Silent Thunder: The Russia-EU War of 2008
By Chris Nuttall
Author’s Disclaimer: There is a good chance that this may be outdated before anyone sees it, but never mind, it could be considered Alternate History if nothing else.
February 2008 – Kosovo declares independence from Serbia, much to the Serbs outrage and that of their Russian allies. The Russians do not move at once to take action – they have no choice, but to do something, as the loss of face involved in failing to do something would shatter Russia’s pretensions towards being a Great Power again – but they start preparing to take action. The Russian goal is to prevent permanent independence for Kosovo.
As the month goes on, unrest in Serbia and Kosovo continues to rise, with major damage being done to American and European interests. Several powers announce their intentions to evacuate their embassies as rioters threaten the lives of their people; the UNSC attempts to condemn what they see as Serbia ignoring the threat to westerners. The Russians veto the resolution.
March 2008 – Putin finally takes a stand and declares that Russia will not tolerate any pretensions of independence on the part of Kosovo. Putin has less room for manoeuvre here as he is coming under fire from both Russian nationalists and the Serbs; if Russia cannot live up to its promises, Russia will shortly have no allies left. He also starts reaching for various levers to use against NATO, from arms shipments to Iran and Serbia, to economic pressure against states dependent upon Russian energy supplies.
There is an absence of clear leadership in NATO or the EU. The US, heavily involved in Iraq, is less able to assert it’s authority, while not every state in the EU is enthusiastic about becoming embroiled with Russia. Poland demands stronger action and several alternate energy polices, including much more development of nuclear power. Overall, the EU, unable to form a policy, will tend to follow what it already has – de facto recognition of Kosovo Independence.
Kosovo, meanwhile, has its own problems. Serbs living within the area are clearly being armed and trained for a long-term insurgency and the UN troops stationed within the area are unable to prevent the weapons from getting through. As more weapons and training – suspected of including Russian soldiers – arrives, the insurgency gets worse, with attacks directed against UN soldiers, Kosovo politicians and others.
Putin starts to dust off plans for military pressure.
April 2008 – The official UN report concludes that Kosovo is in a state of civil war and suggests that KFOR be enlarged to keep a lid on the violence. Russia’s offer of troops for the mission is rapidly dismissed and the Russians flatly refuse to permit any further thoughts of independence. Anti-Russian feeling is hardening through Eastern Europe and reaching into Western Europe, despite ‘peace campaigns’ against more troop deployments to Kosovo. Despite this, the EU manages to put together some reinforcements, around 7000 men, mainly French and German.
Putin has a choice; raise the ante or shut up. He decides to shift Russian military units to the borders of the Baltic States and use them in a less-than-subtle reminder of Russian power. The Russians talk sweetly in public, but in private they’re twisting arms; they want the EU to abandon Kosovo to the tender mercies of the Serbs, or else.
NATO goes to red alert as the Baltics start screaming (but under the table) for help. The Polish military starts calling up reserves and preparing for a possible move into the Baltic States, while other militaries start activating their own reserve units.
The Russians issue a warning; if NATO units reinforce the Baltics, they will jump into the Baltics and let the chips fall where they may. NATO thinks they’re bluffing; they’re not. As German troops prepare to march through Poland to join the defenders, the Russian army comes over the border into the Baltic States. The defenders have been deployed and have the advantage of knowing their territory, but the Russians have vastly greater firepower and air cover, at least at first. The Russians advance rapidly.
Polish, German and French aircraft join the battle. The fighting spills out across the region, proving that NATO aircraft and training are superior, but the Russians have the numbers again. NATO attempts to rush reinforcements into the Baltics, using ships and air transports, but the operations are doomed to failure as the Russians secure their primary targets and defeat the remaining Baltic militaries. As refugees start to pour into Poland, fleeing the Russians, the NATO forces halt in Poland.
Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, declares his country to be solidly behind it’s Slavic brethren and places his military directly under Russian control. Lukashenko, who has been agitating for a Belarus-Russian Union, sees this as his best chance to force the issue; within hours, there are clashes along the Belarus-Poland border and some Belarusian troops have moved into the Baltics. This is rather embarrassing to Putin, who would prefer to negotiate rather than expand the war, now that he’s made his point, but Russia has too few allies to quibble. Much.
