Federation — that we warn against endless discussions on issues that need to be resolved today.”

“But still,” Lavrov said, coming to his punchline, “I must say that there is always a chance.”

Citing the planned visit to Moscow on Tuesday by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and an array of other meetings, Lavrov added: “It seems to me that our possibilities are far from being exhausted. Of course, they should not continue indefinitely, but at this stage I would suggest that they be continued and increased.”

“OK,” Putin said, and quickly moved on to ask if Lavrov had prepared a written reply to the responses by NATO and the U.S. to Russia’s demands in December for new security guarantees. Lavrov said that indeed, a 10-page answer was ready to go.

Neither Putin nor Lavrov stand to win any acting awards — they have been playing their respective roles far too long to deliver much creativity or inspiration. But the global audience breathed a hefty sigh of relief nonetheless — particularly given the U.S. having warned ominously on Friday of cyberattacks, a ground invasion and missile strikes.

But there was further assurance from a separate meeting between Putin and his defense minister, Sergei Shoigu, who reported that some of the Russian military exercises that had raised alarm in the West had already drawn to a close.

“Large-scale exercises are taking place in the Western Military District, in almost all fleets — in the Barents Sea, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Pacific Fleet,” Shoigu said, according to a Kremlin transcript: “Troops from almost all military districts take part in them, including the Eastern Military District, the Central Military District, and the Northern Fleet. Some of these exercises are coming to an end, some will be completed in the near future.”

Russian officials, in fact, for weeks had derided the warnings by the West as hysterical, even as Moscow continued a massive military build-up along Ukraine’s borders, both on its own territory and in neighboring Belarus.

Lavrov’s repeated reminders that discussions should not go on forever — and the announcement that the U.S. and NATO would soon receive his 10-page reply — served as a warning that a threat of future conflict remains.

But there were other indications on Monday that everyone was looking to find ways out of the standoff.

At a meeting in Kyiv, Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy sent signals that Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO might end up on the back burner, potentially answering one of the Kremlin’s key demands, which was for a guarantee that Ukraine would not join the alliance.

Standing with Zelenskiy, Scholz also said he had received assurances that Ukraine would move forward with “the relevant draft laws that we need for the continuation of the Minsk process” — the implementation of the long-stuck peace accords intended to resolve the nearly eight-year-long war in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass.

While serious obstacles remain regarding the Minsk peace accords, the changed tone about Ukraine’s potential NATO membership was particularly notable, with Zelenskiy insisting that his country had not given up its aspiration to join the alliance, but also acknowledging that all allies — they currently number 30 — would have to approve.

WaPo columnist David Ignatius (“Does Putin want a diplomatic solution in Ukraine? It’s not looking that way.):

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Ukrainian saber dance continued Monday, with his top aides suggesting the possibility of diplomacy and de-escalation even as Russian troops remained poised for attack on the border of Ukraine.

Will he or won’t he invade? Putin loves to keep the world guessing. Biden administration officials, knowing they can’t read Putin’s mind, continue to prepare for both possibilities — a Russian invasion or a round of diplomacy.

Monday’s contradictory signals illustrated the strange shadow play of the Ukraine crisis. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Putin in a televised meeting that diplomatic possibilities were “far from exhausted” and recommended “continuing and intensifying them.” And Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that some of the “exercises” that have sent more than 130,000 Russian troops toward attack positions would be ending soon.

Yet U.S. intelligence detected no signs Monday of de-escalation on the ground. Instead, some Russian units continued to move forward. And the Russian news agency TASS quoted the leader of a Russia-backed separatist enclave in eastern Ukraine, saying that the situation was “unstable” and Ukrainian “professional saboteurs” might be preparing to attack. That sounded like a version of the “casus belli” that Russia seeks.

Putin seems convinced that this ever-intensifying war of nerves is helping Russia. But White House officials believe this tactic may be backfiring in two ways: Some Russian officials, uncertain of Putin’s endgame, are questioning his brinkmanship; and Western nations, unsettled by Russian bullying, are rallying around a NATO alliance that seemed depleted just two years ago.

