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I have seen the declarations like "For Russia this conflict is about preservation not only of its elites, but the country itself". It looks that there are people who think that Russia can be destroyed completely as a country if Ukraine wins.

How do they envision this? Ukraine has a population of 44.13 million while Russia has 144.1 million. The demographic proportions are likely comparable. Are they really afraid of Ukraine advancing towards Moscow, Saint Petersburg, etc., and taking them? Or do they think this may happen some other way?

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    Political rhetoric does not need to be based in any fact. Jul 20 at 20:50
  • I always understood the situation to be primarily a question of Russia's confidence and ability to successfully handle Western-backed forces on its doorstep. States can collapse not only because boots trample their soil, but also because internal forces are unleashed which prove uncontrollable. Nobody seriously suggests Ukraine can take over Russia. The question is can the West deprive Russia of control over Ukraine or not.
    – Steve
    Jul 23 at 19:37

6 Answers 6

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What is Russia?

There are the Russian people. A common language, a common history, historically a common religion. They have a sense of being "a people" and of being the core of the Russian nation.

Then there is the Russian nation. The society considers itself as a successor

The Russian Empire saw itself as the rightful overlord of various Russian and non-Russian people. Three of those formed the core: what is today called Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, the main East Slavic countries. Others were less firmly anchored to the Empire, e.g. Finland, the Baltics, Poland, the Caucasus, Central Asia. To most Russians, the loss of Poland is old history, an old scar. The loss of Belarus and Ukraine is an open sore, which puts into question what being Russian means.

If Russian society accepts that Ukraine (and also Belarus) are their own nations, some of them might think that a process has started with no clear end state. If one province can break away, where does it end? The Kremlin ruling over Muscovy only?

This is not what all Russians think. But enough of them think so to make it a powerful political factor.

The Russian Federation is a multi-ethnic state with a majority ethnic group which dominates the rest. That creates tensions which make "Russia" more brittle. It would be survivable for Russia if e.g. Chechnya or Dagestan were to go their separate ways. But if Belarus and Ukraine, which are not now part of the Russia, were to maintain their independence, that would expose those faultlines. In that sense, an independent Ukraine is a threat to Russia by being independent, and even more so if Ukraine is democratic and Russians get to compare that with their own situation.

So Ukraine cannot physically destroy Russia. But it could morally destroy the sense of Russian national unity and legitimacy, by making it plain that that there is more than one possible successor of the Kievan Rus. Imagine a hypothetical where the New England states left the United States. The rest would still be vastly more powerful, but it might be the first pebble of an avalanche.


Follow-Up: Users Trilarion asked for sources, if possible authoritative ones. The problem here is that this reasoning mixes Russian statements, facts on the grounds, and takes them to the logical conclusion.

  1. President Putin claims that Ukraine is part of Russia, not a distinct nation, and that what he calls the liberation of Ukraine is the historic duty of the Russian leadership. (I hope no citations are necessary. That's the "Russian sources" part of the reasoning.)
  2. Ukraine has resisted the Russian invasion much more strongly than Russia anticipated, even if Russia insists on calling it a special military operation which is going to plan. (Again, I hope that no citations are necessary for this. That's the "facts on the ground" part of the reasoning.)
  3. If Ukraine manages to defeat the Russian invasion, and even to re-take Crimea (which was not Ukrainian until 1954), then the Russian leadership has failed in their historical mission. This is a clear possibility. (That's the logical conclusion from the prior two statements.)
  4. This failure could well endanger the stability of the Russian Federation. (The weakest of the four statements. It draws on the fact that since Czarist times, Russia ruled over conquered minorities that do not quite feel Russian. Instability may or may not follow a Russian defeat, but the risk is certainly there.)

A Russian government source would confirm point 1, deny point 2, and likely refuse to speculate based on the combination of points 1 and 2.

