Five Reasons Why Russia Won’t Be Invading America

To begin any analysis, you first must be knowledgeable about the subject.  The more you know, or the more data you have, then the better your analysis can be.  I don’t know anything about open heart surgery or the history of Nigeria or the Taft Administration, so I don’t hold strong opinions about those things, nor do I get into arguments about them.  I accept and have a healthy respect for the things I don’t know, which is nearly everything about most things.  But I do know a good bit about the Russian military, having graduated from the intelligence schoolhouse where we worked against a Soviet-style adversary.  We don’t expect a West African Tribes and Warlords analyst to produce intelligence about the Russian military; we don’t expect an Army fuel specialist to teach dynamic entry and room clearing techniques; and we shouldn’t expect those with no expertise in a given field to produce authoritative intelligence.

Similarly, Americans are horrendously bad at looking at scenarios and events through American-colored glasses.  We can’t try to solve problems in the Middle East from an American perspective, although we have and continue to (and the case can be made that we’ve failed to solve a single of their problems without creating more in its stead).  And we can’t look at Russian political and military objectives through the lens of Americanism, although many do.  So let’s address the issue of the likelihood of a Russian invasion of America as ushanka-clad russkayas.

There are four significant caveats for this article.  One is that we ought to differentiate between a hot or cold war and an invasion.  The likelihood of a Russian invasion of America is extraordinarily low, while the chances of an overt conflict with Russia is growing.  This article only explains why a Russian invasion is very unlikely to occur.  The second is that we’re defining “invasion” in the traditional sense: littoral battles, amphibious assaults, and/or mass landings of ground forces on beaches or in ports of entry.  While Russian special operations forces like Spetsnaz could be a significant threat in the mission of sabotage and psychological operations in the homeland, that possibility is not considered in this article.  The third is that it’s possible that Russia could contribute to a coalition to invade the States, however, that also has a very low likelihood right now, and is not considered in this article.  And the fourth caveat is that a large-scale war is not initiated or provoked by the US.

After carefully reviewing the Russian military’s Order of Battle (OB), the known/suspected quality of forces, the combat strength, strategic planning, doctrine and military objectives (only Open Source information is considered/presented), here are five reasons why Russia won’t be invading the US, contrary to the adamant beliefs of others.  I’m willing to put money on it if they are.  (Last caveat: This article will present sufficient evidence to allay the fears of a Russian invasion, however, it’s not a months-long project.  It’s me at my computer doing this over the course of a few hours for free.)

1. Because their military isn’t designed, or ready, to project force globally.

Back during the Cold War, Russian military forces were designed to fight against and defeat major world powers, namely US/GBR/NATO and China.  Today their primary responsibilities range from peacekeeping and counterterrorism (Dagestan) to fighting small wars in the region (the Chechen Wars, Crimea/Ukraine).  In 2008, Russia invaded South Ossetia to protect that region from Georgian (pro-NATO/West) control, and those are the types of wars that Russia is best prepared to fight.  Russia sees local and regional wars as the most likely conflicts, and that’s in part why, at least since the reforms of 2008, the Russian military has been designed to fight regionally, not globally.  Current Russian military doctrine defines war in three types: local, regional and large-scale.  Here’s the Russian doctrine‘s definition of a large-scale war (block h, pg 2):

a war between coalitions of states or major world community states in which the sides would be pursuing radical military- political [objectives]. A large-scale war may result from the escalation of an armed conflict or a local or regional war to involve a significant number of states from various regions of the world. It would require the mobilization of all the participating states’ available material resources and spiritual forces;

According to Russian doctrine (which is kind of like the overarching military standard operating procedures), a large scale war would include a national mobilization of forces and resources, which we’ll get into later.