May 2008 – The various EU military departments have been swept away as the sudden pressure of a real crisis forces action. Germany and France would prefer to avoid a war, but both Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel know that they can’t risk shattering the EU over this issue. Merkel, who had sought stronger ties with Russia, is particularly alarmed, but with three NATO states under occupation, there is little in the way of manoeuvring room. The governments-in-exile are particularly vocal on the subject of Russian atrocities within the Baltics, faithfully reported through the Internet, and the very credibility of the EU is under threat.
Putin is much less happy than it seems. He was never in favour of any kind of union between Belarus and Russia; he looks on Lukashenko as a fool who somehow managed to remain in power. His own hard-liners regard some of Lukashenko’s speeches as treason, or at least unfriendly, and he finds himself having to finess more issues than he would prefer to have to handle. There’s also the issue of the Belarus underground; they’re not keen on any alliance either. For the moment, Russian forces are taking up defensive positions in Belarus and the Baltics, but it hasn’t escaped Polish notice that the forces could be on the Polish border within hours.
On the other side of the pond, President Bush views the crisis through tired eyes. He has one advantage over the Europeans; he doesn’t have to be re-elected. The downside is that the issue has become an election one; Poles in the US want their country protected, and it is a clear case of violence being directed against a NATO member. The problem is that the US is heavily committed to Iraq and various other places; the EU is not interested in recognising US primacy unless the US makes a major commitment, and the US is not really in a position to make a commitment. Some US units are committed to the situation, but others need time to prepare for deployment.
Prime Minister Brown is the least enthusiastic about the war, even though there are some elements within the British power structure that would be delighted a chance to singe the Russian beard. He knows that Blair’s legacy will be forever tainted by Iraq and the involvement with the US; apart from the RAF and some ground units, Britain – too – is heavily committed in Iraq. Brown’s more left-wing supporters would like to use it as an excuse to pull UK forces out of Iraq, but they can’t get round the fact that they will be sent into another war zone.
The diplomats are dancing around and around the issue. The problem is that their positions don’t match up; Russia wants Serbia to regain Kosovo, perhaps with a limited face-saving autonomy, and a freeze on all military moves. The EU does not want to bargain at gunpoint and the Poles won’t accept any freeze on military reinforcement while preparing for a possible war. Tension is rising…
June 2008 – The insurrection in Kosovo finally explodes into the light, with attacks directed against both UN forces and the local government. Serbia orders out KFOR, warning that they are prepared to put an end to the rebellious province once and for all; KFOR, going to force protection, doesn’t have much time to react. As the Kosovo Government staggers under the weight of the insurrection, Serbian forces invade.
This is immediately condemned by NATO and contingency plans are hastily dusted off; US carriers in the nearby waters launch air strikes against Serbian positions, backed up by Italian aircraft and various other southern EU air forces, trying to slow down and impede the Serbian invasion. The Serbs leaned from the prior war and have prepared, with Russian advice, and soak up the attacks and keep going. The human crisis rapidly grows worse as UN forces are attacked, captured, or destroyed. Russian SAM systems, deployed to Serbia, prove better than expected. Several US aircraft are shot down.
Putin’s time has run out. The Russians have been badly implicated in aiding the Serbs and they have actually been supplying the Serbs with orbital images of the US actions and aiding them to coordinate their forces. He stalls, long enough to try to get a force of Russian ‘peacekeepers’ into the area, only to have them bombed by US aircraft, more or less by accident. As the rhetoric reaches a new level, with Russia accusing the US of deliberately attacking their units, Putin issues an ultimation; the EU can accept the situation on the ground, or else.
The EU has been trying to organise a response to the latest crisis. The position is not helped by a struggle over who should command the NATO force, still largely German and French, but the sudden eruption of war in Kosovo forces the decision. A German has been appointed as the CO of the allied forces in Poland, just in time to face the most dangerous moment of 2008. The EU declares full mobilisation and starts rushing reinforcements forward into Poland, with the declared intention of fighting a limited war against Russia to liberate the Baltic States. Kosovo is put on the back-burner as the EU cannot realistically dictate the solution on the ground without much higher troop numbers.
Putin’s military have been working on their own plans. The Russian Army has made vast strides since the Fall of the Soviet Union, but they’re not back at the same levels, yet. They do have vast numbers of tanks and guns, but many of them are outdated and outmatched by the NATO forces. They do, however, have a large covert operations capability and a certain disregard for the rules of conventional warfare. They have also not been wasting the time spent in the Baltics; while the diplomats danced, the Russians dug in and prepared for war.