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  • Interesting answer, but is this really backed up by any sources? Has there been any Russian politician on record saying, Ukraine is destroying our sense of National unity? If so, it might be good to link to it.
    – Trilarion
    Jul 21 at 21:16
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    @wrod no worries. all answers here run the risk of being mistaken for the answerer's own opinions, because of the nature of the question. but it is an interesting question. Jul 22 at 0:11
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    @Trilarion, this is mostly based on a lecture followed by a Q&A session by a political scientists born in the Russian-leaning part of Ukraine, now emigrated to Germany. It was not recorded.
    – o.m.
    Jul 22 at 4:38
  • @o.m. Ok. Do you remember this political scientist citing sources for his claims? If so, do you maybe remember some of these sources. If not, it's a bit like hearsay. At the very least the name of the political scientist might be interesting, so we can ask him/her if there are further questions.
    – Trilarion
    Jul 22 at 11:07
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    @Fizz, there is this double negative, which is somewhat speculative. If according to Putin Ukraine is really part of Russia, then failing to control Ukraine means he is no longer in control of what he considers all of Russia. And if enough Russians agree that he failed, then he has a problem ...
    – o.m.
    Jul 23 at 13:10
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Ukrainian government has never issued any official statements regarding destroying Russia as a country. The alleged threats to Russia are not based on fact, but instead are completely fake (the articulated fictional scenarios often include aggressive NATO attacks on Russia). These fictions served and continue to serve as justification by the Russian government for the war against Ukraine.

Ukrainian government's official goals are taking back all Ukrainian territories that are within the internationally recognized borders of Ukraine, pre-2014 Russian invasion.

REFERENCES:

Russian war aims have contracted from conquering Ukraine to simply expanding the territory of the statelets it supposedly went to war to protect. By contrast, Ukraine’s war aims have grown from survival to the recovery of all territory lost to Russia since 2014.

The Evolving Political-Military Aims in the War in Ukraine After 100 Days. Philip Wasielewski. Foreign Policy Research Institute. Jun 9, 2022: https://www.fpri.org/article/2022/06/the-evolving-political-military-aims-in-the-war-in-ukraine-after-100-days/


The President stressed the importance of restoring territorial integrity.

According to him, the result of the war should be respect for the Ukrainian people, land and sovereignty of Ukraine.

"I understand that not all at once. I understand that this is a great challenge - the Russian Federation is fighting against us, whose army, as they say, is the second most powerful in the world," Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.

The Head of State noted that Ukraine must be ready for any security challenge, so it must build its defense system so as to always be able to respond to a possible Russian invasion.

"In any case, a united Europe and a united world is the only possibility of a strong army on the territory of our state, a strong Ukrainian army," he added.

(emphasis here and below is mine - TS)

Ukraine will win if Europe and the world continue to be united - President, 14 June 2022: https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/ukrayina-peremozhe-yaksho-yevropa-ta-svit-i-nadali-budut-oby-75813


And I ask everyone who has such an opportunity to communicate with people in the occupied south, in Donbas, in the Kharkiv region. Tell them about Ukraine. Tell them the truth. Say that there will be liberation. Say it to Kyrylivka, Henichesk, Berdyansk, Manhush. Say it to Horlivka, Donetsk, Luhansk. Say it to everyone in the Kharkiv region who is still forced to see the Russian flag on our Ukrainian land. Tell them that the Ukrainian army will definitely come.

Of course, we will liberate our Crimea as well. The flag of Ukraine will fly again over Yalta and Sudak, over Dzhankoi and Yevpatoriya. And let every Russian official who has seized precious land in Crimea remember: this is not the land where they will have peace.

There is no one today who will say exactly how long our path to victory will take. But the vast majority of people today are already aware - this is our path. This is how this war will end.

Tell people in the occupied territories about Ukraine, that the Ukrainian army will definitely come - address by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, 13 June 2022: https://www.president.gov.ua/en/news/govorit-lyudyam-na-okupovanih-teritoriyah-pro-ukrayinu-pro-t-75801


Speaking in the Grand Kremlin Palace, Putin read a short speech that touched on NATO and scolded the United States for creating biological laboratories in the former Soviet Union.

Putin said Russia had evidence that the United States had been trying to create components of biological weapons in Ukraine, a claim Washington and Kyiv have denied.

Besides NATO's "endless expansion policy", Putin said the alliance was reaching far beyond its Euro-Atlantic remit - a trend he said that Russia was following carefully.

