As an analyst of global Russian information operations, I’m often asked to offer an opinion about what’s happening with this conflict. I’ve collated some of the most common questions and answers below. These opinions are mine alone, but I’ve provided references to other sources wherever I can. This is Part 2 of a series of Frequently Asked Questions on this conflict. You can read Part 1 here.
Q: Why won’t NATO and the US implement a “no-fly” zone over Ukraine?
A: This has become a point of contention between people who think we aren’t doing enough to help Ukraine, and those who are concerned that this specific action would lead directly to nuclear escalation. If implemented, NATO aircraft would be tasked with directly shooting down Russian aircraft. Experts believe this would quickly turn nuclear. Given that Putin is looking for excuses to do so, many believe we should be careful not to give him any. It’s also a tight airspace with many friendly nations (such as Poland and Ukraine) with aircraft using the Russian MiG platform. President Zelensky has expressed frustration and disappointment, saying, “All the people who will die starting from this day will also die because of you. Because of your weakness, because of your disunity.”
Q: If Putin is just bluffing about using nukes, then why should we hesitate to act now to intervene more in Ukraine?
A: Many believe that Putin’s nuclear threats amount to bluster and posturing. Others are less sure. For my part, I think Putin will very likely use at least one nuke as either a show of force and to induce panic, and he may do so through a proxy like Iran or North Korea to add plausible deniability. He may deploy one against a lesser target, or a target inside his own country. That all said, since he is likely to escalate no matter what is done to help Ukraine, the decision not to help in Ukraine may mean that many people may die at the hands of Russia’s continuing attacks.
Q: Attacking nuclear power plants is extremely alarming; what is the real danger presented here?
A: Russian forces captured the Chernobyl power plant site and took staff hostage. That site has been offline for years, and the reactor affected by the 1986 disaster there is encased in a concrete sarcophagus. Some have speculated that the site carries strategic value because others won’t go near it (or target it with artillery) for fear of stirring up radioactive waste. The Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant, the largest in Europe, is a different type of power plant, using pressurized water, with extremely thick containment domes. This reactor design is more resilient than Chernobyl or Fukushima, with less chance of leaving fuel exposed or leading to a hydrogen or steam explosion. However, purposeful sabotage of the six reactors at Zaporizhzhia could lead to a massive incident, maybe ten times bigger than Chernobyl. However, recent reports indicate it is now under Ukrainian control again. That could obviously change. Overall, these sites don’t represent a serious risk right now but they clearly could, and also help to drive a sense of menace and alarm. Those fears may also be used to undermine support for nuclear power globally, driving continued consumption of carbon fuels for decades.
Q: What future does Russia have at this point?
A: Russia has committed suicide. By forcing the imposition of sanctions, bans, and laws which can not now be easily reversed without major changes in policy, Russia has effectively exiled itself into a state of autarky — or full isolation. While they will likely develop ways to bypass some sanctions, Russia can not return to the world stage until Putin is removed from power, and a new regime is in place that fully renounces his actions. If Putin manages to prevail in his assault on Ukraine, then Russia will have only expanded the geographical reach of its isolation. Therefore, Russia has no future under Putin. He necessarily must be removed from power if the Russian people are to survive.
Q: What does a post-Putin Russia look like?
A: Smaller and more isolated, rolling back most gains made over the last 22 years. Many would demand that it give up all its territory in Ukraine, including the disputed regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, and Crimea. This could become the crux of a negotiated settlement. Other countries that have traditionally enjoyed ties with Russia may decide to distance themselves and move towards the European Union and NATO.
Q: Are Russia’s claims about hypersonic missiles credible?
A: Russia has both Iskander and Iskander-M (9K720 Iskander hypersonic) missile systems. Iskander missiles can carry conventional, thermobaric, nuclear, EMP (electromagnetic pulse), and cluster bombs. These are truck-mobile systems that can be positioned where needed. So far there is no evidence that any nuclear or EMP payloads have been deployed, but thermobaric weapons have been used.
Q: If Putin wants the land in Ukraine, why is he destroying so much and risking nuclear contamination?
A: Beyond the land, Putin is trying to effect a genocide as well as create a refugee crisis in the rest of Europe. Driving panic and destroying civilian areas helps create a flow of refugees. The people that remain are perhaps the most committed to Ukrainian sovereignty (in Putin’s logic) and thus deserve to be exterminated as part of his project of so-called “De-Nazification.” He is employing strategies of destruction that many recognize from previous campaigns in Chechnya, Syria, and Georgia. His goal may be more subjugation than capture and after Ukraine, he will likely move on to new targets such as the Baltic states.
Q: If we are serious about isolating Putin, shouldn’t we cut off purchases of Russian oil?
A: Yes, with asterisks. The United States imports somewhere around 3% of its oil from Russian sources. Europe buys 40% of its natural gas and 25% of its oil from Russia. There are concerns about disrupting the global energy supply, which will increase prices for other goods and services globally. No one wants to be blamed for increased inflation, and cutting off only US imports may not even have that much of an effect on Russia.
Q: Why are so many Republicans supporting Putin and against NATO?
A: Many see Putin as a bulwark of traditionalism against “woke” culture, because of alliances through groups like the World Congress of Families (Carlson; Malofeev; Dugin). Others like Putin because Russia is countering central banks and embracing cryptocurrencies. Groups like the Mises Institute and the John Birch Society have become extremely vocal in their support of Putin and opposition to NATO in recent days. It’s quite remarkable. Meanwhile outlets like Fox News are openly showing sympathy for Ukrainians while also complaining about gas prices and shilling Putin. This conflicting messaging is a “double bind,” and is a common mechanism of psychological control. Given the high percentage of participation by military, intelligence, and law enforcement personnel in the January 6th insurrection, it is also reasonable to think that a certain number of our armed forces personnel are also sympathetic to Putin.
Q: There are many reports of abandoned/destroyed military equipment. Is Russia running out of armaments in any way likely?
A: There are definitely reports that the equipment being sent to Ukraine by Russia is older, in poor condition, and sometimes being abandoned even while filled with supplies. Resupply logistics, especially for fuel, also seem to be a problem. The long convoy headed to Kyiv has met with many setbacks and slowed the invasion timetable significantly, running up costs. It is definitely possible that supplies may run low, however Putin seems committed to see this through no matter what. This suggests he will escalate and continue to send whatever they can to try to achieve their objectives.
Q: What’s going on with the trucker convoy in Washington D.C.?
A: This should be considered part of the global hybrid warfare theater. Right now maybe 100 trucks and 200 other vehicles are amassed in Hagerstown, Maryland, about 90 minutes north of Washington. They are deciding exactly what to do and where to head. While they themselves do not seem intent (or possibly able) to go to DC proper, there is chatter about them clogging the DC Beltway (I-495). There is also concern about other non-trucker extremist activity in Washington this weekend, especially tonight (March 5). This is a developing situation; please see my Twitter feed for any especially relevant updates. Of course, this situation is a mirror of the 1973 trucker strike (The Angry Truck Driver: ‘We’ve Got to Show ‘em’) that followed the CIA-backed trucker strike in Chile (C.I.A. Is Linked to Strikes In Chile That Beset Allende) that same year.
Thanks for your all your great questions. I’ve answered all that I credibly can right now. I’ll keep this series going as long as there’s something new and useful to say. If you have questions for Part 3, please email me or (send via Twitter DM) and I’ll try to address them. Follow me at @davetroy on Twitter; more information at davetroy.com.