The Biden administration may be overly optimistic about a crisis that could still be in its early stages. But officials believe that Putin’s threats have made U.S. allies in Europe and Asia recognize the importance of U.S. leadership and military power, galvanizing partnerships abroad that the Trump administration severely weakened. Officials see Putin’s actions as a wake-up call for the West — and in that sense, a big strategic boost for what had been a sagging United States.

For the Biden administration, the underlying puzzle in the Ukraine crisis is what might be called the “Putin factor.” The Russian leader turns 70 this year. He has the military power to flex his muscles and burnish his legacy by regaining a piece of the old Soviet Union. Putin operates in such isolation that foreign visitors sometimes aren’t allowed to see him; instead, some are instructed to fly to Moscow and talk by a dedicated landline to the invisible, unapproachable Kremlin leader.

U.S. officials believe that some of Putin’s advisers see danger ahead if Putin invades but they aren’t able to get this message to the boss. The sanctions that would follow an assault on Ukraine would make it hard for Russia to sell its energy abroad or to buy the technology it needs to supply its defense industry, let alone the rest of the economy. Russia’s financial reserves are large, but they would quickly be depleted as it sought to bolster its currency and pay its bills. U.S. officials reckon that under sanctions, Russia would be starved of inputs, and China, its only major ally, couldn’t fill the gaps.

Ignatius’ colleagues Ellen Nakashima and Ashley Parker report (“Inside the White House preparations for a Russian invasion“) that the Biden administration is preparing for every contingency:

As fears grow of potential Russian aggression against Ukraine, a “Tiger Team” led by the White House is quietly gaming out how the United States would respond to a range of jarring scenarios, from a limited show of force to a full-scale, mass-casualty invasion.

The White House team has staged two multihour tabletop exercises — including one with Cabinet officials — to bring the scenarios to life and assembled a playbook that outlines an array of swift potential responses, starting with Day One and extending through the first two weeks of an envisioned Russian invasion.

The effort, senior administration officials said, has not only helped them anticipate possible complications, but has also prompted them to take actions ahead of time, such as exposing Russian information warfare before it’s carried out to blunt its propaganda power.

“Our hope is still that there’s a diplomatic path to avoiding all of this so we never have to use the playbook,” said Jonathan Finer, deputy national security adviser to President Biden. “But this is all about making sure we are ready to go if and when we have to be.”

The “Tiger Team” — a term referring to a diverse group of experts who are tackling a specific problem and that suggests alertness and a readiness to pounce — was created after National Security Council officials last October detected troubling signs of a massive Russian troop buildup on the Ukrainian border.

NSC officials readily admit they may be unable to precisely anticipate the moves of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military leaders. But the exercise and robust planning is still worth it, they said.

“The reality is that what the Russians may end up doing is not likely to be a 100 percent match for any of these scenarios,” Finer said. “But the goal is for them to be a close enough facsimile of what they end up doing that the plans are useful in terms of reducing the amount of time we need in order to respond effectively. That’s really the whole goal.”

This all strikes me as prudent.

Whether through Biden’s leadership or sheer confluence of interest, the core NATO allies are united in pressuring Putin to refrain from further incursions into Ukraine and sending every signal that the consequences will be harsh. They are, quite wisely, not bluffing about a military response that Putin knows will not be forthcoming. The economic sanctions alone should be enough to dissuade but, for reasons Ignatius outlines, it’s impossible to get inside Putin’s calculus here.

Bowing to the reality that Ukraine is not going to become a NATO ally is tricky. It has long been the Alliance’s stance that any European nation that wishes to join and agrees to abide by certain conditions for membership is welcome to join. At the same time, as the membership has steadily crept closer to Russia’s borders, several core allies—most notably France and Germany—have made it clear they will not antagonize Moscow by supporting expansion. And, frankly, they’re right.