Moscow says NATO threatens Russia and that Washington has repeatedly ignored the Kremlin's concerns about the security of its borders in the West, the source of two devastating European invasions in 1812 and 1941.

Putin says the "special military operation" in Ukraine is necessary because the United States was using Ukraine to threaten Russia through NATO enlargement and Moscow had to defend against the persecution of Russian-speaking people.

Putin sees no threat from NATO expansion, warns against military build-up. By Guy Faulconbridge. May 16, 2022: https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/russia-calls-finland-sweden-joining-nato-mistake-with-far-reaching-consequences-2022-05-16/

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    While this is probably correct wrt facts, that doesn't answer the question of how Russia's government is articulating the existence of a credible threat to its internal and external audience. Jul 20 at 22:03
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica: Thank you. I updated the answer to address this. Jul 20 at 22:14
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Well, that article also says

This conflict is existential for most modern Western elites, who are failing and losing the trust of their populations.

and

This conflict is not about Ukraine. Her citizens are used as cannon fodder in a war to preserve the failing supremacy of Western elites.

which kinda sounds a bit lacking in the supporting arguments. But then again, the article leads with

Sergey Karaganov is a prominent Russian political scientist whom I have [...] interviewed many times as a window into Kremlin thinking.

so maybe it's just that, Kremlin thinking. And, in a way, it makes sense, if you change your viewpoint enough.


From the war angle, Ukraine alone obviously shouldn't be able to invade Russia. Not alone...

Mr. Karaganov warned for years about a potential conflict in Ukraine over NATO expansion. [...] we saw how deep Ukraine’s involvement with NATO was — a lot of arms, training. Ukraine was being turned into a spearhead aimed at the heart of Russia.

But it makes some sense in that if NATO wanted to start a land war in Russia, exactly in the way the probably feared a few decades ago, by aiming their armor divisions at Moscow, being able to use Ukraine would be a benefit. That's a bold "if"; I don't expect the people in the West would be really interested in that, but if one thinks in Cold War terms, and is paranoid enough, it starts to look scary.


The article also has this:

I am reiterating in most of my writings and public appearances that we should preserve freedom of thinking and intellectual discussion, which is still much wider than in many other countries. We do not have the cancel culture or impose the deafening political correctness. I am concerned about the freedom of thought in the future.

For what I hear from western media, it doesn't look like "freedom of thought" is that high on the priority list in Russia either.

So, I would perhaps take that article with a rather large crystal of salt, or as a report on the political propaganda. As a comment under the question says, political rhetoric doesn't need to be based on fact. And if you're in a country where the state controls the media, your arguments don't even need to be very good for the people to buy them, as they'll have a hard time finding contrary opinions anyway.


That said, Ukraine could be a problem politically.

Given how it's culturally somewhat close to Russia and was a major part of the Soviet Union, the fact that the people in Ukraine could oust a Kremlin-leaning president just by themselves, as happened in 2014, gives a bad precedent. If it works in Kyiv, who's to say it doesn't work some day in Moscow?

Not that it would necessarily be bad for the people in Russia, but any development of actual democracy would be bad for the regime. Hence, a threat, that warrants some action. Action that needs some rhetoric to justify it.

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    There actually were hopes / fears that Ukraine might overtake Russia as the place to be if you are Russian, by providing freedoms and institutions that seemed sorely lacking in Russia of 2000s. Nobody said that the Russian country has to be RF. However, after 2014 it has degraded so much that it was no longer dangerous to Kremlin in this regard - with all limitations on Russian language use, travel limitations, physical safety issues.
    – alamar
    Jul 21 at 22:41
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In his answer @alamar mentioned 1917, but 1991 must be also mentioned in this context. Both events (coups) were based on Russia (USSR) loosing the war. 1917 was not so much about World War 1, but more about the previous war with Japan 1905. 1905 was also a first attempt of uprising known as First Russian Revolution. 1989 USSR lost the war in Afganistan, which was one of the triggers for uprisings in Caucasus and Baltic states. As a result of that uprisings we got the end of USSR 1991 while 1917 was the end of Russian Empire, both events were based on a lost war.