The extent of Russian kinetic operations since the beginning of Soviet rule in 1922 is limited mostly to eastern Europe and central/southwest Asia.  The core of Russian military strategy today is the deployment of rapid reaction forces to a specific region to fight a small war in order to protect Russian sovereignty, territory, society and the rights of Russian citizens.  Russia’s most likely adversaries are separatists and terrorists/Islamists, followed by NATO or pro-Western nations, and that’s who they’re preparing to fight in order to preserve Russian sovereignty/integrity.  Defending territorial integrity and protecting the Russian Federation and former Soviet satellite states from Western influence and/or control are top military objectives.  One thing we don’t see among Russian military objectives, and something for which they’re unprepared, is fighting ground war invasions across a major ocean that would include amphibious assaults.  From Russian doctrine (pg 3):

… despite the decline in the likelihood of a large-scale war involving the use of conventional means of attack and nuclear weapons being unleashed against the Russian Federation, in a number of areas military dangers to the Russian Federation are intensifying.

Russia has lots of experience invading other nations, but they’ve mostly involved deploying land forces within the limits of ground transportation.  Russia depends on rail to move its forces, and considering how expansive the Russian landscape is (by landmass, it’s the largest in the world), the ability to move troops across the entirety of northern Asia is no small task.  (And as long as US/NATO satellites and intelligence collection is functioning; the training, consolidation and transportation of an invasion force would provide plenty of early warning indicators.)  When we consider the movement of large amounts of forces across oceans, Russia’s location is a strategic asset and liability.  While having access to various bodies of water allows Russia to maintain a global presence, it also means that Russia has to split its naval forces by numerous Areas of Responsibility (AOR).  This lack of concentrated naval power diminishes the ability for Russia to quickly move and protect an expeditionary force across an ocean infested with US submarines adept at sinking surface ships, whether they’re troop or logistical transports.  (Even getting thousands of troops to US shores would pose a significant risk to the transports as well as the Russian homeland, especially considering submarine-launched ballistic missiles would be aimed at a dozen of the largest cities and military facilities in Russia.)  If you think that Russia’s navy has the wherewithal to strike at US shores, ask yourself this question: how many aircraft carriers does the Russian navy have?  I’ll answer that question below.

Lower down on the list of Russian military priorities we’d find fighting global wars that require national mobilization.  When we talk about an invasion of the States, what we’re talking about is a war that Russia has never fought.  (Not even the two World Wars come close, as Russia never had to deploy hundreds of thousands or millions of its soldiers across thousands of miles of ocean.  Both wars were fought in their own back yard.)  Considering Russian force projection is so dependent on rail and airborne operations, a successful invasion into the Western Hemisphere is a virtual impossibility for their ground forces, not to mention their transportation.  (And because of the climate of many of Russian naval stations, the ability to move an invasion force is severely limited due to frozen seas.  Even so, the size of the Russian Navy is 133,000; hardly a force that could sustain an invasion of either coast.)  At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had 140 divisions; today they have roughly the equivalent of 10 maneuver divisions (based on four regiments/brigades per division; 40 brigades in total).  The reforms of 2008 focused on cutting troop numbers while increasing unit efficiency.  Furthermore, it’s widely speculated that many of those active brigades are below combat strength, so the ability to deploy roughly 10 divisions is very low.  And not only does the Russian military suffer from inadequacies of combat strength, but they’re also plagued with corruption and violent crimes that negatively affect readiness.  Conscripts are often poorly educated and increase elements of criminality in the military system.  According to many sources, the inclusion of conscripted soldiers into the same ranks as the long-term, professional contract soldiers is another factor negatively affecting the quality of units.  Combat is solely the responsibility of contract soldiers who are paid more.  “There is no talk of draftees’ participation in combat operations or military conflicts.  These tasks will be fulfilled solely by contract servicemen,” Russian General Staff Chief Col. Gen. Valery Gerasimov said in 2013.

According to some figures, the Russian active force strength is estimated to be between 750,000 and a million personnel, including some 2.4 million in reserve.  To put that into perspective, the US invasion of Iraq would have utilized nearly half of all active Russian troops, as official figures put US personnel involved in the 2003 invasion at 466,000 personnel.  So the US utilized a half a million personnel to invade a country a little over half the size of Texas, and that invading force was potentially half of Russia’s entire active military.  A Russian invasion of the States would require a national level mobilization, an invasion force potentially into the millions, because there is no capacity among their active duty personnel.  So even if Russia fundamentally changed its military doctrine away from winning small, regional wars to winning global, expeditionary conflicts and invasions against vastly superior forces, they would need to mobilize the Russian Federation to have the manpower to even fight on the shores of the US.  (The ability to find suitable naval transports, and develop the ability to protect them, would outpace the need for bodies.)  Their ability to deploy those forces are greatly limited during the winter months, and the Russian Navy is outmatched against the US Navy.  The Russian Navy has just one aircraft carrier, 13 destroyers and 63 submarines (compared to the United States’ 10 aircraft carriers, 62 destroyers and 73 submarines).  (There’s little data I could find for a solid estimate of just how many of those Russian boats are combat-ready.)