Putin would dearly love to see the crisis just blow over. The problem is that Russia’s face is involved here; he cannot just give the EU back the Baltics, regardless of anything else, without extracting a price in return. Russian nationalists have been taking to the streets to cheer on the Russian forces, despite the damage that has been inflicted on the Russian economy and simply backing down is not an option. Putin would prefer, given a choice, to stall until the Serbs settled the Kosovo issue through mass slaughter, but the US has ensured that that is no longer an option. The orders are issued…
The Russian troops in Belarus come across the border into Poland, launching a classic spoiling attack, moving on the heels of a series of coordinated Special Forces operations in Poland and Western Europe. Russian SF hit bridges, rail links and army bases, after which the Russians launch several flights of cruise missiles into Poland and Germany. The combined force, at least, was expecting trouble; the Russians inflict serious damage, but the NATO command structure remains intact and the Russians are met in the field. Fighting spreads across Eastern Poland, but by the end of the first week, the Russians have only made small gains.
Both sides are leaning rapidly from the other. The Russians have learned that the allies have better antitank weapons than they thought. The Europeans underestimated Russian air defences and lost several aircraft before they altered their operational patterns. The EU is also short on supplies; the US cuts loose as much as it can from it’s bases, but even so it will take time for the supplies to reach Europe. The issue at hand, both sides conclude, is if the Russians can smash the NATO force and dictate terms, or if the NATO forces can blunt Russia’s spearheads and cripple the Russians. As the Russians advance on Warsaw, it doesn’t look good…
July 2008 – NATO has long had a contingency plan for a resurgent Russian threat. The combined force works hard to trade space for time, mobilising the remaining European forces and slowing the Russians down through air power and SF attacks behind the Russian lines. The Russians have their own problems; Putin’s Generals are sure that they can take Warsaw, but Polish troops – along with other isolated European units – have withdrawn into the city and are preparing to make a stand. The Russians don’t want to chew up their army, so when they reach Warsaw, they surround the city and declare it under siege.
The main body of the war has political repercussions right across Europe. A Dutch unit, almost the entire contribution, is wiped out or captured in a single battle. This interfaces with protest marches against the war in the Netherlands and riots spread out of control, taking on a racial and religious aspect. Worse, a significant British force is badly mauled after being rushed to the combat zone…without half of their equipment. Prime Minister Brown’s attempts to evade blame for the disaster draw him the wrath of both sides of British politics and his government loses a vote of no confidence. For the duration of the emergency, Britain will be governed by a war cabinet, headed by David Cameron.
The Russian advance is slowly halted under heavy pressure, combined with insurgencies behind the lines. The Belarus underground has started to take a more active hand against the war, joined by SF units from the various European nations and strikes from the air. As the Russians start to secure their new conquests, American and additional British air units arrive and add to their problems; the fighting slowly comes to an end with the Russians holding a large chunk of eastern Poland.
Putin is realistic enough to know that NATO is not going to let him keep his conquests. Ideally, he considers them bargaining chips; NATO’s concentration on Poland makes it harder for them to intervene in any meaningful way in Kosovo, where the Serbs have returned to their bad old habits of ethnic cleansing. He has two problems; first, Russian pride has been aroused by the victories and he can’t just unilaterally abandon the occupied territories, and second, American forces are being redeployed. Putin knows that in a few months, the EU will have massed a superior military force; American support would ensure that the Russians lost the limited war.
The EU, at least, has little choice, but to continue the war…and almost every nation mobilises every solider, sailor and airman they can lay their hands on. They have been practicing working together for years; now, as British bases hold French aircraft and Poles fly with Germans, the remaining problems are rapidly ironed out. Their main problem is the skew of riots and Russian SF operations in their rear; peace factions within Europe have taken a beating, along with various radical Muslim factions. The emergency situation has served as a convenient excuse to round up and evict a lot of troublemakers. Politically, evicting the Russians from Poland remains a goal to be accomplished at the earliest possible moment.
One problem both sides have is that events are rather out of their control. The Russians are attacked constantly by various factions within their occupied territories, causing them to retaliate brutally against possible supporters. Lukashenko survives several assassination attempts, all of which are blamed on the CIA, but he has so many enemies – including the Russians – that the list of suspects is almost endless. Putin would prefer not to have to worry about Belarus, but with Russian supply lines crossing through Belarus, Lukashenko’s problems are his problem. Worse, the Ukraine is on the brink of civil war between pro-Russian and pro-Western factions.