Also since this conflict is often compared with Finland War 1940, one of the reasons for Hitler to atac USSR was that USSR was not able to beat Finland and such weak enemy is then realy ease to defeat for a much stronger country like Germany. If Russia can´t beat Ukraine, NATO could decide to use Russias weaknes and go for regime change. I know many will call it jus russian paranoia, but there is a famous statement by Biden and some other western polititian.

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  • The person interviewed in the article claims that for the West, this conflict represents an existential risk for the elites, but not for the nations itself, while for Russia there is an existential risk for the nation as a whole. Biden's animosity towards Putin opposes, rather than supports, this position. Biden's animosity was directed specifically towards Putin, and decidedly not against the Russian nation (the view of the West is that the Russian people are themselves victims of Putin), and was presented in a context of rejecting military force as the means of removing Putin. Jul 23 at 6:31
  • @Acccumulation As you can see from my answer to that question there were 5 example of similar statements by US presidents an twice it led to an intervention of the country and assasination of the leader.
    – convert
    Jul 23 at 10:10
  • So, your answer here refers both to an answer here by another poster, and and answer somewhere else by you. Answers on SE are supposed to stand on their own. Someone shouldn't have to read another answer to get sufficient context to understand yours. And your comment doesn't even address mine, because assassination of a leader falls under the "existential risk for elites" category, not "existential risk for country". The per capita GDP of Iraq today is about 4 times what it was in 2003. We didn't exactly destroy the country. Jul 23 at 17:46
  • @Acccumulation Iraq is still in some kind of civil war and many people have died, but GDP has grown, which also not prooven.
    – convert
    Jul 23 at 18:58
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    @Acccumulation Russian Empire not just lost in 1905 but also loosened quite a bit.
    – alamar
    Jul 23 at 20:35
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There is no way that Ukraine could destroy Russia as a country. What Ukraine could do is to threaten Putinism, by being a bordering example of a free and prosperous country.

Remember that the USSR installed barbed wire, minefields and vast numbers of troops on its borders to keep people from fleeing and interacting with the free countries of the West.

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    At the moment the West is the one instaling the wire.
    – convert
    Jul 23 at 22:31
-2

IMHO none of the offered answers address the question of the OP.

How could Ukraine destroy Russia as a country?

Alone, Ukraine doesn't stand a chance. This has nothing to do with politics, it's strictly numbers (circa beginning of the war):

  • Russia's population is roughly 3 times more than Ukraine's
  • Russia has 1 million active and 2 million reserve military personnel, compared to Ukraine's roughly 200 thousand active, one million reserve.
  • Russia has spent a significant amount of resources and time rearming and modernizing her military, Ukraine - much less so.
  • Russian has ~1.5 trillion USD GDP, Ukraine - 155 million

I have seen the declarations like "For Russia this conflict is about preservation not only of its elites, but the country itself".

I lived in the US for over 20 years. At the moment, I live in Russia. My advice - take what any US media or news outlet says with a grain of salt. In the article you linked, NY Times spins information in the light that the Russian government is actively harboring the elite class and subjugating lower, middle and perhaps even upper class citizens. While many Russian citizens might say similar things, the truth of the matter is - the Russian government provides an overwhelmingly large amount of subsidies, grants, and direct funding or in the form of funding investment forums/groups which in turn distribute the funds to lower class citizens, small and medium businesses. Analyzing the available resources, it becomes evident, that there is very little competition for this funding. Applicants have a roughly 50% chance to get said funding. This does not even take into account various tax incentives and tax returns that everyone who applies has a 100% chance of receiving.

Or do they think this may happen some other way?

Now we get to the real deal. The way the Russian government and by no means a small amount of Russia's population envisions this, is foreign aid to Ukraine.

