The point of this post is how what will be the territorial objectives of Russia in Ukraine and how will they execute. There has been a great amount of spin from both sides about Ukraine's unity. One side says there is total unity, and the other says the country is divided along linguistic lines. Below are some maps that give you an idea how Ukraine breaks down geographically:
The 2004 election:
The 2006 election:
The 2007 election:
The trend is pretty clear, Ukraine is a country divided at least politically. Then consider the linguistic breakdown of Ukraine:
It's very clear that Ukrainians are divided politically by the language of origin. That goes along way in explaining why the first act of the new Ukrainian parliament was to remove Russian as an official language of Ukraine.
Not as important as territory, but still an important factor to the Russians, is the booty that an invasion of Ukraine can yield. Here is a look at the industrial assets of Ukraine:
Mines,oil, gas fields, and coal:
You will note that the vast majority of Ukraine's developed natural resources are in the east and southeast of Ukraine.
You will note here that 75% of Ukraine's nuclear generation capabilities are located in the east and south east of Ukraine - while the disabled Chernobyl is just in the western boundary.
Then consider the military defence of Ukraine. Even its military commands are broken down in a similar fashion:
Bottom line - Ukraine is divided along linguistic, political, economic, and even military command lines.
The Ukrainian military forces are laid out:
Ukrainian military bases are laid out:
Ukrainian Air Defense bases are laid out:
Ukraine's highway system:
Although Ukraine's military is somewhat spread through the country, most of its strategic forces are located in the western portion of the country. This could better preserve them from immediate Russian attack in the east and southeast, but leaves the both very vulnerable to quick Russian occupation.
Strategically, militarily, economically and politically Ukraine is exposed to occupation and separation in its south and east. The question is whether Russia will decide to take these areas to support its goal of territorial buffer zones with the West. The logical conclusion, given Russia's military and political moves is yes.
The first move was securing the Crimea. This takes care of a number of issues for Russia. Firstly, it allows Russia to transfer the S-300 and 400 air superiority missile systems into Crimea, bringing all of south east Ukraine into their range. That allows Russia to clear Ukrainian skies of any airborne threats - such as planes, helicopters, and missiles of all types. Russia achieves immediate air superiority. Taking the Crimea, and blockading the majority of Ukraine's fleet in port, clears the way for amphibious operations against areas like Odessa that would otherwise be compromised by a large naval presence. Finally, Crimea flanks eastern Ukraine, creates a second front, and gives the Russians a secure start line for a southern invasion. Therefore, I see Crimea as a necessary piece in the invasion puzzle, and not as a "crown jewel" that Russia has craved to own.
The second move has been positioning and battle drilling troops along Ukraine's eastern border. For a military that has not seen conflict of any serious scope for a generation, preparation is crucial to success. Military reports indicate that Russian airborne forces have been deployed in Crimea and along the eastern Ukraine border. The strength reported is divisional, and is likely the 7th Guards Airborne Division normally situate in the Moscow area. Also, light armored personal carriers (APC's) and tanks, designed for the airborne to be dropped with them, have been sighted on transport trains headed into the area, and on the roads - also headed to the eastern Ukraine border. This element is crucial.
There are a number of bridges in south east Ukraine that would need to be secured prior to advancing armor and infantry arriving. If the Russians don't secure these, an advance could get bogged down behind rivers. Expect to see airborne drops east of Odessa all the way to just north of Crimea, and along the Dnipro River which separates eastern and western Ukraine. This will serve the dual purpose of securing bridges for advancing troops and trapping elements of the Ukrainian military placed in the east for defence.
Armor will be a big factor in this action, as will APCs. Ukraine has vast plains suited perfectly for fast tank warfare and fast moving mechanized infantry. The Russians have moved vast numbers of tanks and APC's to the eastern border. Look for the Russians to send armor columns to Kharkov, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Poltava, and possibly Kiev.
The south east Ukraine will see more artillery, air, mechanized infantry, marine and airborne operations. The geography of the area, and the closeness to naval and air bases in Crimea, make these options ideal for the capture of Odessa and the south east.
The occupation of east and south east Ukraine will take less than a week. When it's over everything will have changed. Ukraine, on top of its already dire economic circumstance, will have lost a vast majority of its natural resources. Its electric power grid will be significantly diminished. It will be land locked and half the size it was. Its military will be either destroyed or captured. Its civilian population will be in a state of chaos, and the Russians will likely achieve their goal of removing this group from power. That could allow them to leave.
Or, they could stay. If the Russians stayed they would have created a land locked buffer zone between them and NATO. Significantly, they would surround what's left of Ukraine on three sides - making it permanently weak. In addition, they would completely control the Black Sea, and solidify themselves between Turkey and the rest of NATO.
Economic sanctions are not a factor in this equation. Russia has the lowest debt ratio to GDP of any of the actors, and any of its moves will cause chaos in western economies beyond the scale Russia could be affected. It is not the oligarchs in Russia that decide if Putin stays or goes. It's the other way around. Banking on this would be wishful thinking. Whether Russia stays or goes in Ukraine depends on whether it wants to re-position strategically or whether it wants to alter the world economic order at this time. Personally, I lean to a Russian occupation of the east and south east, with some areas choosing to join Russia permanently. An occupation gives Russia so many tools to influence world events that it is almost irresistible to the chess playing bunch down at the Kremlin.