Which brings us to the dilemma that we faced at the outset of this crisis. Publicly declaring that the United States will not support Ukraine’s accession would be a mistake, effectively rewarding Putin’s aggression and lawlessness. At the same time, there is no US interest in defending Ukraine’s borders with military force.

Allowing Russia to walk away with the face-saving pretense that this was all just a big training exercise but with a private assurance that Ukraine won’t become a NATO ally is the obvious way out. But it only works if neither side crows about making the other back down.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JohnSF says:

    The problem is that locking Ukraine out of NATO is most likely not the key objective of the Russian government.
    Preventing Ukraine from becoming integrated into the European economic/legal space is probably the more important goal in the short to medium term.

  2. JohnSF says:

    Russian Parliament Backs Plan to Recognize Breakaway Ukrainian Regions

    This could be a key shift: if Russia recognizes, and effectively annexes, then it could be a face saver for the reality that Kiev is not going to accept the Moscow interpretation of the Minsk accords.
    If Ukraine won’t swallow the “poison pill” of a veto wielding Luzhansk/Donetsk “autonomous zone” as a Russian proxy, and NATO states are not willing to force it to do so, the “Munich-in-reverse” ploy may be blocked.

    Ukraine remains free to align economically and legally with the EU, Russia gets L/D Donbas (plus Crimea) as a rather poor consolation prize. But will probably try another ploy to coerce Ukraine in future.

    The question is: does Putin decide on a retreat at this point?

  3. DK says:

    At the same time, there is no US interest in defending Ukraine’s borders with military force.

    Serious question: why is this a dilemma? Putin knows this. This is the status quo. NATO didn’t have any interest in defending a corrupt, dysfunctional country fighting separatists before Putin’s latest No Wire Hangers! eruption, and we still don’t.

    Who is really buying this “it’s about NATO expansion” bs from Putin, like he really believes Ukraine is close to NATO membership? Come on. This is about Putin’s Soviet nostalgia delusions, the Russian economy failing, Nalvany surviving, and Putin’s unpopularity with Russian youth. Not sure the status quo will reassure a paranoid dictator in the middle of a 69-going-on-70 life crisis.

    He sent 150,000 troops to revert to the status quo, not to wrestle more land away from Ukraine? Hard to buy but okay.

  4. DK says:

    Who is really buying this “it’s about NATO expansion” bs from Putin, like he really believes Ukraine is close to NATO membership?***

    ***besides Tulsi Gabbard, Josh Hawley, and the usual Gazpacho brains (Glenn Greenwald, Sully, Taibbi, Michael Tracey etc)

  5. Scott says:

    Besides all the political and diplomatic maneuvering, there is this bit of reality albeit a small instance.

    Watch Russian tanks get stuck in mud during training exercise near Ukraine border

    In Eastern Europe, all eyes are on Ukraine, where as many as 130,000 Russian troops are staging near the border for what appears to all outside observers as a potential invasion. The questions of if, when, and how Russia might launch an attack are at the forefront, but Russian forces training near Ukraine are already dealing with the limitations weather may impose.

    Over the weekend, footage emerged of Russian tanks defeated by the elements. Posted to Twitter by Liveuamap on Feb. 10, the video shows a formation of tanks ground to a halt and stuck in the mud. A lone excavator is deployed trying to dig them out. The video was reportedly taken at a military range in the Rostov region of Russia, near the southeastern border with Ukraine.

    Over a dozen Russian tanks stuck in the mud during military exercise

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s going to be hard to find a way for Putin to save face because if he backs down it is a clear defeat for him and a clear victory for the US and NATO. I don’t know how that turd gets polished.

  7. Ken_L says:

    Some pundit at The Hill opines that “it’s almost impossible to see a scenario where Biden emerges in a strengthened position”. What he means, of course, is that no matter what happens, the Washington Press Rabble will spin it as another disaster for Sleepy Joe. We know that Niall Stanage and his colleagues decided months ago that Jimmy Carter ver.2 was going to be a one-term president, but it’s still a bit confronting to see it acknowledged so openly.