August 2008 - The diplomats meet – again. This time, Putin places his cards on the table; the Russians will withdraw from Poland and the Baltics, in exchange for giving Serbia a free hand in its own territory. In effect, the Russians want the principle of Westphalian sovereignty to return to Europe, not something that is entirely displeasing to various EU states, but it would effectively legitimatise the genocide and massive refugee crisis. It also takes a poke at the US; the Americans ignored the principle when they invaded Iraq.
There are some elements within the EU that would prefer to take the deal, but politically its impossible; the siege of Warsaw ensures that any trace of weakness will be treated harshly by the public. Dozens of issues within Europe, held down by lassitude and the EU, have exploded into the light…but at the same time, the European militaries and governments have become much more confident. The war might not have gone entirely their way, but they have held their own and done it without significant American support.
NATO Command has been working on a plan to evict the Russians from Poland, using a sizable multinational EU force with some American support. That plan is rapidly updated as the EU pushes the issue, demanding that the Russians withdraw unconditionally, when President Lukashenko forces the issue by announcing that Belarusian troops in Poland would annex the occupied region of Poland to Belarus, and then to Russia. Lukashenko lasts two days after making the announcement, when he suddenly has a brutal accident and cuts his own throat while shaving. Regardless of this development, NATO forces get the green light to advance…
The fighting might have died down along the battle lines, but the Russians are ready and waiting; they fight viciously as European forces probe their defence lines and punch through weaker points, trapping large Russian forces. Some surrender, others dig in and have to be reduced, but the main body of the European force is bent on lifting the siege of Warsaw. Russian supply lines, always weak, come under their heaviest attack yet; American aircraft sweep Russian aircraft from the skies. As the Russian SAM network is reduced, the attacks intensify, concentrating on destroying Russian ground forces before they can reach European ground forces.
The fighting, this time, spreads into Russia itself. European and American cruise missiles reach into the Baltic States and further into Russia, targeting vital supply lines and military bases. American ASAT weapons are used against several Russian satellites in hopes of blinding the Russians, although the Russians dust off their own ASAT weapons and smash several American satellites. The fighting is harder than anyone expects, but a week after the offensive is launched, Putin gives the order to abandon the siege of Warsaw and withdraw into the Baltics.
The fighting takes on an international air. Ships within the Baltic Sea are attacked by Russian submarines, while Russian-backed Iran urges uprisings in Iraq against American forces, pinning down more American soldiers before they can be deployed against Russia. North Korea is urged to head south, but China intervenes and presses Kim to remain out of the fighting, starting a bidding war as both powers struggle to convince Kim to remain loyal to them.
By the end of the month, most Russian forces have been forced out of Poland, but Kalingrad proves a tougher nut to crack. Even with the addition of new American ground units, the Russians successfully hold Kalingrad and establish a new defence line. The Russians have also left a few surprises behind in Poland, including several thousand soldiers with orders to launch attacks against European forces; although these are quickly rounded up with Polish help, they slow down European reinforcement. Poland is in a terrible state as a result of the invasion; as the government returns to Warsaw, they start demanding that various Russian generals face the ICC. The Russians don’t bother to answer.
The situation in Belarus has gotten out of hand. Russian soldiers are caught up in the middle of a civil war, with the underground fighting the Lukashenko Loyalists, who, now their idol is dead, don’t have many options left. Putin would prefer to wash his hands of the entire situation, but his own position is weakening rapidly; the Ukraine, adding to his problems, has fallen into civil war as well. Russia’s economy has hit rock bottom and they need, desperately, a relief.
The only light at the end of Putin’s tunnel is that the Serbs have secured all of Kosovo. It gives him a chance to claim victory, if he can pull off the bare bones of an agreement with the EU. Russian diplomats start offering more concessions, while digging up various historical nightmares (Germans in Poland; will they ever leave?) and reminding several EU diplomats of the remaining Russian nuclear arsenal.
September 2008 – NATO has its own problems. The US has finally been able to commit a major ground force to the combined force. That’s a good thing. This is starting off an argument over who should command the force – again. That’s a bad thing. The NATO German General who commanded the force did a good job, everyone agreed, but Bush knows that it will be difficult to convince the Senate that US troops should serve under a non-American General. The EU isn’t in the mood to accept that, now they did the hard fighting, they should just give the command to a jonny-come-lately.