Russia simply lacks the ability to project force (other than cyber), so in order to gain that capability Russia will have to fundamentally change its military strategy from the ability to counter Western influence, protect Russian interests from Western control and win small, regional wars (a la Donetsk and Lugansk), to focus on building expeditionary forces, a robust and capable blue water navy, and logistical trains capable of supporting sustained operations thousands of miles away and over sea, for what is likely years, if not a decade or longer.  Russian military strategy would also have to place a higher value on invading America than it would on protecting Russian interests in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Russia wouldn’t be able to do both because of the manpower requirements, and during an invasion or war with America, Russia’s separatists and Muslim terrorists would exploit that gap and attempt to redraw the boundaries of the Russian Federation, a prospect so grossly inconceivable to them that the possibility shouldn’t even be mentioned.

Now if you want to talk about a real Russian invasion, start with eastern Europe.  Russia names NATO specifically, and their actions, as its largest external threat (pg 3):

the desire to endow the force potential of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with global functions carried out in violation of the norms of international law and to move the military infrastructure of NATO member countries closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, including by expanding the bloc;

Russia’s most likely course of action to counter this external threat, if only kinetic operations are concerned, is to silently invade those nations (much like they’ve done in Crimea/Ukraine), not invade America.

2. Because they have better options.  If they wanted the US to feel the pain, they’d lay siege through cyber attacks, not a costly (and impossible) invasion.  If the Russian ego wasn’t already bruised after the decline of the Soviet Empire, it surely would be after a failed invasion.  What’s much more likely is that Putin and Russia continue to bolster themselves and their nationalism by harassing and provoking America by… I dunno, say, flying close to US and NATO airspace, or targeting Americans through identity theft, or selling advanced military equipment to US adversaries, or preparing more cyber attacks that will truly punish the USG while maintaining some level of plausible deniability, at least publicly.

3. Because much of their military has become technologically obsolete.  Much of their military equipment is from the Soviet-era; virtually all of their depots and stockpiles are Soviet-era equipment and munitions, albeit some of it retrofitted with modern technology (like their tricked-out T72s, for instance).  While they are producing “modern” munitions and equipment, they’re selling off a lot of the new stuff to fund their military, which has been downsized and is still breaking the bank.

4. Because they literally cannot afford it.  Have you seen the Russian economy?  The chart (USD/RUB) to the left shows the decline of the ruble against the USD (or rather the decline of the value of the RUB against the USD).  Gazprom recently posted a 41% decline in net profits, due in large part to Western sanctions.  Falling oil prices are also affecting Russia’s largest industry (70% of all Russian exports, 52% of government revenue, and 16% of GDP).  This is a serious matter for the Russian economy, and makes cyber attacks more likely and an invasion less likely (not like it was a very high likelihood from the get-go).

5. Because an expeditionary deployment of the magnitude required would leave the Russian Federation too vulnerable to NATO allies’ operations.  So what’s the world going to do as Russia invades America – stand around and twiddle their thumbs?  Hell, no.  Some would pitch in, but you could expect a swift response from NATO and other pro-Western allies to do the same thing to Russian territories as Russia is currently doing in Ukraine.  The possibility of nuclear warfare against Russia greatly increases if Russia poses a significant threat to US, and the US’ ability to counter Russian nuclear threats would bring us back to the days of Mutually Assured Destruction (or, we can only hope as long as Odinga is in charge).

I hope that I’ve made the point that a Russian invasion of the US is not going to happen, not even in Putin’s wet dreams.  Can we lay the issue to rest now and move on to a lot more important matters?  I can’t even believe that I wasted my time writing this thing, because the possibility is so far-fetched once we start examining the evidence and not just opinions.  Facts > Opinions, 100% of the time.


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