  8. charon says:


    Putin must know Ukraine will not even be eligible for NATO membership anytime soon, disqualified by being engaged in border disputes that will not be settled soon.

  9. Michael Cain says:


    Preventing Ukraine from becoming integrated into the European economic/legal space is probably the more important goal in the short to medium term.

    I’ve begun to believe the economic argument. Ukraine is one of the great grain-exporting regions of the world. I can think of a number of reasons Russia would want to control that. Whether they’re worth the downsides of annexing, only Putin knows what he thinks about that. I do wonder if there haven’t been some phone calls to the effect of, “Nice grain business you’ve got there. Be a real shame if something disrupted the entire planting season, yes?”

  10. Jim Brown 32 says:

    A re-assuring development that they are up-ing their game and learned from the Afghanistan debacle. Most Administrations need several screw ups to learn that you can’t walk in off the street with internet forum and punditry logic and think you know more than people that are paid to think about these problems for a living. Many regional experts have 20 years learning a region. I have personally watched several political appointees jump in and drown because…it all looked so simple from the outside–and sounded so obvious on the internet. That is–until you you have to think of the 2nd-3rd-4th order effects because you’re either trying to keep people from getting killed or you’re trying to minimize the number of people that could lose their life.

    This Ukraine thing is serious business–not my region of expertise admittedly–but there are a lot of moving parts you won’t see on the news. Lots of opportunity for miscalculation and escalation–that “no one could have predicted,,” cop out isn’t going to fly here. There are people that have good ideas what can/will happen with each move. The professionals are paid to package all the moves/responses in a way that lowers the overall risk to the US and Allies and give POTUS the move flexibility and maneuverability with his/her options.

    Im glad we got amateur hour out of the way in Afghanistan– the stage here is too big for us to fail. And by fail–I mean we demonstrate that we have a cogent strategy, well executed, well coordinated, and are tactically nimble. We can do that regardless of the outcome with Ukraine itself.

  11. Stormy Dragon says:


    This could be a key shift: if Russia recognizes, and effectively annexes, then it could be a face saver for the reality that Kiev is not going to accept the Moscow interpretation of the Minsk accords.

    The problem is if those “breakaway regions” include Odessa, Mykolaiv, and Kherson, which would leave the remaining part of Ukraine completely landlocked.

  12. Scott says:

    @Jim Brown 32: Part of the professionalism is to keep the “Gang of 8” apprised of what is going on. I hope they are doing that on a daily business. Most of them are solid people with the exception, maybe, of Kevin McCarthy.

  13. James Joyner says:

    @DK: It’s a dilemma because publicly declaring that Ukraine will never be a NATO member would be a huge win for Putin and for illegal acts of aggression. It’s just really a terrible precedent that invites more of the same.

  14. JohnSF says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    If so, that would be an effective position of opting for a war.

    But all the sources I’ve read, say Duma specifically referred to

    “…Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics…”

    Origin of most reports appears to be this report on TASS:
    State Duma to send appeal to Russian president on recognizing Donetsk, Lugansk republics.

    So Odessa etc NOT referenced, not even other oblasts of Ukraine Donbas, just Donetsk and Lugansk.

    Unlikely to be purely Duma, given the control government and ruling party tend to have.
    If it was an independent Duma move that might be a major political development itself.

    But decision has been passed to executive; it would adjust to accommodate if the government decision was to seize the south/south-east.

    We still wait on Putin as the decider.

  15. Mikey says:

    @Scott: It’s actually really easy for tanks to get stuck in mud. You think they can go pretty much anywhere but no, deep sticky mud just won’t let them go. And some of the mud in Europe will pull the boots right off your feet. A 60-ton tank has no chance.