Under the surface, there’s a deeper issue bubbling away. Western Europe was always ambient about the US presence and leadership role in NATO; unlike the US, Europe was unlikely to emerge unscathed from a Third World War – indeed, it was quite likely that any major confrontation between the old Warsaw Pact and NATO would result in massive devastation in Europe. American brinkmanship could not be tolerated, as far as the Europeans were concerned; the Americans had nothing at stake and they had everything at stake. Bush isn’t about to start World War Three, but the EU knows that attempting to occupy large parts of Russia or piling impossible demands on the Russians is likely to lead to disaster. Bush understands that as well, but he has very little room to manoeuvre.
NATO eventually announces war aims; the liberation of the Baltic States. Putin knows that this means that Kalingrad will be devastated by the fighting, but might also decide, once free of the coercive power of Russia’s military, that it has a better future with the EU. The Russians want out of the war and so does the EU, but their terms are very different. There’s also another problem for the Russians; both candidates in the US elections have taken a hard line on Russia, and while he knows that there’s a vast difference between rhetoric and reality, it will be hard for the candidates to weasel out of some of the promises they have made. As the NATO force is reinforced and supplies keep flowing to various underground movements in Belarus, Putin puts another offer on the table.
October 2008 – The Treaty of Riga is signed. Russian forces withdraw from the Baltic States and most of Belarus; EU forces occupy the Baltic States, but remain out of Belarus. The Russians haven’t gotten a formal agreement over Serbia, but the facts on the ground suggest that they won that round, as Kosovo is firmly back under the Serb jackboot and allied bombing has failed to shift them. The Russians flatly refuse to pay compensation for any or all of the damage caused by the invasion, or to send any of their people to face an ICC court. Although large NATO forces will remain in Poland for six months, to all intents and purposes, the war is over.
Post War – November 2008 proved to be the month of elections, with both the US and UK holding them within the same month, resulting in both a Republican Victory and a Conservative Victory. Several other seats within the European Parliament and several national parliaments were also opened as an effect of the war, causing a general shift towards the Right as the EU celebrated what it claimed to be a victory secured by the massed power of the EU.
Military spending in both the EU and the US was raised sharply as the lessons of the war sank in. The British, French and German Governments were unwilling to fail to learn the lessons of the conflict in Poland and rapidly placed new orders for tanks, aircraft and infantry support weapons. There were also major improvements made in the lives and pay of the common soldiers, who had held the line, and a set of High Court trials for various defence contractors who played silly buggers with the weapons the army had to take to war. The US defence planners had another problem; post-battle analysis proved that the F-117 could be detected by Russian radars. A new program of stealth aircraft design was started.
NATO, surprisingly enough, had been strengthened by the brief war. France’s return to the joint command structure and the new agreements on what constituted NATO’s area of responsibility restored the alliance to the prominence it has lost since the end of the Cold War. Although various American conservatives claimed that NATO had been diluted by the controversy over command appointments, overall the organisation would be able to enter the second decade of the new century as a power on the world stage.
Putin’s claim of victory rang a little hollow in the face of the collapse of large sectors of the Russian economy. His bodyguards were successful in preventing him from being assassinated, but his position of supreme master of Russia was weakened badly and indeed he would be ‘retired’ within a year of the war. Other parts of Russia benefited from the war; Russian equipment, while inferior to western equipment, had been proven to be able to stand up to a modern battlefield and several nations, including Iran, placed massive orders.
The Ukraine split into two sections; the largely Russian East Ukraine and the pro-western West Ukraine. Belarus would go through a series of convulsions before producing a largely democratic government that would generally be pro-Western, although sceptical of NATO and its ability to protect them from a resurgent Russia. The Serbs, riding high on their ‘victory’ in Kosovo, refused to allow UN peacekeepers to re-enter the region, or indeed to discuss any form of settlement that did not include the complete return of their territory. Serbia would remain a pariah state for at least a decade.
The prestige of the ICC takes a major fall as it becomes increasingly obvious that Russia will not surrender some of its people for trial. The new governments in the EU refuse to support it, joining America (and, ironically, Russia) and eventually the foundation of the ICC falls into dust. Although there are several attempts in the future to resurrect something like it, the failure of the ICC to produce a global police force cripples such efforts. Sarkozy takes the lead in a flat EU refusal to recognise the jurisdiction of any international body.
Overall, several European states, mainly France, took the emergency situation and used it as an excuse to ram through programs that everyone had known were necessary, but no one had been willing to take the political heat for handling. This provoked several more riots and a massive crackdown on radical Islam, but the combined European economy benefited from the changes. Sarkozy’s public image rises considerably to the point where he becomes the first EU President; Tony Blair’s claim to that title is laughingly dismissed.