  • Funding:
    • World bank - ~16 billion USD
    • USA - ~5 billion USD
    • EU - ~20 billion USD
  • Armament:
    • Poland:
      • Main Battle Tanks: 200+
      • Light Tanks: 250
      • Artillery: 18 + 100
      • Anti-Aircraft: unknown quantity shipped
    • Czech Republic:
      • Main Battle Tanks: 40+
      • Light Tanks: 56 + 20
      • Artillery: 30
    • Britain:
      • Light Armored Vehicles: 20 + 35 + 80 + 55 + 15 + 15
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: unknown quantity shipped
      • UAV: 20-30
    • Australia:
      • Light Armored Vehicles: 20
      • Artillery: 6
    • Denmark:
      • Light Armored Vehicles: 25 +50
      • Artillery: 5
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: 300
      • UAV: 25
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 2700
    • USA:
      • Light Armored Vehicles: 200 + 30 + 20 + 40
      • Multiple Rocket Launch System: ~20
      • Artillery: 90
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: 1400+
      • UAV: 72 + 100+ + 700 + ? + 121+
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 5500 + 4200 + 6000
    • Portugal:
      • Light Armored Vehicles: 4
    • France:
      • Artillery: 12
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: unknown quantity shipped
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 50 + 60
    • Germany:
      • Artillery: 7 + 12
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: 500
      • Anti-Aircraft System: 50
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 5100 + 3400 +
    • Norway:
      • Artillery: 20+
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 4000
    • Canada:
      • Artillery: 4
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 4500
    • Netherlands:
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: 200
    • Spain:
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 1370
    • Finland:
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 1500
    • Belgium:
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 200
    • Sweden:
      • Personal Anti-Tank: 10000
    • Total:
      • Main Battle Tanks: 240+
      • Light Tanks: ~350
      • Light Armored Vehicles: ~510
      • Artillery: ~300
      • Personal Anti-Aircraft: ~3000
      • Anti-Aircraft System: 50
      • UAV: ~1100
      • Personal Anti-Tank: ~45000

This does not take into account small arms and unconfirmed quantities or shipments. The numbers are staggering, and such military and financial build-up is what lies at the core of the threat to Russia, especially in light of several stages of NATO expansion (a military alliance at it's core), and talks of Sweden, Finland, Ukraine, Georgia, joining (among others). Ultimately all of this sums up to aggressive expansion on NATO's part. Besides this, there is a large amount of Russian citizens and/or ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, and since 2014, they have been victimized and targeted or "gone missing". This also creates an existential question, "If Russia does not stand up for her citizens or associated ethnicities, then who will, and what is the purpose of existence of a Russian government?" In February 2022, when Kiev's rhetoric changed to, "there will be no negotiations with the separatists, we will seek a military solution", the existential threat of purpose stacked with the previous military and financial aid, and served as a trigger to the start of the war.

Returning to the question:

How could Ukraine destroy Russia as a country?

The answer: With foreign aid.

Will it happen? Time will tell, but at this time, Russia is very far from the point where there is a need to seek a way out of the war, that involves compromises or agreements. There is enough will, power and resources to kepp going until Ukraine completely capitulates, especially in light of the major successes the Russian military achieved in June-July.

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    Could you add a source for this: In February 2022, when Kiev's rhetoric changed to, "there will be no negotiations with the separatists, we will seek a military solution".
    – Ivana
    Jul 21 at 14:07
  • Kind of a long-winded intro for such a short answer "with foreign aid", which doesn't really elaborate how that would destroy Russia. Are you suggesting Russia would be destroyed by the West given them all those weapons you've listed as aid??
    – Fizz
    Aug 30 at 12:05
  • @Fizz you don't like what I have to say in one answer, so you go down-voting all my answers? Nice. Yes - enough funding, foreign aid and "volunteers" can potentially turn the tide of the war. It doesn't look like there will be enough though - EU seems to be backing out of supporting Ukraine. But the question was asked one month ago, and the situation has changed quite a bit since that time.
    – MishaP
    Aug 30 at 12:22
  • I'm all for alternative viewpoints, but this answer makes no effort to explain how Russia would be destroyed by those 600 armored vehicles when they have thousands of nukes. As you say you lived 20 years in the US, I'm sure it's not an issue of language grasp that makes your answer... weird.
    – Fizz
    Aug 30 at 12:51
  • @Fizz where there is 600, there could be 6000. The vision, is the evidence of foreign aid, that formulates the threat that there could be MORE foreign aid, that will continue to grow, until Russia is destroyed.
    – MishaP
    Sep 23 at 8:52

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