    Source: my many long weeks working alongside tanks in one of Germany’s muddiest training areas.

  16. Scott says:

    Who didn’t know that Zero Hedge was a front for Russian propaganda? That’s been alleged for years.

    US accuses financial website of spreading Russian propaganda

    U.S. intelligence officials on Tuesday accused a conservative financial news website with a significant American readership of amplifying Kremlin propaganda and alleged five media outlets targeting Ukrainians have taken direction from Russian spies.

    The officials said Zero Hedge, which has 1.2 million Twitter followers, published articles created by Moscow-controlled media that were then shared by outlets and people unaware of their nexus to Russian intelligence. The officials did not say whether they thought Zero Hedge knew of any links to spy agencies and did not allege direct links between the website and Russia.

    Zero Hedge denied the claims and said it tries to “publish a wide spectrum of views that cover both sides of a given story.”

  17. Slugger says:

    I am not happy about pulling our embassy out of Kyiv and putting it into Lviv. I think that our entire Foreign Service staff should know that their job entails some danger. We ask our armed forces to act at the risk of their lives, and State Department people should know that in addition to champagne receptions, lolling on the beach, and good seats to the ballet, we expect them to sometimes face real danger in their postings.
    It is possible that this move is calculated to send a message of some kind to Moscow, but the inhabitants of Kviv must think that the US is not resolute.

  18. Michael Reynolds says:

    Our erstwhile friend Drew – @Guarneri – suckled happily at the Zero Hedge teat.

  19. R. Dave says:

    Allowing Russia to walk away with the face-saving pretense that this was all just a big training exercise but with a private assurance that Ukraine won’t become a NATO ally is the obvious way out. But it only works if neither side crows about making the other back down.

    Side issue, I know, but I’ve always found it surprising that there’s not a stronger international norm against pretending offensive buildups are just “training exercises”. Seems to me that would increase the risk of actual exercises being mistaken for aggression and triggering an unintended conflict, so there’d a norm against that sort of thing.

  20. Kathy says:


    My assumption is that the Duma does as Putin wants, and not one damn thing more.

  21. Stormy Dragon says:


    So Odessa etc NOT referenced

    Not yet, but it is one of the highest concentrations of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, so it’s probably the next slice of salami.

  22. just nutha says:


    Who didn’t know that Zero Hedge was a front for Russian propaganda? That’s been alleged for years.

    Easy to know, more challenging to prove because…

    Zero Hedge denied the claims and said it tries to “publish a wide spectrum of views that cover both sides of a given story.”

    is such an easy excuse to make in a society that has our values systems.

  23. JohnSF says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Thing is, quite a few Ukrainians would rather, as a second best, have the occupied Donbas effectively annexed by Russia, than stomach them being returned on Russian terms.
    That is, as effectively Moscow-controlled proxies with veto powers in Ukrainian policy.
    The “reverse Munich” ploy IMO Moscow was aiming at trapping the West into forcing upon Kiev.
    And which the Biden administration, and most NATO/EU governments, avoided.

    Their return as integral sovereign territory of Ukraine (and Crimea, for that matter) might be preferred by Ukrainians, but at least this way they know where they stand.

    Actually arguably a foolish move, long-term, by Russia.
    It will wreck any chance of better relations between them and Ukraine, just as the German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine in 1871 blocked any reconciliation of France and Germany.

    But Putin has always pursued the tactical goals of Putin, above a rational strategy for Russia.
    The “Great Russia” ideology just provides a convenient cloak for self interest, to himself and the oligarchs.

    Which is not to say it does not have a genuine following, just not a decisive one.
    Rather like “Panslavism” in Tsarist Russia, for another late 19th century parallel.

  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    Russia peeling off the Donbas and Crimea leaves a more western-focused, anti-Russian Ukraine. Rather as if someone came along and stole Texas in a bid to make the US more Republican. Ukraine will be integrated into the European economy, their standards of living will rise while those in Russian-controlled areas will fall.

    And in a single blow he’s undone all of Trump’s work to undermine NATO, and he’s bent the knee to Xi while at the same time making the retaking Taiwan look even tougher for the Chinese. And by discouraging Europe from buying Russian gas he mortgages his economy to the Chinese.

    I must be missing something because I just don’t see a long-term gain for Russia in any of this. Or maybe Putin just ain’t that smart.

  25. dazedandconfused says:

    There are two possible reasons for getting our people out of the embassy. One is the ramifications of US citizens being killed by Russian fire. This not only leaves Biden at the mercy of the pundits for not getting them out of the way it carries dangerous implications on the escalation ladder front. Second is it might have been a desire to reinforce the reality to Zelensky that he’s on his own, there will be no cavalry coming over the hill to bail him out. Biden wants Zelensky looking to for a deal with Putin if there is one to be had.

  26. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Cain:

    I rather doubt it’s grain, per se, as Russia is already the world’s #1 exporter of grain.

    The “per se” is because of Crimea. It’s their warmest, longest-season fields. Expect that to fall in the future if the water shut-off by Ukraine continues for long. Right now they are mitigating that with wells but the projections are the aquifer can’t maintain that kind of draw for long.

  27. gVOR08 says:


    Preventing Ukraine from becoming integrated into the European economic/legal space is probably the more important goal in the short to medium term.

    An underlying tragedy here is that that would be the best way for Russia itself to go. Albeit best for Russia, not best for Putin.

  28. DK says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    A re-assuring development that they are up-ing their game and learned from the Afghanistan debacle.

    Afghanistan debacle = Biden learning from his Iraq War vote not to listen to the war contractor lobby and their media bootlickers. The biggest Afghanistan debacle is that the previous three presidents kept listening to ‘the generals’ aka “Victory is just around the corner, and this time we *really* mean it! Just need a half a billion more dollars.” Pfft.

    @Michael Cain:

    I’ve begun to believe the economic argument.

    Apparently, Putin’s grand plan to economically divorce Ukraine from the West included getting the US, Canada, and the EU to send Zelensky’s government billions in financial aid and weaponry over the past few months.

    Putin’s reputation for super clever strategery rests on him getting credit (that rightfully belongs to Jim Comey) for throwing the 2016 election for Trump, and what else? Killing and poisoning political opponents?

    This dude is bringing geopolitical clownery to new heights. “Fools! It was training exercises all along haha we pwned you!” OK clown

  29. JohnSF says:


    “…Crimea. It’s their warmest, longest-season fields.”

    Not by much.

    The Crimea is a bit milder due to the influence of the Black Sea, but the area south of the Don and Volga, and north of the Caucasus, is fairly similar in climate, and with much better water supply, and far larger.

    The Kuban (aka Krasnodar region) alone is about three times the size of Crimea, and pretty identical in climate, being just to the east of the Straits of Kerch, and produces around ten times the grain output of Crimea.

  30. dazedandconfused says:

    Losing 25% of their best wheat producing fields might be something the Russians would be willing to risk war for…just sayin’.

  31. JohnSF says:

    That’s Crimea = 25% area of the Kuban alone.
    The whole North Caucasia region is about 150,000 square miles, which is still only a small section of Russia.
    With climate not far off Crimea and plenty of water available.
    Crimea is about 10,000 square miles.

    In 2017 total Russian wheat production was around 70 million tonnes; Crimea approximately 1.4 million tonnes of all grains.

    Even in early harvest wheat it’s marginal compared to the zone between the lower Don/Volga and the Caucasus Mountains.

    In Russian agriculture, Crimea is a rounding error.

  32. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Mikey: Yes, it reminds me of something I heard from a safety engineer who, in a previous life, had been a liaison to a West German unit (this would have been around 1970). Friend observed, to a German officer, that the unit’s vehicles had extraordinarily large tires. German’s response: “The mud in Russia is very deep.”